Bob Lutz

Mundorf happy to spend time on the other side of the bag

Carrying a bag for a PGA Tour pro has its perks. You get to wear shorts, for one. And you can make some money, depending on the success of the pro.

But playing the game was always Chris Mundorf's intent. When he caddied for J.B. Holmes and Troy Matteson, he couldn't help but think to himself that he should be out there hitting shots, not offering advice about them.

"It has taken a while to get here and I've battled a lot,'' Mundorf said after shooting his second consecutive 4-under 67 on Friday in the Wichita Open at Crestview Country Club. "But it's still good. When you're out there as a caddie, you see how well those players are treated. It's amazing how people just kind of look at the PGA players like they're gods. They just really respect them; I think it's great to be respected for what you do.''

Mundorf has always been a player, but now he's in full-charge mode. He's off to easily his best start here; in six previous Nationwide Tour events he made one cut and has won $3,461.

He's been on more tours than Aerosmith and is struggling to get beyond the dues-paying period of his golf career. At 32, he's on a journey endorsed by his wife, Katherine, with whom he has a 14-month-old son, Andrew.

"I've always had a lot of confidence in myself, I feel like it's just been a matter of it happening,'' said Mundorf, who is seven shots off the Wichita Open lead. "So I guess I've never seen what I'm doing at this point as a leap of faith. I expect to do well. You just have to stay out of your own way and hope the good golf will come out.''

The 5-foot-9, 145-pound Mundorf isn't a particularly long hitter, but when he's playing his best he is deadly accurate. And having done so much caddying, he always has a good idea of what needs to happen.

More than that, though, Mundorf said his caddie experience taught him more about proper demeanor and temperament than it did about ball striking or club choice.

"So many people ask me about what I learned as a caddie and I think it's a lot, but they're intangible things,'' Mundorf said. "Watching people's reactions to situations; you sometimes see players throw away a decent round because they get upset or down on themselves. You really learn to just say, 'Hey, just let it go. Don't worry about it and don't let it affect the next shot.' That's so much of what golf is about, right there.''

Mundorf played collegiately at North Carolina State, where his teammates included Tim Clark, Carl Pettersson, Marc Tunesa and Garth Mulroy, all PGA Tour veterans. He was a two-time honorable mention All-America and the Wolfpack's MVP one year.

Mundorf played in five U.S. Amateurs and was the medalist in 2001.

But he's been unable to forge his way into a regular golf gig, instead piecing together a living through caddying and occasionally playing, not to mention selling copiers, bartending and being a waiter. He has missed out earning his PGA Tour card in Q School seven times.

It was Matteson who paid Mundorf's $5,000 entry into last winter's Q School and consistently pumped him up about his playing ability.

Mundorf, who marks his ball with quarters from the 1960s because his goal is to shoot in the 60s, reached the final stage of Q School for the first time, failing to gain a PGA Tour card but gaining conditional status on the Nationwide Tour.

He got a sponsor's exemption to play in the Rex Hospital Open in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C., three months ago, where he finished in a tie for 27th. That's been the highlight of his professional playing career so far.

"I really hit the ball well there,'' Mundorf said. "I'm not hitting it quite as well now, but my scoring is really starting to come around. I've been in a real scoring drought this year to the point that every time I walk off the course I've been thinking, 'Man, I couldn't have shot any higher.' That's a bad feeling. You want to feel like you stole a couple of strokes out there and that just comes down to some putts going in.''

Mundorf, being a former caddie himself, values the job. Yet he's turned over his bag to Dave Mueller, a guy he met last week in the parking lot after missing the cut in the Lexus of Omaha tournament.

"I just went up to him and asked if he needed any help,'' Mueller said. "He's been great. Hopefully, he'll critique my work and let me know how it's going. Chris is a class act of a person, too. We're getting along really well.''

Getting along, Mundorf said, is probably the key to a successful player-caddie relationship.

"The guys I worked for on the PGA Tour were great guys — really easy to get along with — and we became great friends,'' he said. "If you get along well with the caddie, well, that's almost better than having a... good caddie.''

Mundorf said he was receptive to Mueller, but explained he didn't have much money to offer.

"A lot of these caddies out here on this tour also work on the PGA Tour and I can't really afford to pay those guys,'' Mundorf said.

Maybe someday. And given his first two rounds in Wichita, perhaps someday will come sooner than expected.

"I been around for a while but I haven't always played great,'' Mundorf said. "But I feel like I have some game. It's just a matter of getting it to come out.''