Friday, April 19, 2024

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Sandhills pair teams up for player-caddy partnership on golf’s greatest greens

When most people think of golf, they think of it as a sport for individuals. While this may be somewhat true throughout time, some of the greatest players in the game were aided by the long-term working relationships they held with their caddies.

The player-caddy relationship is a special one. At the professional level players often spend more time with their caddy than they do with their families.

Duos like Tiger Woods and Steven Williams, Phil Miklson and Jim “Bones” Mackay, Jim Furyk and Mike “Fluff” Cowen became household names at the height of their careers and shed light on the special relationships forged on the golf links.

Who was the first person Tiger looked to after sinking the final putt to win his historic 15-stroke victory at Pebble Beach golf course to secure his first U.S. Open title? Who shared the first embrace after Phil Mickelson’s iconic victory jump on the 18th hole of his first Masters victory?

Their caddies.

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Watch no more than 10 minutes of Netflix’s recent golf series “Full Swing” and most player caddies are featured alongside the household names any golf fan would recognize.

Like most things in life, not every player caddy relationship lasts forever. The above-mentioned duos have since split ways since their unbelievable runs together but regardless of where they are today, golf fans will always remember the moments and the high times together.

Last week a local player-caddy duo from central North Carolina made waves at their PGA Tour debut.

Moore County residents amateur golfer Jackson Van Paris and his caddy, Nick Boulanger, had quite the past week playing in the Puerto Rico Open held at the Grand Reserve Country Club in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

Although this is the first PGA senior level event together, Van Paris has had some memorable moments on the course with Bolenger on the bag.

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We were able to catch up with Boulanger following their week at the Puerto Rico Open to get some insight into their relationship and how the week went.

Van Paris and Boulanger both attended high school at Pinecrest High School in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Though they weren’t really friends in high school, Bolenger recalls being a fan of Van Paris’s golf game while in school. Boulanger played for the Pinecrest Patriots football team but found a love for golf during school and enjoyed keeping up with the golf team during his high school years.

Van Paris and Boulanger would not really connect until the annual senior beach week which many of the local high schoolers attend. According to Boulanger, it was just a brief meeting while groups of friends were hanging out.

That love of golf would lead Boulanger to work as a caddy at the famed Pinehurst Resort in the summer of 2021 where he still is employed today.

Post high school, Van Paris committed to, and is currently a junior at, Vanderbilt University where he plays for the golf team. According to the Golfweek Coaches’ Poll, Vanderbilt’s golf team is currently the third-ranked team in the nation.

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Boulanger and Van Paris wouldn’t reconnect until the summer of 2023 when Van Paris was in search of a caddy to compete in the 2023 North & South Amateur Championship held at Pinehurst No. 2 and No. 4.

Boulanger recalls reaching out to Van Paris and offering his caddy services in the lead up to the event.

Since pairing up at the North & South tournament in 2023, the two have had some impressive showings together.

Van Paris would go on to a third-place finish at the 2023 North & South Amatuer tournament which would include a record setting -9 round on Pinehurst No. 4.

Following that success, Van Paris would continue their working relationship when he asked Boulanger to be on the bag for him at the 2023 U.S. Amatuer Championship held at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado.

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“We really had a great stroke play tournament that week,” recalls Boulanger.

Van Paris would place tied for 26th out of a field of 312 players before going on to lose 2 and 1 in the first round of match play to Nick Gabrelik.

Van Paris would go on to have a strong end to his year finishing in third place in the Elite Amateur tournament series, which played a role in his exemption into the Puerto Rican Open.

With their previous success, who else would end up on the bag for Van Paris’s first ever PGA Tour event than Boulanger.

Boulanger recalls getting much closer to Van Paris after their success the past summer.

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“We talk all the time now. Mostly Snapchat these days,” Boulanger said.

We were able to catch up with Boulanger about some of his highlights during the Puerto Rico Open.

When asked about caddying in his first PGA event, Boulanger commented on some of the slight learning processes involved at the professional level.

The use of rangefinders to assist with measuring distances to targets and pins at amateur events and day-to-day play is very common. During tournament rounds at the professional level, rangefinders are not allowed and distances must be walked off and calculated by the players and caddies.

Boulanger recalls a funny moment to start their week when, after approaching Van Paris’s opening tee ball in the rough, he placed the bag down briefly and forgot he needed to find yardages marked by sprinkler heads on the course.

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“It took me a minute to remember to start the calculating process as every other round we use range finders,” Boulanger said.

The comedy of the moment didn’t have much effect as Van Paris would go on to open with two consecutive birdies to start the week.

“It was a funny moment but we got the hang of it pretty quickly and got a good process going.”

Boulanger recalls another fun memory he will carry from the week when, in the third round of play, Van Paris would miss the green high and right on the par 3 6th hole. In the walk up to the hole, Bolenger recalls telling Van Paris, “It’s all good, just go ahead and chip it in.”

As fate would have it, Van Paris would go chip it in for birdie.

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A major highlight from the final round was being paired with local favorite Rafa Campos, which drew some larger crowds.

“The crowds on Sunday were far bigger than any other crowds following us earlier in the week with probably at least a couple hundred in the gallery the whole day,” recalls Boulanger. “After a strong start to the round by around the 5th hole, I could really tell that some of the crowd who were there in support of Campos started to pull for us as well.”

Another moment that Van Paris and Boulanger shared during the week was during the final round, when Boulanger would ask Van Paris trivia questions while waiting to hit shots or slow periods to lighten the mood and keep it as light as possible throughout the day.

“It’s not something we had done in any of our previous rounds but we decided to give it a try going into the final round,” Boulanger said.

The caddy praised Van Paris for showing some “mental toughness and composure” under arguably some of the most pressure in his career. As many players do, Van Paris had been avoiding checking the leaderboard and was just focused on playing the best round he could in Sunday’s final round.

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“I already knew it, but Jackson showed everyone that he can hit some incredible shots under pressure,” Boulanger said. “We got onto the 14th tee and he (Van Paris) looked at me and said ‘I messed up and looked at the leaderboard,’ which at the time showed him in a tie for ninth place.”

At that point in the round, Van Paris was -5 for the day and would go on to birdie the 15th, 17th, and 18th hole to finish -8 for the final round and finish inside the top 10 in his first PGA Tour start.

Van Paris and Boulanger will link up again Monday, June 5 in the U.S. Open Final Qualifier held at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland.

Around 7.5% of participants in the final stage of the U.S. Open qualifying will gain a coveted spot at this year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

Van Paris, if able to lock down one of those spots would no doubt be a crowd favorite as he would be competing in somewhat of a “home game,” growing up and competing on Pinehurst courses throughout his youth and amateur career.

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After all the success this past year, Jackson Van Paris and his caddie Nick Boulanger are a player-caddie duo to keep a close eye on heading into the summer.

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