From Subway franchisee to Lee Westwood's caddy – life for Taranaki's Michael Waite has taken a major twist in the last few weeks.
Two months ago Stratford's "Sponge" – the man who caddied for Michael Campbell in his 2005 US Open win – was working in his Gold Coast sandwich shop, two years removed from tour golf.
Then came a call asking him to caddy for one of the world's best players, in the world's biggest tournaments – including this week's British Open.
"I worked for Cambo for 10 years, then Robert Allenby for a year-and-a-half and got fired. I thought it was maybe time to do something else, so I bought a Subway franchise on the Gold Coast." Waite told the Sunday Star-Times.
"The business has been going along great but about three months ago I told my wife I was missing caddying.
"She told me to go for it."
Almost simultaneously, Westwood's long-term caddy, Billy Foster, suffered a serious knee injury playing in a charity football match. England's world No3, and recent world No1, needed a stand-in for a season which still had three major championships, and the Ryder Cup, to go.
"I spoke to Billy and asked if my name could be put down on the list. There were 57 guys going for the job," Waite said.
"My thought was if I didn't get to work for Lee, maybe a couple of months down the line I might get a chance with another of Chubby's [Chandler, Westwood's manager] clients.
"I was speaking to Billy every couple of days and he said to me `I've narrowed it down to four or five candidates and you're one of them. But, I've not got much say here, Chubby's calling the shots'.
"I know Chubby quite well so I called him on the Friday afternoon of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
"He said `I know why you're calling, Lee and I need to have a meeting so I'll call you on Sunday afternoon and let you know what's going on'.
"The phone rings on Sunday and it's Chubby asking if I have a visas for England, France, Sweden and America.
"Billy's done a big job on his knee, it looks like he'll be out for the rest of the year.
"For me that means I get to go to three of the majors, the Ryder Cup, all the US PGA Tour events– it's a dream really."
With 39 professional wins Westwood, 39, is widely regarded as the best active player on tour not to have won one of golf's four major championships – and there's been an agonising number of near-misses.
Since 1997, Westwood has racked up 14 top-10 finishes in majors, including runnerup at the US Masters and British Open. Incredibly, he's also been third, or tied third, five times across the Masters, US Open, British Open and the US PGA Championship.
Many, including Sponge, believe it's a matter of time for one of Europe's best-ever players.
And with a bit of luck, it might happen with Sponge on the bag.
"Lee's owed one. He's such a good player and he's been close so many times, the amount of top-10's he's had in major's is unbelievable. He just needs some luck," he said.
"He only finished four strokes away at the US Open a few weeks ago and we had no luck, he had that ball get stuck in the canopy of a tree on the fifth hole of the final round, it could so easily have gone another way for him.
"There's a major just waiting for Lee Westwood, and hopefully, it will be the British Open.
"Whether it happens this year, or when Billy's back on the job, it's only a matter of time for him.
"But if it does happen with me caddying, there will be plenty of stick for Billy."
Already, after only a handful of tournaments together, Westwood and Waite have notched a tournament win at the Scandinavian Masters – the third time Westwood has won the European Tour event and his first tour win in over a year.
"Lee's a great guy. He's so relaxed, there's never any stress or grief," Waite said.
"He just gets on with it. He's an amazing player to watch and be part of. I thought he might be different during the US Open, but he just gets on with it no matter how big the tournament.
"It doesn't get any better. If you would have offered me any caddying job in the world, I would have said Lee Westwood. It's as good as it gets."
From: Stratford, Taranaki
Started caddying: 1987
Caddy history: Wayne Riley (1987-88), Anders Forsbrand (1989), Roger Davis (1990-93), Ian Baker-Finch (1993-94), Robert Allenby (1994-98), Michael Campbell (1999-2009) Robert Allenby (2009-10)
The nickname: Waite was given the nickname "Sponge" in 1987 after the then long-haired caddy got caught in a heavy downpour during a practice round
- © Fairfax NZ News
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