Friday, February 4, 2011

Interview with Ji-Yai Shin's Caddie, Dean Herden, Part I

I first started corresponding with Ji-Yai Shin's caddie, Dean Herden, thanks to an e-introduction from Tim Maitland--who's one of the best writers on the wide world of women's golf and has said of Dean that he's "one of the finest men on this planet"--a couple of years ago, but it wasn't until I met him at last year's LPGA Championship that I really understood what Tim meant. So when Dean gave me the thumbs up on e-interviewing him for Mostly Harmless a few weeks ago, I started emailing him questions on January 10th and we concluded Part I on the 27th. Between my move to Hamburg and everything on his plate Down Under, we got slowed down just enough for Golfweek's Forecaddie to beat me to the punch on some details, but I think you'll find plenty of information, context, and perspective in what follows. Plus you can see how nice Dean is right off the bat with the gentle way he corrects my initial misconception! Enjoy.

[Update 1 (2/5/11, 4:58 am): And check out Dean's scouting report on the Tanah Merah Garden Course that hosts the HSBC Women's Champions at the end of the month!]

The Constructivist: Dean, thanks so much for this opportunity to e-interview you for Mostly Harmless. I'm not sure how many of my regular readers have heard that you won't be looping for Ji-Yai Shin in the coming season. But I am sure they'd be very interested in hearing why such an awesome partnership is coming to an end. What can you tell us about how and why this came about?

Dean Herden: TC, I always enjoy reading your website and have always been amazed how much information you give from the Japan LPGA Tour which is great for the American public to read up on.

Regarding your question... "Well luckily I wasn't fired, or I didn't fire Jiyai." (ha ha!!)

Seriously, I am actually still going to caddy for Jiyai but only in Australia, Japan and Asia, which will be about 10 out of her usual 30 events she plays each year. Shaun Clews (a former Hee Won Han caddy) will be doing the other events in the US for Jiyai.

I approached Shaun at the Malaysian LPGA event back in October last year and asked if he was interested. I felt Shaun would be a great combination for Jiyai and he is such a good caddy in his own right and knows the golf courses really well.

What has brought all of this on all of a sudden is that my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease a couple of years ago, and back in September 2010 I received word from my sister in Australia that Mum's condition was getting a lot worse. Over the past 3 years Jiyai has competed in over 100 golf tournaments all over the world and I haven't been able to spend any time with my mother or help out my sisters who are dealing with the situation daily. Jiyai plays a lot of golf (sometimes too much) and only takes one week off at a time, which doesn't allow me to get back to Australia if we are in the US or Europe.

Throughout the month of October last year I was thinking how or what to do, then I decided to come up with an idea that helps everyone, so I firstly approached Shaun, then sat down with Jiyai during the week of the Mizuno Classic in Japan.

It was easy for me to talk to Jiyai directly about it because I have been there with her since 'day one' and well before she became famous. We have a great relationship like sister & brother and we have been through a lot together, from her Korean LPGA days to getting on the Japan LPGA Tour, then her LPGA rookie year, to now world No. 1.

Jiyai was really good about the idea, but for me it wasn't an easy decision as she is such a wonderful person to work and hang out with. I am going to miss not seeing her as often, but I guess I will get to see her more on TV playing instead of being there live alongside her.

TC: Wow, Dean, so much to respond to. First, of course, best wishes to your mom, your sisters, and yourself. I'm deeply moved by your family's struggles with Alzheimer's, which took my grandmother back when I was a teenager. It was painful to realize back then that she could no longer recognize my little brother and me and eventually not even her sons, my dad and my uncle--and it still is. Thinking back on it, though, there was a period where she seemed to be living within her most powerful and favorite memories, of working in an art gallery before (or was it during?) the Great Depression. I remember once she chastised my brother and I for not enunciating clearly and I got this amazing glimpse of what she must have been like during the first decades she came to America, adamant that everyone in her family learn English and speak it as well as or better than those born in the U.S.! There's so much that's bad about Alzheimer's, and my folks shielded us kids from the worst of it, but this time-travelling side-effect may well be one of its silver linings. I really admire your decision. And I also admire the way you and Ji-Yai are dealing with it. I'm glad to hear you'll be working together at the start of the season and when she gets back to your side of the globe.

Which makes me wonder, how did you and Ji-Yai first start working together?

DH: Shaun Clews actually had a lot to do with introducing me to Jiyai to work for her for just 2 tournaments here in Australia in January 2008, and in some small way I am happy I am able to include him to work for Jiyai this coming season.

Not knowing at the time I actually first met Jiyai at the 2007 Evian Masters, where she was an invited player off the KLPGA Tour to compete in the tournament. I was invited to have dinner one night by another Korean friend and Jiyai was sitting there very quiet & shy and we got talking, and I was trying to teach her some English at the dinner table. I was not even aware of who she was and even after meeting her I didn't really take any notice or follow any results because I was very busy with a business I invested in back then and was having major problems with and was doing caddying as free-lance work, bouncing around from player to player just during that year.

About 6 months later in January 2008 Shaun Clews called me and asked if I would like to caddy for one of the young Korean players who is coming to Australia to play both the Australian Open & Australian Masters in a couple of weeks. I didn't care who it was as I was very keen to just head down to Melbourne and get out there and caddy at "my favourite golf course in the world," Kingston Heath GC.

It's about a 5-hour drive from my home to Melbourne and I just drove straight into the car lot at Kingston Heath and not knowing how I will meet her or a meeting time or what she looks like, I just started walking over to the practice putting green and I noticed "the girl I met at the Evian Masters 6 months before." Straight away she came up to me and gave me a big hug and said, "Thank you for caddying for me these 2 events." I then looked at her and realised I was arranged to caddy for the same girl I had met at Evian, never realising it was the same girl.

The next day I will never forget. We arranged a time to meet and sure enough she arrived right on time. We went to the putting green together, then went to the driving range. Jiyai warmed up by hitting short shots and after 20 balls she was hitting at the 150-yard metal sign--which was about 3-feet wide by 3-feet tall--hitting full 7 irons. Out of about ten shots I figure she hit that metal sign about 6 times. It was embarrassing because players started looking at her and joking to her to hit it again...and she would.

By the end of that day I was standing on the edge of the putting green and thinking about the practice round and I was trying to calculate where she did not hit a good golf shot and I worked it out: it was on the 15th hole when she hit her first ball into a par 3 and pushed it into a right bunker. She then dropped the 2nd ball down and hit it to 5 feet from the pin. I was also trying to work out a tee shot that she had missed during the round, and there were none.

By the end of that week we lost in a playoff to Karrie Webb and the following week finished 5th (I think) but for 2 weeks I was trying to think of bad golf shots she hit and you could count them on one hand. Her putting was very average but she still finished 2nd & 5th and I was thinking, "this girl can play."

At the end of those 2 weeks my job was done and it was time to say goodbye, but I had a feeling I was going to see her soon (a weird feeling). It was 3 days later, after saying goodbye to her and her family at Brisbane airport, that I got a phone call from Hawaii asking if I would caddy for her at the HSBC Singapore event. It was at the Singapore event I was asked to work full-time for her on the Korean Tour. I decided yes because she is a great player, but after caddying for many years it's nice to work for good people, as well, which she is.

That was the kickoff to an amazing year, 2008, which I will never forget.

TC: Things happened fast and furious that year, right? If I remember correctly, she kept winning on the KLPGA, won as a non-member on the JLPGA, won the Women's British Open, won again on the JLPGA, this time as a member, and won the ADT Championship on the LPGA as a non-member. By the end of the season she had membership on all 4 major women's professional tours! Which leads to 2 questions: what's your favorite moment from all the highlights in '08? and what in Ji-Yai's reactions to the speed of her success off the KLPGA stood out to you at the time or stands out in retrospect?

DH: Yes, as I mentioned it was an amazing season. Probably the combination of ability, but more so her work ethic: if she was not completely happy with her swing we would be at the driving range 'til late at night, so they were very long days. Boy, Jiyai worked hard during that season. We played 37 events all over the world from invites off her ranking in Korea.

Yes, by the end of the season she was exempt on all 4 tours after winning the British Open.

There were 2 moments that stood out during that year that were fantastic moments for us and the timing of them was an unreal feeling. The first one was Jiyai got invited to compete on the Japan Tour by sponsor invite at the PRGR Cup. Sakura Yokomine had a 12-foot putt for par to win the tournament and only had to 2-putt to win by one shot over Jiyai. She 3-putted and we went to a playoff, which Jiyai won. Winning that tournament allowed Jiyai to play on the JLPGA Tour and I thought the timing was amazing for a stepping stone in her career.

The other moment was watching that 40-foot putt roll in on No. 13 hole for birdie during the final round of the British Open at Sunningdale which opened up a good lead away from Yuri Fudoh and consequently helped her to go on to win it by 3 shots. I felt at the time people were expecting Jiyai to do well 2009, '10, '11, but I think nobody expected Jiyai to win a Major so quickly and the response she got from the Korean media was amazing and they really love women's golf in Korea. I was told the 2008 British was one the highest-rated viewed golf tournaments up to then in Korea and a very popular win.

The reason I mention that event was it answers the last part of your question as well. I was in the "scorer's hut" when she completed the score card and turned around to me and gave me a big hug and said just to me "I can't believe this, I can't believe this." She was totally unprepared for winning it and I had taken the thought of writing up a basic speech on a scrap piece of paper while having breakfast by myself in the clubhouse that morning and put it in the golf bag in case it was needed. While there hugging her I gave her the scrap paper and she was so relieved and gave me another hug. So I guess that was the pinnacle moment in an amazing season.

It really didn't hit home to me how quickly Jiyai has done all this until LPGA Club Repairman "Paul" spoke to me a year later at the end of 2009 and said, "out of the 20-25-odd years of being on Tour, I had never seen any player come on the scene so quickly as what Jiyai has done so far."

So I guess that means something.

TC: I'll say! I believe Ji-Yai already has almost as many Hall of Fame points as Paula Creamer in many fewer seasons on tour. Thinking about those 2 players, I'm struck at how both of them have won early and often (in Japan as well as the US), recently broken through for majors, and yet have been also been dealing with injuries or health issues lately. I remember talking to you in Pittsford, NY, when we first met face-to-face before the LPGA Championship and I simply couldn't believe that Ji-Yai was there after her emergency appendectomy, much less planning to play. Can you give us any behind-the-scenes insight into how she discovered she was sick and how she was able to come back so quickly? Were you surprised at how great she played after her surgery?

DH: It was the Tuesday of the LPGA State Farm event in Springfield, IL, and we were really lucky because Jiyai decided to bring her physical trainer (former Australian Olympian Richard Nizeilski) on tour for that week to check on her training, of course, but also her overall body movement & condition. Richard only comes out on tour for about 10% of the tournaments and this is a new thing that Jiyai's coach (Steve McRae) has been pushing Jiyai to bring into her life & golf game. Anyway, it was after the practice round on Tuesday at Springfield and Jiyai said she didn't feel 100% and asked Richard to give her a quick massage to feel better. It was then that Richard noticed Jiyai in slight pain in the stomach area. Richard told me he had a feeling there might be something wrong with her appendix and told Jiyai if she gets pain during sleep to let him know.

Later at 3 am Richard got a call to his room and it was Jiyai and there was pain. Richard then decided immediately to rush Jiyai to a Springfield hospital. It was about 5 am that the hospital diagnosed that there was an appendix problem.

Richard contacted me at 6 am and we met at the hospital and by the time I arrived Richard had decided with Jiyai that it was best to have the operation asap later that day. At first, everyone thought it was a 2- or 3-month recovery ordeal and she wouldn't be able to play, but the doctor at Springfield informed us about "keyhole surgery" and said she could possibly play golf about a month later, which was a relief. At 4 pm later that day, Richard, Younge (Jiyai's manager) & I, having had 40 cups of coffee between us, found out the operation went smoothly. Two days later Jiyai checked out of hospital and was able to fly back to Atlanta (her US home) to recover.

Overall looking back it was Richard who was able to get onto the matter very fast and the doctor informed us later it could have been much worse if things hadn't been done so quickly.

Because of the operation Jiyai had to cancel from the Atlantic City event the following week. What really surprised me was when talking to Jiyai on the phone a few days later that she was walking around her house. Then 8 days after the operation she was hitting pitch shots at her local golf course. This really surprised me and it was then the biggest surprise came: she told me she wanted to play the LPGA Championship in Rochester, just 20 days after her operation. It was quite funny when I arrived at Rochester to check the golf course by myself that Monday, and some of the caddies asked me who I was caddying for that week. You should have seen the expression on their faces when I told them it was Jiyai--and, "yes," I was surprised too.

Later that week for Jiyai to finish 3rd in that event was amazing and it was living proof how mentally strong she is. When she walked off 18 on Sunday she was so happy because she knew with the US Open coming up soon she might have a chance.

TC: Amazing! For about 3/4 of the time we were talking that Tuesday, I figured Ji-Yai was just there to play a pro-am or meet with sponsors or something. I couldn't begin to process your hints she was actually going to compete in the tournament itself! And I can't imagine how she played so well. If Cristie Kerr hadn't been on another planet that week, Ji-Yai would have been right in the thick of things with a chance to win a major in her 1st event back.... Makes me wonder what we'll see from her when she's completely healthy and acclimated to life (mostly) in the States! But let's save that and other topics for Part II of our interview. Thanks so much for what we've done in Part I.


Bill said...

Wondered what was up with Dean. Glad to hear he will still carry her bag in the East. But sorry to hear about Dean's mother. Wish the family the best.

Bill said...

Glad to hear Dean will still be carrying the bag in the East. Sorry to hear about Dean's mother. Wishing all the best to the family.