Veteran PGA Tour caddie Gneiser will have plenty of anxious moments caddying for his son this week
During his 32 years as a PGA Tour caddie there have been plenty of nerve-racking moments for Darien's Scott Gneiser.
At the top of the list are certainly the seconds before David Toms buried a 12-foot putt to defeat Phil Mickelson by a stroke at the 2001 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Atlanta, Georgia.
Gneiser has helped players like Toms, Bill Haas and Brent Geiberger deal with the heart-pounding pressure of the Tour since 1989.
But one of Gneiser's most nervous moments actually came last year when he watched his son, 16-year-old Billy, open with 3 straight double bogeys at the Illinois Open. Billy, whose first-round caddie was a buddy that helped him qualify at Willow Crest Golf Club, came to a realization after his front-nine 45.
"Dad," he said, "I want you to caddie for me tomorrow and help me out."
The next day Billy took 10 strokes off his opening-round 91 on the daunting 7,000-yard track.
Eleven months later, Scott will caddie for Billy once again when the Illinois Amateur begins at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville on Tuesday. Billy, one of nine grandchildren of legendary Blackhawks center Stan Mikita, qualified by shooting a 1-under 71 at Fox Bend Golf Course in Oswego.
"A lot of people have their dads on their bag, but they can't say their dad is a PGA Tour caddie," said Billy, who will be a senior at Hinsdale South High School. "It's pretty cool. More bonding and more time with him on the course. Last year in the Illinois Open I had a smile on my face the entire time. I'm sure it'll be the same thing again at Mistwood."
Loopin' for a livin':
It was never Scott Gneiser's goal to become a Tour caddie. After graduating from Central Michigan, Scott was all set to take a regular job at Sugar Loaf Resort in Traverse City when he got a phone call from Ed Humenik, whom Gneiser had caddied for in a few events in Michigan.
"I'm following Ed as he's trying to make the Tour," Gneiser said. "All of a sudden Q School comes around and I'm watching the results and I see Ed makes it. I'm thinking, 'That's great!'
"Then he calls me up and goes, 'Scotty! I made the Tour!'
"I said, 'Congrats! That's awesome!' "
"And he goes, 'Do you want to caddie?' "
It was a call that completely changed Gneiser's life. After turning down the job at Sugar Loaf, he found himself at Pebble Beach just two weeks later. Humenik struggled, though, and Gneiser figured his looping days were over after one season.
Not so fast.
Gneiser got a call from Andy North before the 1990 season asking if he wanted to team up. North, who won the 1978 and '85 U.S. Opens, was 40 and on the downside of his career so this wasn't an easy decision.
That is, until Gneiser saw the Masters on North's schedule.
"I said, 'Really? Augusta?'" Gneiser said. "I'm like, 'I'm in. I'll do it for nothing.'"
After North's career ended in 1991, Gneiser bounced around. He worked for Hinsdale's Jeff Sluman for about half a season then caught on with Brent Geiberger in the mid-to-late 1990s.
After that partnership ended in 1999, Gneiser called David Toms after learning Toms fired his caddie.
Toms, who'd missed five straight cuts, gave Gneiser a trial run -- one that began with a fourth-place finish in the Kemper Open in Potomac, Maryland.
"We worked pretty well together," Gneiser said. "He was struggling with his driver and that was the case at the PGA Championship at Medinah (11 weeks later). On No. 18 he hits his drive into the woods on the right-hand side. So he walks nonchalantly to the back of the tee. I'll never forget it -- it was one of those Big Berthas -- and he flipped it into the water."
The next week they were in Denver for the International and Toms picked up a new Ping driver on the range.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Ball after ball is flying straight, true and LONG.
"He goes, 'Man. This thing's unreal. Where can I get one?'" Gneiser said. "We went and found the Ping guys. He didn't even play a practice round with it and he ended up winning the tournament. He drove the ball on a string and it was 20 yards further."
Six weeks later Toms won the Buick Challenge and suddenly there was a new force on the PGA Tour. Toms' world ranking soared from 70th at the end of the 1998 season to 24th at the end of '99.
He then won the 2001 PGA Championship and played on three straight Ryder Cup teams (2002, '04 and '06).
Gneiser said what separates the best players on Tour is the ability to control their nerves.
That's not to say Toms has never been nervous. Gneiser's seen Toms' hands shaking quite a bit over the years -- and that was especially the case on the first tee box of the 2002 Ryder Cup at the Belfry in England.
"The stands from 18 are to our left and everybody's looking down," Gneiser said. "It's loud. It's really loud. David gets on the first tee and goes, 'Oh my God, Scott. I don't know what to do. I'm so nervous. I can't even see straight.'
"I'll never forget it. I just said, 'David, just take a deep breath and just do what you do. Try to block everything out, which I know is tough. But just go through your routine and swing.'"
Toms striped his drive, birdied the first hole and helped defeat Padraig Harrington and Nicklas Fasth 1-up.
"He hit it as good as anybody on the team that week," said Gneiser, who watched Toms go 3-1-1 that week, with one victory coming over Sergio Garcia in singles.
Europe claimed the Cup, however, with a 15.5-12.5 victory.
Had Scott Gneiser not become a professional caddie, it's highly unlikely he ever would have met Jane Mikita, the third of Stan and Jill Mikita's four children. The two met at The Kerry Piper -- an Irish bar in Willowbrook -- as the 1999 Western Open was being played.
Married in 2001, Scott and Jane have three boys and -- along with Stan -- were instrumental in growing their love for golf from an early age.
"He brought us out to Medinah all the time," Billy said of Stan. "We'd always go and hit balls, and after that we would play two or three holes with him and go have dinner. That got me hooked on it, as well as hockey."
As for this week, Gneiser will definitely play a different role than when dealing with the grueling pressure of the PGA Tour.
"I let Billy do his thing," Scott said. "Instilling things into kids' heads will bring more negativity into their game, instead of him just freewheeling it and swinging. Whereas a pro they know how to gauge something. They know how to hit a smaller 7-iron. ...
"I'm going to try and keep him loose. He might get a little nervous before he gets out there because I think he's expecting a lot more than last year."
That is indeed the case, as Billy would love to make the cut.
"If I keep playing the way I have I should be able to do that," said Billy, whose 17th birthday is Tuesday. "Just got to keep my head in there."
No worries there, kid. Dad's got your back. As well as your bag.
90th Illinois AmateurWhere: Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville
Format: 18 holes Tuesday and Wednesday. Field cut to top 36 and ties, then 36 holes Thursday
Six to watch• John Ehrgott (Edwards) claimed four mid-am titles (2007 and 2009 Illinois State Mid-Am, 2015 and 2018 CDGA Mid-Am). The 46-year-old has also achieved success on the national stage, advancing to match play in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship five times.
• Jake Erickson (Springfield) has finished in the top 12 of the State Am in five of the last seven years. He is a past winner of the CDGA Mid-Amateur Championship (2019).
• Ethan Farnam (Crystal Lake) is searching to become the first repeat State Am winner since 2002-03.
• Mac McClear (Hinsdale) has won three team IHSA state championships at Hinsdale Central. He also claimed the 2019 Illinois State Junior Amateur crown and earned the individual Big Ten Championship title in May. He is a junior at Iowa.
• Brad Kay (Arlington Heights) won the CDGA Senior Amateur Championship in 2018 and CDGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball Championship in 2019.
• Jordan Less (Elmhurst) nearly achieved a historic double in 2019, claiming the 100th CDGA Amateur Championship at Glen View Club before finishing tied for second in the State Am at Cantigny.