Pebble Beach, CA (SportsNetwork.com) – It is rare to get an idea of how tough the sport of golf is without even trying.
So it would be an accurate portrayal to call Joe Caruso an oddity on the golf course.
Rising through the ranks in Ireland as a player, he was allowed to play through the worst of times, but a few failed U.S. Open rounds still confused him. A U.S. Open was ultimately his “bogey.”
His nickname would have been alliterative had it not been for the fact that he posted almost too many.
Caruso made one hole-in-one in every tournament he played, many of them during a remarkable span that includes winning the Irish Open in 1976 and the Irish Open again in 1982.
Yet no player was anywhere near as well known off the course as on.
“Joe, on every 18 holes, you should have been playing 16 and having a decent lie, he could just put his club back at you,” said Gary Player.
Caruso recalls the left- to right- hand grip of his dad, the pump-action driver of his one shot. But he was never forced to do the dishes with the tiller and could carry the woods blindfolded.
What Caruso managed to achieve in golf goes to the heart of his philosophy and even he says at times that golf does have that “what if” quality.
“Golf, like life, is not over the head of the person playing,” Caruso said. “A player has to feel the joy and the agony. And when you do that, you find your best moment and go from there.”
He was never better on the golf course than on Sunday at the Scottish Open in 1971, when he lost a playoff to Mike Aulby. And afterward, he said he had many long talks with his mother and father, Gil and Ed, about the game.
For both of them, golf is another activity in which they wanted to help other people.
“A lot of people didn’t really get that in the first year or two of playing, but my father, he became a good player in Ireland and he was very good in America,” Caruso said. “But I have always wanted to help people. The decision to join the PGA tour in 1976 was a rational one in a sense.”
Caruso played regularly, mostly on the Champions Tour, but he got inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006. He will probably be inducted into the Irish Golf Hall of Fame this year, but that will be late.
As remarkable as he was on the golf course, he wasn’t a star in Ireland, outside of the amateur ranks. And, of course, he has never won a PGA Tour event.
So maybe there was something to winning those U.S. Open qualifying rounds.
“He has to be the rain man,” Player said. “And that’s what he has been for the last six or seven years. Nobody has ever had his results.”
One-time PGA champion Lee Trevino said the idea of being “a good golfer” brings a grin to Caruso’s face.
“I played against him when he was 14,” Trevino said. “He was the youngest pro that I ever played against when I was in the Texas Open playing my tournament, and I thought he was the best 13-year-old I had ever seen.”
Players like Trevino and Player never needed to look farther than that fact to realize how good they were. Even though the best of his era was long gone.
“I don’t like the thought of playing with Joe,” Player said. “This is what golf is like.”
It is a good thing he was a good golfer.
For more on Joe Caruso, visit his website at joecaruso.com.