BOULDER — Here’s one from out of the ordinary that you can probably count on one hand:
How many times have both assistant golf coaches from the same program have had to make travel arrangements in order to caddy for a former player in a U.S. Open in the same year?
But that’s what Brent Franklin and Brandon White, the assistants for the University of Colorado women’s and men’s golf teams, respectively, had to do for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open. Play begins this Thursday in Pinehurst, N.C., on the same course the men will complete their championship Sunday.
Both will be caddying for former players they coached, Franklin for CU graduate Jessica Wallace and White for Northern Colorado’s Carleigh Silvers, whom he tutored when he was the Bears’ head coach prior to joining Roy Edwards’ staff last summer.
Wallace and Silvers will be the first players from their alma maters to play in a U.S. Women’s Open.
Wallace, 23, a native of Vancouver, B.C., transferred to CU from Pepperdine prior to her junior season and credits Franklin as the major factor in her heading to Boulder.
She qualified back on May 19 in Georgia, carding a 77-71—148 at Dunwoody Country Club; that was one off the lead in tying for second as she was one of three to advance from that site’s sectional. This will be Wallace’s third LPGA event, with two Canadian Opens previously on her resume; she missed the cut last year by just two strokes.
There was little hesitation who Wallace wanted as her caddy for the most important tournament in her young career.
“Jess sent me a text right after she finished ... something like, ‘I think I just qualified for the U.S. Open,’ and we spoke on the phone five minutes later,” Franklin said.
“It was an obvious decision, he’s been my swing coach ever since I transferred to Colorado,” Wallace said. “He was a big reason that I decided to come to Colorado. He’s caddied for me before, and I trust his opinion so it made sense for me to have him on the bag.”
Franklin has extensive caddying experience, from local and regional to LPGA events across the nation and overseas in Japan.
“I caddied for my wife (Kristine) a few times when she was a professional, and caddied for (former Buff) Emily (Talley) a couple of weeks ago,” said Franklin, who just completed his 12th year as Anne Kelly’s assistant. “I basically caddy almost every single day for the girls when you’re coaching them in a tournament. You’re not carrying they’re clubs, but that’s what a coach does. You’re mainly there to help them make good decisions.”
Wallace and Talley, both 2012 CU graduates, are currently playing and staying together in Decatur, Ill., in the Decatur-Forsyth Classic, a Symetra (national) Tour event; Wallace was in fourth through two rounds after a pair of 70s, four shots out of the lead, while Talley was even and eight back entering Sunday’s final round.
(Talley, who was featured on the Golf Channel’s Big Break last year, asked the longtime Buff assistant to be on her bag in the LPGA’s ShopRite Classic.)
“There will definitely be a sense of comfort and familiarity in having Brent caddy for me,” Wallace said. “Really, there has been nobody that has seen me play golf more than Brent, so there will be a calming factor having him out there with me.”
And while a first-timer is always a long shot, Wallace would join an exclusive CU club if she should win: Hale Irwin won three U.S. Opens (1974, 1979, 1990) and Steve Jones captured one (1996), giving the school four in all.
White, too, has a solid history of caddying, among those for his former roommate of three years, Kevin Stadler, now starring on the PGA Tour.
"When I stopped playing professionally before I started coaching, I caddied a lot for my buddies who were playing on secondary tours like the Nationwide, the Canadian and the Gateway,” White said. “I had played a lot golf with a few of those guys on tour, so it was kind of natural to start caddying for them while I was in transition.”
White has previously caddied in the second stage of PGA Qualifying and in some Nationwide events, but this will easily be the biggest stage he will ever have to perform the duties that Bill Murray once referred to of as a “looper” in the hit movie, Caddyshack.
“As a player, playing in the U.S. Open was always a goal, so being in it even as a caddy is going to be a lot a fun,” he said. He advanced to the sectional qualifying on a couple of occasions.
Silvers, also 23, graduated from UNC in 2013 and has since, “dedicated herself 100 percent to professional golf,” according to White. “For her to qualify for the U.S. Open in her first year as a pro is nothing short of an amazing accomplishment. She’s had a tremendous year ... she’s made the cut in every event she’s played in this season, about 15 events between the Cactus Tour in Arizona and the Symetra Tour.”
White coached her all four years at UNC, and Silvers and her older sister Chelsea played pivotal roles in helping the Bears win the 2012 Big Sky Conference title and earn a berth in the NCAA regionals. Carleigh was the medalist, finishing with a 3-under 213 total for 54 holes, which included a blistering 31 on her final nine holes that literally jumped her from ninth to first, bypassing her sis and claiming a 1-stroke win.
Silvers qualified on May 20 at Rainier Golf & Country Club in Seattle, earning one of just two spots with a 75-75—150 scorecard on a course with extremely high rough, the typical USGA trademark. That was three back of local amateur Jordan Ferreira, who just completed her freshman year at Notre Dame. Ferreira, coincidentally, was in the same graduating class with CU quarterback Sefo Liufau at Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep.
White was also her first choice to tote her bag in North Carolina.
“She called me about two hours after she qualified to ask me if I could caddy,” he said. “To have that trust and belief in me to ask me to caddy for her in this big of an event means a lot to me. There has to be camaraderie, a comfort level to make it fun and enjoyable but also an air about it to lessen any stress.”
“I started thinking about it and really hoped that he could caddy for me and was excited that he was able to make it work out,” Silvers said. “He was my first choice, and being my college coach, I’m the most comfortable with him. He knows my game better than anyone, knows when I might be off here or there and knows what to tell me to make that quick adjustment.
“If he wouldn’t have been able to do it, I probably would have asked my dad, but he’ll enjoy it much more watching from the gallery than he would caddying.”
This is the first time that the same course is hosting both the men’s and women’s U.S. Open tournaments in back-to-back weeks. Whether it is a success or not won’t be known until two weeks from now, but most are intrigued with the experiment.
Wallace, for one, likes it, especially being on the road playing in another tournament.
“I’m switching back and forth between the men’s Open and the World Cup,” she said. “But you never get to see the course you’re going to play the very next week on TV. It’s a little different perspective, and it will obviously play much different. Still, it’s great.”
Wallace has placed Pinehurst before, in the North-South Amateur in the summer of 2010, when she reached the quarterfinals in the match play.
“I played the course well, so I am going to try and remember the good shots I hit and go from there,” she recalled. “I hit a lot of those greens four years ago, but I am sure it’s going to play a lot longer. I remember I was pretty good at hitting it in the right spots, which you have to do there, otherwise the ball will roll right off the greens.”
Franklin’s number one aim is to be sure Wallace enjoys the moment, as there is no guarantee a player will ever return a second time to a U.S. Open.
“It’s more about the area, it’s Pinehurst, it’s going to be the approaches and the reads,” he said. “So it’s the perspective, the opportunity of how I can help. We have conversations all the time. It’s about offering support, giving her suggestions. It’s almost more of what I can do for her at the end of the tournament, leaving the coaching for then. Jess is good if you give her things to work on for a couple of months.
“It’s more about having fun during the week and enjoying the experience.”
CU fans can keep a watchful eye out for Ralphie per se – Franklin, White and Wallace will be all representative.
Wallace still owns her set of buffalo head covers for her driver, 3- and 5-woods that Kelly issued as official team equipment. Franklin and White will proudly be wearing CU golf team hats to get the Buffs “some airtime” if and when the cameras should focus on their players; Franklin did the same two weeks again when he caddied for Talley in the ShopRite.
White will also make sure Silvers enjoys the experience as well.
“You can’t lose sight of why you are there, it may be the U.S. Open, it’s still you versus the course, but you also have to take a deep breath and enjoy it,” he said. “Step back and soak it all up.”
“I want to first of all have fun and take it all in and be relaxed, but I also want to play my game and do the best I can, and that’s why it will be good to have Brandon there,” Silvers said. “He’s seen me play my best and my worst, so he’ll be able to keep me even keel.”
And that’s the challenge ahead for both Franklin and White -- helping with club selection, wind direction, lining up putts, etc., for sure – but just as important, when they depart Pinehurst next Sunday, making sure these two young ladies leave with memories that they just enjoyed the time of their young golfing lives.
ADDENDUM: The USGA released pairings late Saturday, and Wallace could get some airtime: in her group is the 11-year old amateur from Redwood Shores, Calif., Lucy Li; Catherine O'Donnell rounds out the threesome which tees off at 5:07 a.m. MDT on Thursday (and 10:52 a.m. Friday). Slivers will start at 10:30 a.m. MDT on Thursday and 4:45 a.m.on Friday and will be paired with two amateurs.