Teeing off with the pros: Whitman students caddie at the Wells Fargo Championship pro-am


Photo courtesy Ali Shalabi

When Whitman’s athletic department announced the pro-am caddying opportunity in late April, students immediately rushed to enter their name on the sign-up list.

By Asa Ostrow

It’s 7:30 a.m., and freshman Nate Sullivan awakens to the startling sound of his buzzing alarm. He throws on a light polo shirt and Bermuda shorts — typical golf attire. He grabs a quick breakfast and heads to Whitman, where he meets up with a group of students for a trip to the nearby Tournament Players Club (TPC) in Potomac. However, Sullivan and his fellow students aren’t gearing up to play a round of golf or watch from the sidelines.

The freshman and 14 other Whitman students caddied in the Wells Fargo Championship’s “pro-am” event on May 2, carrying a player’s golf bag and helping them make strategic decisions on the course. At this annual pro-am tournament, professional golfers and several amateur players pair up in groups to compete. For 18 years, the Championship took place at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, but was moved to TPC Potomac for the 2022 season. The Championship regularly attracts some of the most promising rising stars in golf and this year welcomed players like Max Homa, Anirban Lahiri and Silver Spring-native Denny McCarthy.

When Whitman’s athletic department announced the pro-am caddying opportunity in late April, students immediately rushed to add their name to the sign-up list. For Sullivan, this opportunity was unique; the first time he would ever step foot on a golf course, he would be caddying for a professional golfer.

“It was my first time on a golf course, so it was a pretty good first experience,” said Sullivan, who caddied for touring pro Brett Drewitt. “He taught me a little bit about how to play.” 

Each May, around 100,000 fans travel from across the world to watch professional golfers in action at the Wells Fargo Championship. Ticket prices range from $20 to more than $10,000 for the best seats. For these students, however, a day on the golf course with the pros meant that they would be the ones cashing out. In addition to the $120 base compensation they received, the student caddies earned hefty tips from the golfers, sophomore Zach Dawson said. 

The tournament also provided caddies with free tickets to the pro tournament — which took place the following weekend — as well as free food and clubhouse access on the day of the pro-am.

“It was pretty awesome,” sophomore Adam Shalabi said. “The entire course was set up for a real tournament, and you had a pro player there with you. It felt like you were really inside an actual golf tournament, which is pretty cool, because usually you spend most of the experience on the outside, just kind of watching.”

Despite his admiration for the professional athletes, Shalabi felt that walking with pro golfer Jim Knous didn’t feel much different than playing a round with friends, he said.

“We made casual conversation — just small talk,” Shalabi said. “It was just our four [amateurs] and the pro. There wasn’t really any separation between us: we were all just having a good time.”

Since registration for this year’s pro-am exceeded initial expectations, tournament organizers found themselves in need of caddies at the last minute and turned to on-demand caddie service CaddieMaster. Still, last-minute vacancies left the tournament in a pinch, and Whitman students helped fill gaps to allow the tournament to run smoothly, according to Loren Folkman, TPC Potomac’s local affiliate for CaddieMaster. 

“We had a little bit of an idea that a few [vacancies] would pop up on the day of,” said Folkman, who helped connect Whitman students with the caddying opportunity. “We were trying to get ourselves ahead of it, trying to stay what’s called ‘in the plus’ in the caddie world — having more people than we need. It was great that they were there to help.”

This year’s event was the first in the Championship’s history to take place outside of North Carolina —  a change that required tournament organizers to adjust the way they ran the event, said Cameron Wells, a Wells Fargo Championship tournament coordinator. For the first time ever, the tournament couldn’t rely on its network of North Carolina caddies. This made finding these important employees difficult, he said. 

“Having to deal with the caddies this year, and [needing to] come up with last minute requests and provide caddies last-minute — that was something we weren’t really used to,” Wells said.

In addition to hiring locals as caddies this year, Wells Fargo sponsored programs at the tournament to support local HBCU golfers and local small businesses. The tournament also donated $5,000 to Whitman’s All Sports Booster Club in return for the school’s caddie recruitment efforts. The club plans on using the donation to support Whitman’s sports teams, Athletic Director Andy Wetzel said.

While the student caddies’ assistance was an important part of ensuring the event ran smoothly, the caddies also gained memories and experience that they’ll remember for years to come, Wells said.

“They all seemed to have a fantastic time,” he said. “When you’re actually inside the ropes at a professional golf tournament, being that close to the pros and seeing them hit the ball the way they do — it’s always really cool. Regardless of if it’s a big time pro or not, these are the best golfers in the world that you’re able to see play.”