Who do I contact if I have more questions?
Email Mike Greene
Caddies in the News
Ghanaian-American girl finds caddying is path to American dream;
Her mother stuck in Ghana, Bolingbrook girl prospers as a caddy
September 5, 2009
By Dan Simmons, Chicago Tribune
In the spring, as Mike Greene trained a new crop of caddies he feared a slow
summer ahead for them.
"I was expecting the worst," said the caddy superintendent at Cantigny Golf
in Wheaton. Who, in these dire times, would fork over $90 for a walk around the
links and pay an additional $50 for a kid to schlep their clubs?
Among the sea of mostly white boys learning the ropes, he noticed Leanette
Pokuwaah, a Ghanaian-American girl with an unlikely caddying background. Her
outlook for a big summer didn't seem so good either.
"I wasn't sure she was going to make it," Greene said. "She was very nervous
and didn't know very much about golf."
That was then. Now, as the summer sun sets and the course's 160 caddies
settle back into school, Greene is marveling at reversals of fortune on both
His program turned into a rare economic success story this summer, with caddy
rounds up 17 percent over last year despite a dip in total rounds played.
"That's a big surprise," he said. "To be where we are is huge."
Greene said the caddies were in the right place at a bad economic time.
People were more likely to opt out of vacations this summer and spend a bit on
pastimes at home, such as golf. The public course absorbed a steady trickle of
former members of expensive private clubs used to having caddies, he said.
Nationally, rounds at private courses dipped about 1 percent from last year,
while play at public courses was up by about the same, according to Golf
And the girl who wasn't supposed to make it? She's going back to Bolingbrook
High School about a thousand dollars richer from a summer that saw her caddy 31
rounds and develop into one of the club's best rookies.
"She mastered the mechanics of what we do, and now she's learning the game,
learning the nuances of the golf course," Greene said. "Very few get that in the
At first, her main problem came in one of caddying's basic tasks: measuring
distance from a golfer's ball to the hole.
"Calculating yardage in my head is impossible!" she said, arms outstretched
in exasperation. "I'm like, I can't think that fast!"
Golfer Mark Skurla, one of her first clients, said that she joked about the
"math exam" on the links, part of what he described as a disarming candor that's
unusual for a "red bib," or rookie.
"She asked me what I do for a living, which I found very mature," he said.
"Most red bibs are very cowering and shy."
With Greene's help, she overcame her yardage struggles and, day-by-day,
mastered other job skills.
Which shouldn't be surprising, given other distances the 16-year-old has
Such as the distance from first picking up a club a year and a half ago to
becoming so addicted she joined her high school golf team and has recently been
known to practice chip shots in her bedroom. "I knew I must be passionate," she
said, "otherwise I wouldn't risk breaking windows."
Or the distance from the wide-open greenery of Cantigny to the seaside
metropolis of Accra, Ghana's capital. Her mother, Ewarama, has been stuck in the
West African nation since 2001, unable to get a visa back into the United
The visa denial came when Pokuwaah was 8 years old. The family was returning
stateside from a visit to Ghana, her parents' homeland where most of their
relatives still live.
Since, she and her older brother have lived a nomadic life -- three years
back with their mother in Ghana, followed by a two-year stint with relatives in
Indiana. Since 2006, they've lived in Bolingbrook with their father, Kwaku, a
toll-booth operator along Interstate Highway 355.
"I haven't seen my mom in five years," Pokuwaah said. "It's devastating."
She's grown used to waiting -- for her mother's visa appeals that kept
getting denied, for twice-weekly phone conversations with her.
The patience comes in handy on the links. Her only ride to and from the
course came with a friend's mom who works nearby. It meant getting to the course
at 6:30 a.m. every day and getting picked up at 6 p.m. If her loop was in the
afternoon, she waited around all morning, alternating French and Spanish lessons
with hitting balls on the driving range.
"People are like, 'Leanette, you're crazy!'" she said, smiling, "and I'm
like, 'I know!'"
In Ghana, she's seen children eating dirt. By comparison, waiting around the
course didn't seem too bad.
"It's not like I'm going to a crappy office job," she said. "It's so
beautiful to see the sun rise and the green grass. I love waking up to that."
Greene said golfers noticed her obvious enthusiasm for their game and
tendency to speak with very active arms.
"She'll wince, she'll pump her fist -- she really gets into it out there," he
said. "That's how it's supposed to work."
Pokuwaah started caddying at the suggestion of her pastor, who promised it
would help her better understand the game of golf and improve her spirituality.
It has done both things, she said. Controlling her emotions on the course, she
said, "is a good way to express my love of God."
Golf could also offer -- through an Evans Scholarship -- an opportunity at a
college education, which she hopes to use toward a career with Doctors Without
Borders, the Swiss organization that sends doctors to underserved parts of the
Although Greene plans to recommend her for the Evans Scholarship, he noted it
will require more work and dedication on her part. The scholarships are coveted
-- just six caddies from Cantigny have gotten one since the club's caddy program
began in 1998. (Cantigny is part of McCormick Foundation, formerly known as
McCormick Tribune Foundation, a non-profit entity independent from Tribune Co.)
"I think she is a real bona fide candidate," Greene said. "She's exactly the
kind of person the Evans Foundation was set up to help out."