John McLaren, a caddie of ‘extraordinary ability,’ to retire

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Paul Casey finished with a 68 in Las Vegas, thus closing a remarkable chapter for a British man of “extraordinary ability.”

The description refers specifically to his caddie, John McLaren, who has worked his final tournament in America.

McLaren, known in caddie circles as “Johnny Long Socks” for his sartorial sense above the shoes, is stepping away after 31 years, the last six with Casey.

He felt it was time, a decision prompted in part by COVID-19, from the difficulty of trans-Atlantic travel to the stress of waiting on test results that could lead to quarantine, even though he’s vaccinated. He has a wife and two young children in England.

“Did you know,” he said on the range at The Summit Club during a moment of reflection, “that I was the first legalized caddie for an American player?”

His attorney believes this to be true. And it’s why McLaren can rightfully claim to be “an alien of extraordinary ability” because it is the very definition for the category (O-1) on the visa he has used for the better part of 20 years.

McLaren has worked for Duffy Waldorf, a four-time PGA Tour winner, and he was on the bag when Luke Donald reached No. 1 in the world in 2011 and became the first player to win the money title on the PGA Tour and European Tour in the same year.

But it was his work with Scott Dunlap that led to McLaren getting an O-1 visa, and that required some legal work.

“It’s mostly for visiting artists. It’s pretty easy if you’re the only cellist in the world,” Dunlap said. “But when you’re selling yourself as a caddie, the powers-that-be can say, ‘Hell, anyone can carry a golf bag.’ Legally, you had to show you really want this guy.”

And so they did. McLaren was put in touch with Helen Konrad, an immigration law attorney for the McCandlish Holton firm in Virginia. They compiled Dunlap’s results from America, South Africa and South America to show how much better he played when McLaren was on the bag. It was no small task, but it worked.

The visa expires in February, and McLaren says he will not renew it. He will caddie for Casey in Dubai early next year on the European Tour, and then that’s it.

McLaren was good enough as an amateur to get the interest of Florida, but he chose a trip around the world and by then his would-be college scholarship was not available. Thirty-one years as a caddie has been gratifying. He feels each one of his players improved when he worked for them.

“I’m proud of it,” he said of his career. “It’s really hard work. I do set myself up to fail by being arrogant, thinking I can make a difference. But it’s been fulfilling.”

BAHAMAS FIELD

Tiger Woods has two major champions, the FedEx Cup champion and the Olympic gold medalist as part of the 20-man field for the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

The tournament Woods hosts is Dec. 2-5 at Albany Golf Club. It was expanded by two players to 20 for this year. The holiday event, which awards official world ranking points but not official money, was canceled last year because of the pandemic.

Missing from the field is PGA champion Phil Mickelson, who rarely plays this event, and U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm, who won it in 2018. The other two major champions, Hideki Matsuyama and Collin Morikawa, are playing.

The U.S. Ryder Cup team has everyone in the Bahamas except for Dustin Johnson. One of them, Scottie Scheffler, received one of three exemptions. Europe has three players — Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and Tyrrell Hatton.

The other exemptions went to Webb Simpson and Justin Rose, while Henrik Stenson received a spot as the defending champion.

THE HARMON EFFECT

The last two years the CJ Cup has been in Las Vegas, venerable swing coach Butch Harmon has been as busy as he gets all year with players stopping over to see him.

A year ago, it was Jordan Spieth who spent time with Harmon for a second set of eyes on his swing. Harmon gave Spieth affirmation that he was headed in the right direction, and Spieth began to turn it around early next season.

This time, it was former pupil Rickie Fowler.

Fowler missed the cut at the Shriners Children’s Open and saw Harmon over the weekend. He said Harmon liked where Fowler was going with the work he has done with John Tillery for close to two years.

“For the most part, since I worked with him for such a long time in kind of the middle part of my career, I think just getting kind of like his stamp of approval,” Fowler said. “He loved everything that Tillery and I were working on.”

Fowler, approaching three years without a win, took a two-shot lead into the final round and tied for third behind Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa. It was his best finish since he was runner-up at the Honda Classic in early March 2019.

He also got the stamp of approval from McIlroy.

“He’s not far away,” McIlroy said, highlighting the 5-iron Fowler hit to 15 feet on the par-3 11th hole when he was one shot out of the lead. “To play a shot like that in the final round with pressure and still having a chance to win, I think that means his game’s coming around.

“If he can keep repeating that swing, he’ll be back to where he wants to be.”

TAKING A STEP DOWN

Time was money for Seonghyeon Kim of South Korea, who played the CJ Cup at Summit as one of the leading South Korean players. He had a birdie putt on the 18th hole spin around and out of the cup. He couldn’t believe it. And when he finally looked over at the ball, it dropped.

Alas, he was deemed to have taken far more than the time allotted to play the shot, so he was given a par. That one putt was the difference of about $17,000.

Next up for Kim is a trip from Las Vegas to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the second stage of Korn Ferry Tour qualifying. One week he was holding his own against the likes of Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka, the next week he’s in a qualifier to get to the final stage of the Korn Ferry.

At least he played, earning $51,610.

Ryo Ishikawa is headed for Korn Ferry Tour qualifying. He is eligible for the Zozo Championship in his native Japan, with a purse of $9.75 million. Ishikawa chose to turn down his spot in the field to try to move to the final stage of qualifying for the minor leagues.

DIVOTS

Harold Varner III has 16 consecutive subpar rounds on the PGA Tour dating to a 67 in the first round of the BMW Championship. … The Senior British Open will return to Royal Porthcawl in Wales in 2023. … Sungjae Im is a combined 57-under par in his three PGA Tour starts this season. … Seventeen players in the Olympics this summer have returned to Japan for the Zozo Championship, including the gold (Xander Schauffele) and bronze (C.T. Pan) medalists.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Rickie Fowler tied for third in the CJ Cup at Summit and made $565,400, becoming the 24th player to surpass the $40 million mark in career earnings on the PGA Tour.

FINAL WORD

“You know where you want to be, you know you can be there, you’ve been there before, but it seems like a long, uphill battle.” — Rickie Fowler.

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More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports



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