Duane Bock finally gets a chance to caddie in the Ryder Cup, and to have told him that at the start of the year would have meant only one thing.
“That Kevin Kisner had a great year,” Bock said Monday as he unpacked from a quick trip to Europe to see two golf courses that were not on his original itinerary.
That’s not how it worked out.
Bock, who grew up on Long Island and is known for having calves as big as tree trunks, will be working for Sepp Straka as part of Team Europe next week at Marco Simone in Italy.
Kisner and Bock had been together 14 years, one of the longer player-caddie relationships. Bock figured he wouldn’t work for anyone else, and they often joked about who would retire first. That moment came unexpectedly — and temporarily — in June.
Kisner felt he needed to step away from too much bad golf and a desire to be home with his wife and three young children. He withdrew after one round of the Travelers Championship, and Bock headed home to North Carolina.
“I thought it was going to be a summer of watching my kids play golf tournaments,” Bock said.
That’s when his year took a turn he never saw coming. Straka decided it was time to change caddies, knew Bock from his many practice rounds with Kisner and called to ask if he could fill in for him.
They won the John Deere Classic. Two weeks later, Straka was a runner-up to fellow Georgia alum Brian Harman in the British Open. Not a bad start for a player-caddie tandem that really didn’t know each other all that well.
Bock knew Straka was born in Austria and moved to Valdosta, Georgia, when he was 14. He didn’t realize Straka had a twin brother who caddied for him at the Tokyo Olympics. He didn’t know Straka had never played under any flag but Austria.
“All those things you don’t talk about during practice rounds,” he said.
But then he heard Straka field questions about his Ryder Cup chances after he won the John Deere Classic. And during a practice round at Royal Liverpool, Bock was surprised to see European captain Luke Donald approach them to walk a few holes.
“He told me had his eye on Sepp, that he was on a short list,” Bock said. “I knew it was serious when Luke started walking with us. He finished second. And I thought, ‘If he was on a short list before this, that list has gotten a little bit shorter.’”
The first thing Bock did upon hearing Straka was picked for the Ryder Cup team was to change out the Presidents Cup cover on his yardage book.
The American caddie is now part of Team Europe.
Bock isn’t the only American to work for a European player. Adam Hayes has worked for Jon Rahm since the powerful Spaniard turned pro in 2016, and he has been with Rahm at Ryder Cup matches in France and Wisconsin.
Before that, the late Lance Ten Broeck caddied for Jesper Parnevik in 1999 at Brookline and in 2002 at The Belfry, and Jerry Higginbotham was looping for Sergio Garcia at Brookline.
For the American team, this will be the third Ryder Cup that Ricky Elliott of Northern Ireland works for Brooks Koepka.
“For me, it wasn’t weird,” Hayes said. “You never want to be part of a losing team. And you’re part of a team. You want your guy to play well and your team to win. I didn’t even think about it. Dewey will be fine. He’ll fit right in with the guys.”
Hayes jokingly offered one piece of advice: “You can’t bring your Presidents Cup luggage over.”
They were at Marco Simone outside Rome a week ago as Team Europe practiced on the hilly terrain before heading over to Wentworth outside London for the BMW PGA Championship. Until then, the only courses Bock had seen in Europe were links for the British Open.
Next up is golf’s biggest spectacle, endless cheering from the opening tee shot Friday morning until the final singles match Sunday afternoon.
Bock will be right in the middle of it, thanks to an amazing chain of events in what already had been a long and crazy journey in golf.
He grew up on the eastern end of Long Island and worked at Maidstone Golf Club as a caddie, looping in the morning and often playing with members in the afternoon. He won the prestigious North and South Amateur in 1992 and had dreams of playing professionally.
A few Maidstone members gave him funding for two years and Bock made it last 12 years, mostly on the Sunshine Tour in South Africa and the Canadian tour, never reaching the PGA Tour. His career at a crossroads, he began caddying for friends he met on the Canadian tour — Rich Massey, Ken Duke, Doug LaBelle.
He was working for LaBelle when they arrived for U.S. Open qualifying in Tennessee to practice, and on the tee that day was Kisner, fresh out of Georgia. A few years later, Kisner hired Bock and they were together ever since.
And then Kisner needed a break, Straka needed a caddie and, before he knew it, Bock was making plans for a Ryder Cup that was never on his radar.
“To reflect back on where I was in the middle of June to where I am now,” Bock said, “it’s mind-boggling, to be honest with you.”
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