Luke Guthrie is on his first go-around on the PGA Tour, and older brother Zach is right by his side — as his caddie.
SILVIS — The car ride from Quincy to Pennsylvania is long.
Dennis and Cindy Guthrie know.
They made the 15-hour trip last month to the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.
Their youngest son, 23-year-old Luke, was playing in his first U.S. Open.
Their oldest son, 28-year-old Zach, was Luke’s caddie.
Luke didn’t fare well at Merion.
Missed the cut.
Big time. Like many other golfers who couldn’t figure out treacherous Merion.
The two brothers who have both contributed significantly to the Illinois men’s golf program in the last five years flew back to Quincy.
Beat their parents home.
By the time Dennis and Cindy Guthrie arrived in the western Illinois river city of 40,000, their two sons were back on the road.
Such is the life of a professional golfer and his caddie.
But before they left the Gem City, the town they were born and raised in, they did some chores. Like mowing the yard at the family home.
“That was a concern of ours was for them to stay grounded,” Cindy Guthrie said. “I thought it was awesome that they cut our grass. They saw that needs to be done, and it shows to me that they’re still grounded.”
Luke Guthrie doesn’t have a home. He could buy one if he wants.
A nice one, too.
The PGA rookie is roughly $27,000 shy of surpassing $1 million on the money list during the 2013 season. Despite missing the cut at his last two PGA events, chances are he can add millionaire to his name soon.
Even if he doesn’t have a place in his name. “Home” for him consists of splitting time at Zach’s condo in Champaign and at his parents’ house in Quincy.
“He lets me sleep in the bedroom next to his,” Luke said with a smile while pointing his thumb at Zach earlier this week in the bowels of TPC Deere Run’s clubhouse. “I have stuff at his place and stuff at my parents’ place.”
The close relationship and good-natured ribbing both brothers give each other comes out shortly after Luke finishes that statement.
“I can’t believe I’ve still got to put a roof over his head,” Zach joked.
When it’s mentioned it seems he lives a nomadic lifestyle, a smile crosses Luke’s face. It’s a common sight these days.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” he said. “I love golf. I love competing. And I’m doing it on the biggest stage. What’s better than that?”
Cool. Awesome. Those are two steady adjectives in Luke Guthrie’s vocabulary when he describes the past 15 months:
— A second Big Ten individual title in late April 2012. A solid pro debut at the FedEx St. Jude Classic last June that saw him net $67,872 in prize money after tying for 19th place.
“One of my other friends on tour, Ryan Palmer and his caddie, played with him at the FedEx St. Jude, and said, ‘Man, this kid is right out of college. You think he’d been out here for 10 years,’ ” former Illini and current PGA golfer D.A. Points said. “He’s just very mature.”
— His eye-opening showing at last year’s Deere Classic.
— Success on the Web.com Tour, which included Guthrie sealing his PGA Tour card for 2013. And in the process winning two tournaments while placing in the top 10 during seven of the 10 Web.com tournaments he competed at.
Then his brother joined him.
Zach left his position as an assistant men’s golf coach at Illinois in November.
He’s now walking side-by-side with his brother on some of the country’s best golf courses.
“I caddied for him in the past at his tournaments, and he’s caddied for me at junior amateur qualifiers,” Luke said. “It wasn’t like it was totally out of the blue. I think there was sort of always a (feeling) if one of us made it (professionally), it’d be kind of cool to caddie for the other one. I asked him in the fall at some point if he would like to do that and if it would be something he was interested in. We’re having a blast out here. I think we make a pretty good team, so it’s pretty cool.”
Zach had a noteworthy college golfing career at Western Illinois. He parlayed that success into coaching five years with Mike Small at Illinois. It wasn’t a no-brainer he would leave his job at Illinois.
“The ceiling is definitely higher with Luke than it was at Illinois,” Zach said. “The money wasn’t really a concern. The concern was just being so invested in the golf program at Illinois and having been there five years. I thought through it a little more rationally than making an emotional decision to make sure it was the right call for me. I had to be selfish in that sense to make sure it was what I wanted to do. I’m very happy with what I’m doing now.”
Luke Guthrie had a friend from Quincy, Ryan Franks, as his caddie early in his professional career.
“I’ve never had a professional caddie, I guess,” Luke said. “I kind of like it this way because you know the person. You already have a relationship, and there’s no awkward introductions.”
The Guthries aren’t the only family members who have walked PGA tournaments as player and caddie. Former Illini Steve Stricker has utilized his wife, Nicki, on the bag.
Northwestern graduate Luke Donald had his brother, Christian, employed for a while.
“It can help,” Stricker said. “It’s somebody you can rely on, go out to dinner with and hang around and feel comfortable with. Out here, it’s all about feeling comfortable in your game and your surroundings.”
But it’s not like sets of brothers roam fairways and greens commonly at PGA events. Plus, it provides their mother with a bit of comfort.
“It was nice to know that when Luke is going out on the road, Zach is going to have his back, and Luke will have his back, too,” Cindy Guthrie said. “We spoke to Zach a little bit before he made his decision. We said, ‘This is Luke’s deal. If you want to stay where you’re at, you don’t have to feel responsible to break up your life.’ I think it really was an unspoken thing between them, though. If either one of them either got the chance to play a professional sport, the other would be right there.”
Luke Guthrie has an agent. And sponsors. Like Hugo Boss, Ping, Titleist and Hyatt, among others. More could land his way if his play continues to blossom.
Luke is the self-deprecating sort. Which is why he’s thankful he has an agent and sponsorship deals at such an early stage in his PGA career.
“I consider myself a humble guy who doesn’t really want to talk about myself,” Luke said. “I didn’t grow up like that, and that’s not how I was raised. That’s one good reason for an agent because when you go and get these deals, they’re selling me. Personally, I’d probably undersell myself because I wouldn’t want to be that guy. If I wouldn’t have had that strong of a finish (in college), I probably wouldn’t have had an agent right away.”
Perhaps Buffalo Wild Wings and Chipotle might factor into future endorsement deals. Those are the two favorite eating spots for Luke. Zach is a fan of Jimmy John’s. They frequent those restaurants the most on their various trips across the country.
Reading golf courses is the brothers’ forte. Cooking, not so much.
“I’ve got a kitchen at home, but I haven’t turned the stove on in a year and a half,” Zach said. “That’s the truth. The microwave has barely been on, too.”
They try to take in the sights when they can. They celebrated the Fourth of July in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., at The Greenbrier Classic with a Kenny Chesney concert. The country star played at the resort after the tournament’s first round.
“It’s been awesome,” Luke said. “That’s really the only way to describe it.”
Zach and Luke Guthrie are like many other 20-somethings. They live on their iPhone.
It helped them keep track of how the Illinois men’s golf team was faring against California on June 1 in an NCAA semifinal match — while the brothers were competing in the third round of the Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio.
“We were on the course and there was a weather delay,” Zach said. “We played (about) six holes, and obviously we can’t be checking our phones when we’re on the course in a tournament, so we had them powered off in the bag. They blew the horn (because of bad weather), and we’re both pumped because we can go check our phones and see how these guys are doing. We were living and dying by every shot. We were so proud of those guys, and we know them all.”
Or in making travel arrangements.
“We’ll search for the best deals,” Zach said. “We’re both penny-pinchers.”
“We won’t stay at the Super 8,” he said.
And then Zach finishes his sentence.
“But we’re also not going to stay at the Four Seasons and spend $5,000 for a room.”
Luke has played in 22 tournaments so far this year. In 14 states. And two countries (Guthrie tied for 18th at the Puerto Rico Open on March 10).
The brothers alternate between flying and driving to the different tournaments. They drove to Bethesda, Md., for the AT&T National at the end of June before heading south to West Virginia and The Greenbrier. After not making the cut at The Greenbrier, the Guthries made the nine-hour trek back west, stopping in Champaign briefly before making the rest of the drive to the Quad Cities.
Luke leaves it up to his brother to handle most of the driving. In a 2009 Hyundai Sonata. No need for a new car. At least not yet.
“It’s gone from about 65,000 miles to 80,000 in the last six months,” Zach said with a laugh.
“That’s good, though,” Luke said. “Shows it has good use.”
Travel is part of the deal of playing professional golf.
It’s an aspect with which all rookie pro golfers have to contend.
“The first year, that was more of an issue back in 2003 when I did my first real touring,” said Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion. “At the moment, it’s part of ... what we do. I don’t think to anyone that’s an issue anymore. You have to do it if you want to play professional golf.”
Which is what Luke Guthrie wanted to do — from an early age.
Dennis Guthrie tried to cut the grass short in certain areas in the family’s backyard in an effort to act like a putting green.
“I started playing in the backyard with plastic clubs at 2,” Luke said. “I was in my first tournament at 3. I played soccer growing up kind of seriously, but golf was always the sport. I quit soccer around seventh grade, and it’s been golf ever since. I wouldn’t know what the heck I’d do in the summer if I didn’t golf.”
There were other sports besides golf the Guthrie boys played in their neighborhood. Soccer and baseball, mostly.
The five-year age difference between Zach and Luke didn’t serve as a deterrent growing up.
“We had an awesome neighborhood to grow up in, and we were always playing sports,” Zach said. “Luke was always right there playing, even though he was five or seven years younger than the neighborhood kids. There were plenty of times where he played well and did well, and there were other times where he lost. It upset him a little bit where he might have to go back home to mom.”
Not for long, though.
“He’d be gone for 20 minutes,” Zach said, “and then he’d come back and be playing soccer with the high school kids.”
It did come, however, with a price. One Luke didn’t necessarily mind. Even if it hurt.
“Obviously they were bigger than me, and they would just bump me, so I’d go flying,” Luke said. “I’d either end up crying or jamming a thumb, but then I’d run back at some point. I was persistent.”
Quincy High School boys’ golf coach Doug Bruner knew he had a special talent in Luke from the get-go. That realization tends to sink in when a golfer misses the first few invitationals of his high school career because he was playing in Junior Ryder Cup matches.
“You know when the first thing you have to do with a kid is get an exemption from the IHSA, that this kid must be awesome,” Bruner said.
He proved he was, winning state titles in 2006 and 2007 for the Blue Devils.
Guthrie showed the town known mostly for its high school boys’ basketball team that its golf program isn’t too shabby, either. The residents still are paying attention to Luke’s golf career, Bruner said.
“Most of Quincy, on the weekends he is playing golf, they’re linked into the computer tracking him shot by shot if they’re not watching on TV,” Bruner said. “He’s got the backing of the entire city of Quincy.”
Guthrie said he handed out 200 tickets to family and friends before the John Deere Classic.
“They’ve really gotten behind what we’re doing out here,” Luke said. “It’s cool to have that support.”
Cindy Guthrie agrees.
“I think everyone in Quincy has adopted Luke as their son,” she said. “They’re very much behind him.”
While Luke is technically Zach’s boss, there are moments when it’s clear Zach is the older brother.
Like when he reminds Luke about their plans next week.
They joined other professionals flying on a charter jet out of the Quad City Airport on Sunday. Their destination?
Muirfield, the links course in Scotland that will host the British Open. The course the Guthrie brothers will try to tackle next.
Some of the top names in golf were on board.
Like Tom Watson.
The mention of the 63-year-old golfing legend makes Luke’s face light up. For an instant, he doesn’t seem like a professional golfer. It’s easier to picture him, even with his various sponsors emblazoned on his pink polo shirt and a white Ping baseball hat on top of his head, as a young golfer, practicing putts in his parents’ backyard for the first time.
“That’s going to be eight hours in a plane,” Luke said. “The first four hours will be me pumping myself up to go talk to him for about 10 minutes. That’s how it’s going to go. Just getting to know these guys and getting to know them outside TV is cool. They have them built up sometimes like they’re just these superhumans. When I go back to Champaign and some of the guys ask me, ‘What’s the difference? What makes them good?’ I tell them to just keep doing what you’re doing, and you’re going to get really good at it. It’s cool to get to know them all and see that they’re normal people.”
Normal is how Zach and Luke Guthrie described their fondness for Illinois when they were children. Zach wanted to go to Illinois. But he wanted to golf. And contribute.
Hence, he headed to Macomb and Western Illinois.
“I didn’t have the junior golf career Luke had,” Zach said. “I would have been the type of guy that if I would have gotten on the team at Illinois, it would have been more as a walk-on type guy, and it would have been harder for me to make the lineup. I knew I’d be able to play (at Western Illinois) for sure. I didn’t want to just say I was on the college golf team. It was a pretty easy decision.”
Luke remembers watching most of the Illinois men’s basketball games when Dee Brown and Deron Williams were in town.
“I was glued to the TV,” Luke said.
And he didn’t like Missouri. At all.
“I was never I’d say a die-hard Illinois fan, but I’ve definitely grown into one of those type of people,” Luke said. “I identify pretty solely with Illinois and everything about it.”
During one of his brief stops in Champaign, Zach ventured to Memorial Stadium. Checked out the new scoreboard going up in the south end zone.
Both brothers quizzed this reporter about transfer quarterback Wes Lunt and inquired about John Groce’s basketball team.
They plan on taking in a few Illinois football games this fall if their busy schedule allows them to. But they don’t seem to mind the hectic nature of life on the PGA Tour. They’re having too much fun.
“I’m never jealous or anything like that,” Zach said. “I’ve had a front-row seat to watching his development. I’ve always known that Luke was good. It was just him getting new pieces of information from qualified teachers and mentors that’s taken him to this point. It’s pretty cool to think about what’s going to happen.”
All in the family
Luke Guthrie isn’t the first professional golfer to employ a family member as his caddie. The former Illinois standout, who uses older brother Zach to carry his bags and dispense advice, probably isn’t the last, either. But it is rare. Here are five other family relationships built through caddying for a relative:
Steve has had his wife, Nicki, walk alongside at many tournaments throughout his career. They won’t next week, though. The couple is skipping the British Open to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary.
Matt Kuchar had his dad, Peter, caddie for him at the 1998 U.S. Open. Kuchar, then an amateur, finished 14th at Olympic Club in San Francisco. Peter Kuchar also has carried his son’s bag at the Masters.
Luke Donald, a five-time winner on tour, utilized his brother, Christian, for eight years. The Northwestern graduate, however, dumped his brother in favor of John McLaren in 2010.
Many thought the game had passed Jack Nicklaus when the 1986 Masters arrived. But the Golden Bear triumphed at Augusta — with his son Jack II nearby. Jack II caddied for Nicklaus at several other majors throughout his illustrious career, but none stand out more than when his father won the Masters in 1986 for the final major win of his career.
Patrick Reed is a rookie on the PGA Tour. But he made news Friday at the John Deere Classic with a 63 to share the lead at 12 under par heading into the weekend — with his wife, Justine, as his caddie. Reed will have some serious ground to make up going into Sunday’s final round at the JDC, though. He shot a 1-under-par 70 Saturday and was tied for ninth.