I like you, Betty: Danny Noonan has his day on a bag at Winged Foot

MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Nostalgia plays well at Winged Foot, so it was fitting to see Michael O'Keefe back at work Monday with a familiar red (...)

I like you, Betty: Danny Noonan has his day on a bag at Winged Foot

MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Nostalgia plays well at Winged Foot, so it was fitting to see Michael O’Keefe back at work Monday with a familiar red Bushwood hat on his head and a cumbersome Titleist staff bag on his shoulder.

The 65-year-old actor was a caddie here for two summers and went on to play Danny Noonan in Caddyshack.

He was on social media last week lobbying for a loop here, just hoping to get back inside the gates to see the U.S. Open up close and in person. He picked up a couple days of work when local club professional Danny Balin responded with an invitation.

The introduction was made by golf instructor and television commentator Michael Breed and Monday, at 8:51 a.m., Noonan and Balin were off to scout the back nine.

Sep 14, 2020; Mamaroneck, New York, USA; Actor Michael O’Keefe, left, caddies for golfer Danny Balin during a practice round for the 2020 U.S. Open golf tournament at Winged Foot Golf Club – West. O’Keefe is known for playing Danny Noonan in the movie “Caddyshack.” Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

“I’ve given a lot of interviews this year because it’s the 40th anniversary of the release of the movie,” said O’Keefe, who’s a Larchmont native. “I knew the Open was going to be here. My brother, Billy, is a member here and a former (club) president and I was thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if somebody put me on their bag?’ And I thought the chances of that happening were about as likely as Carl Spackler winning the Masters, but the next thing you know, I get a call from Mike Breed and he said, ‘Hey, are you serious?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, why?’ He said, ‘Start doing some push-ups, I think it’s going to work out.’ ”

Balin loved the idea from the start.

“I had a Team Titleist event with Michael Breed, and afterward Michael pulled me to the side and told me he thought it would be a great thing to do,” said the 38-year-old Valhalla resident, who is the head pro at Fresh Meadow Country Club on Long Island. “We had spoken and kind of agreed that it would be great, two locals, him having grown up here me being here as a club pro and one of the only locals in the field. We both have a little history here at Winged Foot and I thought it would just be great for golf, great for the 40th anniversary of the making of Caddyshack. And getting some notoriety in the area is a good thing for me, for the club that I work at and all the members I work with.”

The pairing is also spotlighting a fundraising effort started by Winged Foot member Bill Fugazy to aid the club’s full-time caddies who have lost work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, the Richie’s Gift campaign on GoFundMe.org is nearing $250,000.

O’Keefe has kicked in money.

“We just did our first nine together and it was a blast,” he said. “It was so much fun to be back out there and get a feel for the course again. Danny has got game. He has made my dream come true, so I owe him everything for that.”

They will be together again on Tuesday and Balin’s regular caddie, Marc Mondelblatt, a Penn State fraternity brother, will be on the bag the rest of the week.

“It was sort of a lark when I wrote it and then we got like 50,000 social media hits and then Danny jumped on it,” O’Keefe added. “I’m just here having a blast and I’m hoping the poison I gave his caddie Marc will kick in sometime later tomorrow and he’ll have to put me on his bag Thursday and Friday.”

Balin, who grew up in Maryland, figures he’s seen Caddyshack 15 or 20 times.

“Any time I would caddie or go even play golf with somebody, it was always like, ‘Danny, do you do drugs? … Every day.’ So between that and, ‘Be the ball. Be the ball, Danny,’ I got it a lot,” Balin said. “The movie was great. Michael was a lot of fun.”

Since the pandemic shut down qualifying events this year, Balin got into the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open by virtue of a top five at last year’s PGA Professional Championship.

“It was a lot more firm today than it has been,” Balin said of the West Course. “Yesterday, the wind was a little different, I hit a 5-iron into the 18th green. Today, I hit a pitching wedge. So as with every major, every golf tournament, the course plays a little harder throughout the week and today showed that. It’s amazing.”

And the rough?

“It’s five inches of Dante hell,” O’Keefe said.

He was a caddie at Winged Foot in 1971 and 1972, following in the footsteps of Billy, a former caddie of the year.

“It was not unlike (the Hollywood version), without the celebrity play,” O’Keefe said of the experience. “(Caddie master) Gene Hayden was an incredibly tough taskmaster. He scared the hell out of everybody. If you got a loop, just the call of your name would put the fear of God in you.

“Some of the older caddies were amazing because they had been around forever and they really knew the course and could size up a golfer while he was taking a practice swing on the first tee. They were great about sharing the shortcuts, where you want to drop the bag, where you could save a couple of steps, teaching you about the grain and the putts breaking back toward the clubhouse.”

He again looked the part aside from the hat.

It was almost too perfect, clean and perfectly shaped, begging a question about the location of the original Bushwood cap from the movie.

“Probably in some bar in Davie, Florida, somewhere,” said O’Keefe, referencing the film shoot’s off-the-beaten path location.

Mike Dougherty covers golf for The Journal News/lohud, a member of the USA Today Network. He can be reached at mdougher@lohud.com, or on Twitter @hoopsmbd, @lohudlacrosse, @lohudhoopsmbd and @lohudgolf.

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Local product Smith Knaffle looking to go the distance at Golfweek Caledonia Amateur

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. – It’s difficult for Smith Knaffle to put a number on recent distance gains. This week in wet conditions, it’s (...)

Local product Smith Knaffle looking to go the distance at Golfweek Caledonia Amateur

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. – It’s difficult for Smith Knaffle to put a number on recent distance gains. This week in wet conditions, it’s all carry at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, a course that, as a Myrtle Beach area local, Knaffle knows relatively well.

Knaffle, the South Carolina sophomore who has a one-shot lead at the Golfweek Caledonia Amateur, made six birdies and a single bogey in a second-round 5-under 66 that moved her into the lead. She’s a shot ahead of Alabama sophomore Caroline Curtis.

It’s been awhile since Knaffle entered the final round of a tournament in the lead.

“Just with college golf and everything, trying to gain a spot in the top 5,” she said. “I just haven’t really played my best the last year or two. I’m happy to be playing more golf that’s like myself.”

Knaffle shares a swing coach with recent FedEx Cup champion Dustin Johnson. She works with area teacher Allen Terrell, who runs the Dustin Johnson Golf School in Myrtle Beach. She’ll get a lesson as often as possible when she’s home, but says it depends what the two work on. One constant has been the pursuit of distance.

Scores: Golfweek Caledonia Amateur

“We’re always working on trying to get shaft lean at impact and just hit it as far as possible,” she said. “That’s always kind of the main goal, to hit it as far and as straight as possible. We try a lot of different things to accomplish the same goal.”

While she can’t put a number on that progress, Knaffle feels she has hit it more solid, straighter and gotten a little longer in every aspect of her game. She has hit 3-woods and drivers this week on a saturated Caledonia layout that endured upwards of 10 inches of rain days before the tournament started.

This individual event is certainly a different start to the season for the sophomore, who competed three times with the team in her debut season – one cut short by COVID. The SEC players in the field will get to compete with their teams later this fall in three events. The first one of those will happen next month at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas, site of the 2019 NCAA Championship.

A good showing here would go a long way in getting Knaffle’s year started on the right foot.

“I just came to play, I didn’t really have anything set in mind,” she said of what she wanted to get out of this week. “Just to come out here and do the best I can.”

Curtis, the Alabama player, is thinking of this week as a nice tune-up. There are four Crimson Tide players in the field. Next weekend, they begin qualifying for the season.

“We’re just trying to keep playing, stay competitive,” said Curtis, who hasn’t had a bogey yet in rounds of 69-68. “I know for me, and I think for my teammates too, the best kind of practice is in tournaments and being able to play against other people and just see how your game lines up with everything else.”

Curtis is aiming to keep her game plan intact in the final round as she chases a title. She wanted to see where her game was when she entered this tournament. A win would be a good indicator.

For Curtis and Knaffle, potential obstacles might come in the form of ACC chasers. Virginia Tech’s Emily Mahar and Louisville’s Lauren Hartlage, plus East Carolina Riley Hamilton, are among the trio a stroke back in third. Mahar’s third-round 67 was bogey-free, and ended with a birdie on a difficult par-4 closing hole over water.

Mahar’s last tournament came a month ago when she competed in the VSGA Stroke Play. A runner-up finish there came on the heels of a trip to the Round of 32 at the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the Round of 16 at the North & South Women’s Amateur.

She doesn’t find herself itching to compete but is trying to take this opportunity to work on her game and get stronger. The gaps in competition have brought an unexpected change in mindset – one that Mahar thinks has been beneficial.

“I think the best thing to come out of this was how my mental game has improved. We don’t get many opportunities to play now, so being able to appreciate the time we can play has helped stay in the moment and not think ahead, like I’ll just play next week it’s no big deal. Right now, I don’t know when my next tournament is going to be.”

Source : Golf Week More   

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