By David Shefter, USGA
San Diego – Standing around the grounds of Torrey Pines on Thursday, Andrew Svoboda was only a few hours away from packing his bags, turning in his rental car and flying back to New York for some weekend caddie work at Old Oaks Country Club.
As an alternate for the 2008 U.S. Open, Svoboda had zero playing privileges, but he could use the practice facility.
Then the call came. Brett Wetterich had injured his wrist and needed to withdraw. Svoboda suddenly was in the Open.
And two days later, without the benefit of a practice round, he was one of 80 golfers to make the 36-hole cut.
Not bad for a guy whose only competitive rounds in 2008 were the 54 holes he completed in local and sectional qualifying. In fact, Svoboda lost a five-hole playoff to Mike Gilmore at Old Oaks, his current home course, for the final spot at the Purchase, N.Y., sectional on June 2. From the 14 sectional sites, Svoboda was the No. 3 overall alternate and he moved to No. 2 last week when Rickie Fowler got in for an injured Shaun Micheel.
So a few Old Oaks members were kind enough to pay his expenses to Torrey Pines, even with the knowledge that the trip might end without him ever hitting a shot on the 7,643-yard layout.
While most of the players booked rooms at the Hilton on site or rented houses, Svoboda went the budget route and found a Quality Inn just a 20-minute drive from the course. He even rented a car, because only contestants receive a courtesy Lexus (Svoboda later turned down the courtesy car once he was in the field).
Take away that opening-round 77 and Svoboda might be close to Tiger Woods and the other top players challenging for the title. On Saturday, he rallied from a first-nine 41 to shoot a respectable 3-over 74 and a 54-hole total of 9-over 222.
“Hopefully, I can play well tomorrow and make something good out of this,” said Svoboda, who closed with birdies at 17 and 18. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a dream come true.”
Two years ago, the former Winged Foot club champion qualified for the Open at his home course, the place where he had reached the semifinals of the 2004 U.S. Amateur. Playing in front of a large number of friends and family, Svoboda missed the cut by one stroke.
He has since been to PGA Tour Qualifying School four times, but has yet to advance past the second stage. By playing 72 holes at the Open this week, he'll get a free pass into the second stage again this year.
“I’ve been knocking on the door,” he said. “It would have been nice [to reach the finals].”
Instead, Svoboda bounced around the Hooters Tour, spending much more than he was earning. Backers at Winged Foot helped finance his career – estimated between $60,000 and $70,000 a year – but he slowly tired of the car travel. His father died in February and Svoboda decided to take time away from competitive golf.
Old Oaks head pro Bobby Heins, who works with 2008 Shell Houston Open winner Johnson Wagner, gave him a job and now Svoboda lugs golf bags and works the bag room to make money. Of course, some members and guest do inquire if he plays.
“I usually get that,” said the 28-year-old St. John’s graduate. “Most people know who I am by now. I grew up in that area.”
This week’s Open performance has renewed Svoboda’s competitive juices. He plans to play in local events this summer, like the Met Open and New York State Open, and will enter some tournaments on the Golfers Warehouse Tour in the Boston area.
“Mini-tours are expensive,” he explained. “So this is unbelievable to make the cut [at the Open]. Hopefully now [some sponsors] will give me money so I can play.”
If anything, his return to Old Oaks ought to be interesting.
After this week, Svoboda is probably the most high-profile caddie in the Metropolitan New York area.
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer in New Media. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.