Former Gavilan coach’s week caddying for a golfing legend
Paul Latzke was shocked when NBC contacted him a week prior to the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach this past June.
“I was surprised that they had found a story from 38 years ago,” Latzke said.
It had been nearly four decades since the former athletic director and coach at Gavilan College lived out a week-long adventure on the links at the 1972 U.S. Open.
Latzke, 68, who graduated from Gilroy High School in 1960, is more than willing to share his tale of happenstance and blind luck of the draw.
He is a congenial fellow with a gruff yet friendly delivery when he speaks, which provides his storytelling with a unique spin and honest portrayal.
After being cut from the Denver Broncos, Latzke, a six-year NFL veteran, took a coaching job at Stevenson School in Pebble Beach.
Two years later, at the coaxing of a good friend, Latzke entered his name into a drawing to be a caddie at the 1972 Major championship at Pebble Beach.
“They took names out of a box, if it was your name they had you come up and pull a name out of the other, that’s how they paired us,” Latzke said.
The box with the names of the golfers in the field slowly dwindled down to roughly a dozen slips of folded paper, Latzke reminisced.
Then, his name was announced.
Walking to the front of the room, Latzke reached his hand into the second box of pieces of paper.
“The guy told me to dig deep,” Latzke
However, he didn’t do what was suggested. And as fate would have it, it’s a good thing he didn’t.
“I remember it was sitting right there on top,” he said. “I opened it and it said Jack Nicklaus. I show the guy and said, ‘I got the man.'”
Nicklaus, “the man” in golf at the time, holds the record for most Major victories with 18. The Golden Bear. Think all of the Tiger Woods hoopla and frenzy. That was all for Nicklaus back then.
It was an unconventional and unpredictable pairing indeed – a former pro athlete now caddying for the best golfer in the world – but the media loved it.
“The interviews started immediately,” Latzke said. “He was the greatest golfer in the world. Just the fact that I drew Jack Nicklaus, that’s what was special. It was 40,000 to 1 that we would be paired together.”
As he recalls the initial meeting between the two had him on pins and needles. Not only were caddies assigned to the golfers in order to allow for all to have an equal shot at wining the U.S. Open, but the golfers had the option of firing whomever they had on the bag.
Latzke arrived early at the caddy shack prior to the first practice round of the week, just waiting for the man all eyes would be on a few days from then.
“While I was hanging around there, waiting for Jack Nicklaus to arrive, I had heard that Chi Chi Rodriguez had fired his caddie one or two holes into the practice round. And I go, ‘oh, brother.’ Of course I was a little apprehensive.”
He had perfectly good reason to worry, golf wasn’t exactly Latzke’s forte, and this was Nicklaus, who had already won 10 Majors at that point of his career, including the Masters (for the fourth time) two months earlier.
“We were in the car and he asked me how my golf knowledge was,” Latzke remembers of the encounter. “I told him it was so-so and that I had caddied once or twice before. He asked me if I had shot in the 80s, and of course the answer was no.
“He just calmly said don’t worry, I will teach you everything you need to know and tell you exactly what I expect,” Latzke added.
And so it began.
As the week progressed and the tournament got under way, Latzke built a rapport with the golf legend.
“It’s not rocket science to carry a bag around,” Latzke said. “The main thing was knowing when to shut up and when to talk.”
Instead of giving out advice, Latzke became Nicklaus’ confidant on the course – someone to talk to.
“From time to time we all just want to say something to relieve the tension,” Latzke said. “The only thing I needed to do was to support that and not distract him. He’s thinking about the game. He didn’t want to think about his caddie.”
At 2-over par, Nicklaus won the U.S. Open by three strokes over Bruce Crampton. The grand prize … $30,000.
At a post-tournament party, Nicklaus cut Latzke a check for $3,000. The pair said their goodbyes and haven’t seen each other since, Latzke said.
“Some people who are so into golf, I think would’ve given their first born to have that opportunity,” Latzke said. “For me it was kind of like, ‘what’s the big deal?’ It was just a fun event to participate in.”
Latzke played football at GHS and moved onto Menlo College after graduation. From there, the 6-foot-4 center transferred to University of Pacific.
He was signed by the San Francisco 49ers, spending a partial season with the team. A bulk of his career was spent with the San Diego Chargers, seeing most of his action on special teams.
Latzke is a member of the Menlo College Hall of Fame as well as the California Junior College Hall of Fame, an honor he received in 2000.
Latzke retired from Gavilan in 2004, where he served as the softball coach, was an offensive line coach for the football team, did a stint as athletic director and helped out with the wrestling team in 32 years at the college.
“Retirement is hard on me,” Latzke quipped after sharing recent trips to Mexico and Tahoe. “It’s rough I tell ya.”
Aside from his travels and fishing trips, Latzke is a seasoned handyman, working construction jobs for friends.
“I’ve been doing that kind of stuff for years,” he said.
With all of his free time, one would think Latzke hits the links once or twice a week.
“I hate (golf),” Latzke said earnestly. “I can’t stand playing.”