Caddying for McIlroy at Pine Valley an above-par learning experience for college golfer

Matt Raudenbush got tips from Rory McIlroy.
Matt Raudenbush got tips from Rory McIlroy. (UNC ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS)
Posted: July 12, 2011

Last month at the U.S. Open, golf fans got to watch 22-year-old Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy win the event at Congressional by eight shots, in the very next major after he had blown a four-stroke, 54-hole lead at the Masters.

It was pretty indelible stuff. And heading into this week's British Open, the next Grand Slam event on the schedule, we really haven't seen him since. Unless, of course, you count his appearance at Wimbledon.

Hey, when you do what he did, there are certain perks.

Yet on the weekend before McIlroy made like Tiger Woods circa 2000, he was playing his first two rounds at South Jersey's Pine Valley Golf Club, which is usually ranked as the top course in the universe. Not a shabby perk, either, especially if you try the snapper soup afterward.

Anyway, McIlroy was there with his agent, Chubby Chandler, a couple of members and a few others around McIlroy's age. The party of seven all played. Matt Raudenbush should know. He's the son of Pine Valley's longtime head professional, Charles. The fifth-year senior on the University of North Carolina golf team was the lucky one who got to carry McIlroy's bag around for 36 holes.

Welcome to his perk.

"I've been caddying pretty regular this summer, when I don't have a tournament and have the time to do it," Raudenbush said. "I think [my dad] knew about it about a week before he came. That day the caddiemaster just said, 'Matt, you're caddying for Rory.' And I was like, 'OK, that's cool.' He hooked me up.

"The first day, they played around [noon]. I met him in the parking lot. If you didn't know who he was, you'd think he was just some 22-year-old kid who just likes to hang out. I guess they hit balls. We just went right to the [first] tee. Then off we went."

You want perspective? Raudenbush is 5 months older than McIlroy.

"As a college golfer, I tried to do everything I could to pick his brain," Raudenbush said. "He helped a lot. He thinks everything through. Then he talks about the different shots that he hit. Every time, I saw him do something a little different. It's unbelievable. He hits the shot he wants, almost every time, always within 4 or 5 yards of the number he was trying to, which is really everything. It was just I'd tell him what to hit or where to hit it, and that's what he'd do. First hole, you need to hit it about 280 to the right-center [of the fairway], and he just cut one right in there.

"I've caddied for a few other pros, and they didn't ask for any advice. Just give them a general idea here or there and they'd go hit it. That was it. He asked me what I thought a lot, to get an idea of what he was doing. Especially the first time. The second time, he used his laser [device] to get the yardages . . .

"He'd say, 'What gives me a better chance? Where's my better miss?' He said that a few times. Here, if you miss it in a bad spot you can make a big number."

As you'd suspect, the appearance attracted some crowds.

"At the fourth hole, there were like 20 people behind the green," Raudenbush said. "And about 30 standing in back of the tee at 5. Word kind of got around. Nobody ever follows much beyond that. I caddied for Ernie Els before, and nobody even knew.

"They keep things very low-key around here."

According to Raudenbush, McIlroy opened with a 1-over-par 71 and followed with 69. From, obviously, the back tees, which measures more than 7,000 yards with a rating of 75.2 and slope of 155. In other words, hazardous to your handicap.

"Most good golfers don't break 80 their first time, even from the regular tees," Raudenbush said. "He didn't alter his swing, to hit different shots. It's what I watch most people do. This was just something I'd never seen before.

"It's very easy to forget he's 22. He has that poise that most 22-year-olds don't have. I don't see it in college golf. Yet he was really nice, joked around all day. It was a surprise to see him having such a good time the week before the U.S. Open.

"[My dad] asked me, 'Well, what did you learn?' I said, 'To hit it straighter and don't miss.' I'm a pretty good ball-striker. He's 5 months younger, which makes me feel really good about my golf game."

So, because Dan (Gross) About Town would want us to inquire, how good of a tipper was the game's newest hero?

"He paid me what everybody else pays," Raudenbush said, matter-of-factly. "We do all right around here. It was the normal rate, which is quite all right with me.

"He gave me a ball, said good luck. He said he's going to try and follow me, but I don't know about that. I can easily follow him. We'll see. Maybe I'll put him in Twitter and see if he remembers."

One thing's for certain: For Raudenbush it's forever.

"On No. 10 [a par 3], the pin's back left," he related. "On top of a ridge, untouchable. You don't hit at it. I told him, 'There's a flat spot, about 8 feet wide and 8 feet up and down, about 10-15 feet right of that. He said, 'OK. How far?' I think I said 172. His 8-iron is usually 165. He hits a big draw, it comes in about 10 yards, and it hits right in that spot. And he made the putt. It's not that easy, it really isn't."

So, then, McIlroy has a new fan?

"Pretty much,' Raudenbush said. "I've been riding that Gary Woodland train all year. But [McIlroy's] stepped up, I think. I saw it up close. When I watch him now, I can kind of tell when he's doing something different. I feel like I know. I'm on the bandwagon. My friends wanted to know if he hit it like that when he was here. A lot of them wished they could have traded places with me."

Very cool indeed. *

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