news golf fans! We're extremely saddened by the loss of one of the PGA
Tours most beloved caddies with the sudden and unexpected passing of Ralph
Coffey in the second week of March 2004 at the age of 72.
Coffey had been a caddy on the PGA Tour for the last 30 plus years.
Hailing from the foothills of the Great Smoky mountains, Ralph was soft-spoken
extremely well liked and a man's man. He was a
red blooded American of Cherokee Indian heritage, known to walk softly, (one
yard at a time), and carry a big stick. (A pool cue that was.)
caddy career has lapsed 5 decades. Ralph was well respected by veteran
players and caddies alike who've know him over the years. Ralph was a
former original caddy for former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman and had a
total of 11 Tour wins that included one major championship -victory and had been
caddying on the Nationwide Tour in 2003 for Mike Donald. (The following
was our 'Haul of Fame' interview with Ralph done in 2002)....
-how did you begin caddying?
Ralph -I grew up
in Western North Carolina, in Morganton. Mimosa CC. Back then you
got about $1.00 per round, late 1940s. My parents worked in a furniture
factory. Until I could work in the furniture factory, I caddied.
They had a practice green on around behind the caddy shack with a pin.
They showed us how to caddy, tend the pin, and other pointers. That's
where I first learned to caddy.
did you first begin tour caddying? Who'd you hang with in those days?
1968 I traveled to the West Coast to try to caddy the tour. Used to travel
a lot and 'hang' with Little Rabbit, Dick Bull, 'Tobbaco Lou'.
those days you had to do your own yardage books. And you had to shag balls
on the range, to warm your player up each day and practice after the round too.
What was that like?
Ralph -Some of
those ranges were dangerous. I once saw Bobby Nichols caddy catch a driver
on the head on his way in one day. He walked straight up the range instead
of exiting out to the side and around. I didn't use a baseball glove like
Creamy. (Carolan -of Arnold Palmer caddy fame) - I used a towel
that I rolled up in my hand like a glove. I never did miss hardly, had the
towel balled up and wet. I got so good that I even caught the drivers on a
fly. I remember once chasing down a drive and caught it on the ropes where
it was heading right at a spectators head! He thanked me too!
came out in 1968 how long steadily?
Ralph -My first
job was with Jim Grant a tour pro from Connecticut. He drove a
Caddilac, and liked his shoes shined. He was my first pro in 1968 at
Pebble Beach. We got to Napa California, me Jim Grant, and Ted Makalena,
the famous pro from Hawaii, who was later killed. Then we went down to
Riviera CC. for the Monday qualifier to get into the tournament in Los Angeles.
On the 8th hole there, the fog came in and asked me about the club and I told
him it was an 9 iron. And he wanted to hit 8 iron, and I said no
way, and he hit it over the green, then told me, "I should have listened to
you", then he fired me after not qualifying. So I was over near
the clubhouse and now I've got no job. And here comes Dean Beman.
I asked him if I could work for him. He says "No, I think I've got
somebody," and he saw me kick my feet, and then said, "Wait a sec, let
me call and see", then he came out, and told me to be there at the
tournament course in Pasadena the next day at 9:00 A.M.
you have some previous connection to Beman, this was your second week on tour?
knew me from my having caddied in the 1965 Walker Cup for Billy Joe Patten, who
was from my hometown, and for whom I'd caddied for many times, and in the Walker
Cup when we won the match causing us to tie the European team. We won the
match that got the point that tied for the Cup. Dean Beman was on that
Walker Cup team back then as an amateur. Plus I'd caddied at clubs
in the Baltimore area and around in the mid 60's and he knew me that way.
In that 1965 Walker Cup we (Billy Joe Patton) only lost one match and that was
to Peter Townsend.
how did that go the first week with Dean Beman?
Ralph -I was
excited that Dean gave me the job. I remember we played with Billy Casper
the last round. We get done and he says to me "Ralph, I've got to
talk to you". I thought "Oh my god, after one week he's gonna
fire me! So, I waited for him to come out to give me the bad news. He came
out a little later, and before he could tell me anything I told him "Dean
I'll do a good job, I think we can win, we may win next weekend."
Then he says to me, "Ralph, I'm not going to fire you, I want you to caddy
for me." I had no car at the time, and ended up taking a Greyhound
bus to Palm Springs the next week. Dean told me he'd put me on a decent
salary, and when we get to Florida he'd try to get me a car. I don't know
to this day if he was going to fire me until I told him we might win the next
this was in 1968, where'd you go the next week?
Ralph -We went
to the Bob Hope in Palm Springs. On the last hole we we're tied for the
lead and we laid up at # 18 at Bermuda Dunes, and two putted for par and Arnold
Palmer playing right behind us hit the green in two and two putted getting us in
a playoff. Billy Casper should have been there to but he put his ball in
the water. We missed about a 12 footer for birdie to win on the first
playoff hole # 15. I never saw so many people following a playoff before
or since. 1968 at the Bob Hope Desert Classic. They were all
following Palmer there. On the next hole, the 16th, Palmer hit a driver so
hard, I swear I heard his teeth grit together he hit it so hard! Dean
wasn't a long hitter, and we had a four wood into the par four, and Palmer had a
four iron. Dean missed the green to the right and we lost it there.
But we almost did win, and my prediction to Dean almost came true about winning
that week. This is my fourth tournament caddying on tour and we almost
then you worked full time for Dean Beman after that for how long and how many
wins did you guys have together?
Ralph -For the
next six years up until Dean Beman became the Commissioner of Golf for the PGA
Tour in 1974. And I had a win in between one year, 1970, when Dean didn't
play Pebble Beach, and Bert Yancey asked me to caddy for him there and we won!
what did you do after Dean 'retired' to the commissioners office?
Ralph I kicked
around working for different players, and took a job as a carpenter in Florida
for a while. Then at the Disney World tournament in 1976, I picked up
Lanny Wadkins bag. Worked for Lanny for two years and we won the PGA
Championship at Pebble Beach in 1977, and the World Series of Golf in Akron at
Firestone CC. Then I got fired by Lanny in 1978 in the same spot I hooked
up with him two years previous, Disney World end of the season tournament.
I know you picked up George Burns' bag there at Disney. Wasn't that
part of your lucky connection at Disney World?
Ralph -I had a
'lucky' connection to Disney World true, as I picked up Lannys bag there worked
for him two years and won twice including a major, lost it there two years
later. Then picked up George Burns bag there at a qualifying school
tournament in 1979, and went on to work for George most of the 1980's after
that. I won four times overall with George Burns. Three official
wins including the Crosby in 1980 and San Diego in 1987. And won the
Team Championship at Disney World working for George paired with Wayne Levi.
Then, at Disney World again, end of the year in 1989, asked Tom Sieckman if I
could work for him the next year. Started with him the next year and had a
few second place finishes and some good years working for Tom for five years.
Then I caddied for PH Horgan and assorted others up into the late 1990's.
you also had a lucky Pebble Beach connection as well right?
Yeah, I won three times altogether at Pebble Beach in my caddy career once each
with Bert Yancey in 1970, and George Burns in 1980 at the Crosbys', and again in
between with Lanny there to win the 1977 PGA Championship. I'm still the
leading all time caddy there with three pro tournament wins!
many wins overall have you been a part of then?
Ralph -Five with
Beman, one with Bert Yancey, with Lanny had two, three with Burns.
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