Colin Gassner, right, an Erin Hills caddie, helped
French professional golfer Joel Stalter during the first
two rounds of the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin
Hills in the town of Erin. Stalter missed the cut,
shooting a 5-over in two rounds.
TOWN OF ERIN — Alex Smalley
lined up his approach shot Friday on hole
No. 17 at Erin Hills. As the soon-to-be Duke
University junior gripped the nine-iron,
Eric Fritz stood off to the side, with
dozens of calculations running through his
Smalley struck the ball
during the second round of the 117th U.S.
Open Championship, and it hit the 17th green
— then rolled off into the right-side
Smalley “couldn’t get
up-and-down from there,” Fritz recalled
Monday, and settled for a bogey and a plus-2
score. Smalley then missed a 25-foot birdie
on No. 18’s green, and pushed the par putt
just wide to register another bogey and
Three shots, perhaps four,
with two of them being putts. That’s how
close Smalley came to making the cut — and
how close Fritz, an Erin Hills caddie for
more than eight years, came to carrying a
bag during the final two rounds of the U.S.
“We were so close to making
the cut,” Fritz said. “I was really
impressed with the young man.”
Fritz was one of five Erin
Hills regulars on the bag for various
participants during the first two rounds of
a professional tournament on their home
course. Several caddies who spoke with the
Daily News prior to the championship
expressed interest in playing some part as
the event transpired, and many did.
Caddie master Justin Kordus
noted many world-renowned golfers — Rickie
Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed,
among others — and others who graced the
weekend leaderboard, including 2017 U.S.
Open champion Brooks Koepka, came to the
site early and found time to pick a local
caddie’s brain about a course most of the
world’s best had yet to experience.
“Obviously it was kind of
good for the first time around to have one
just to — on a few holes, you need to know
where to hit it,” Johnson said June 14 at a
news conference. “And if you haven’t played
here before it definitely helps if someone
knows the course. It was definitely helpful
in trying to figure out some lines off the
West Bend West graduate
and Erin Hills caddie, Alex Nannetti, far right, carried
the bag for TJ Howe, center, the second possible
alternate in the field, during a practice round.
Most of the local caddies
involved noted lines off the tees, or on
approaches, were the key items professionals
wanted to know.
“Good players can feel their
way around greens and read putts,” added
Alex Nannetti, a fifth-year caddie who spent
his U.S. Open week tending the bag of TJ
Howe, the field’s second alternate. Like
some counterparts, Nannetti’s whirlwind week
began with a call from an agent — “Can you
come caddie for my guy?” — Sunday night.
The pair met Monday for the
first time, and spent the day at the driving
range and putting green, with Nannetti
watching Howe strike balls and getting a
feel for his shot shape. They played the
back nine June 13, went through a full 18
holes the next day and spent Thursday
waiting for a call that never came. Phil
Mickelson was the only golfer to withdraw in
the opening round, leaving Howe and Nannetti
one spot out.
“It ended up not happening,
but overall the practice days were a great
experience,” Nannetti said. “Obviously,
knowing the course very well, I felt like I
could help him. I’m happy I was able to help
him out while he was there.”
Colin Gassner’s whirlwind was
just as intense. The Mayville native usually
caddies in Florida until late June, but a
call from Joel Stalter’s agent June 7
brought Gassner up June 11. Stalter took two
extra days to reach Erin because of his
European Tour schedule, which left the pair
maybe 48 hours to acquaint themselves with
each other and the course.
“It was a little different,
being as big of a tournament as it is,”
Gassner said. “It was a matter of what he
wanted to know, and most of that was off the
tee, where to hit it.”
Like his brethren, Mike Swope
was seemingly amazed at how close his pro,
27-year-old Chan Kim, came to hitting the
lines he judged.
“Your regular handicap or
amateur, they’re trying to hit your line,
but the rest of us normal people don’t
necessarily have the skill set,” Swope said.
“We say ‘Hit it here,’ and if it’s within 50
yards of that, as a caddie, you’re somewhat
“When (Kim) missed my target
line, he’d miss it by no more than 10 yards
and would apologize. He’d apologize for not
getting close enough.”
Kim finished at 2-over
through two rounds, rebounding from a 4-over
first-round to come close to the cut line.
Being the “local guys” on a
bag for a major tournament carried a lot of
pride for them all. At their home course,
however, none were able to make the cut.
“We were hoping for one of us
to at least make the cut,” said Corey
Galbally, who tended the bag for Aaron Rai
and was 1-over after the first round. “It
stings a little, but it’s not embarrassing.
“Again, though, it shows how
much we know about this course that some of
these players wanted to take a local guy out
there. Five is pretty cool, a kinda big
number I think.”
Galbally’s foray into the
U.S. Open began with a tour.
“I was out with Jordan
Spieth’s caddy, Mike (Michael Greller),
before the practice week and we were going
over some yardages out there,” he said. “He
asked me on the first or second hole if I
had a gig for the week. ’No, not yet.’ “By
the 15th, he had about six jobs lined up for
me. I said, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool, Mike.’”
As the trio walked off the 18th green,
Galbally got a call from Rai himself.
“Aaron asked me right off the
18th green,” Galbally said. “How can you say
no to that? A once in a lifetime experience?
I said, ‘Absolutely, sir.’” Many of the
local caddies caught up with one another at
one point throughout the week or going into
the weekend after work was done, or having
come back Saturday and Sunday just to watch
the championship play out.
Most admitted the experience
was “surreal,” among other adjectives. Their
course was open to the world, which allowed
them to be part of a unique scene but
seemingly feel quite comfortable at the same
“These are the best couple
hundred players in the world,” Swope said.
“It’s like bringing a Hollywood movie star
into your own house.”