John Smoltz’ caddie was comfortable enough – and talented enough – on the putting green to juggle a golf ball on his wedge.
Most caddies just don’t do that. What if the ball careens into Fred Couples’ putting line?
Most caddies aren’t Colin Prater.
It’s complicated to explain just how qualified the Palmer High School graduate and UCCS All-American is to be on the bag this week for Smoltz at the U.S. Senior Open simply because, well, where do you start?
Prater has played The Broadmoor since he was 3-years-old. He’s shot a 64 on the East Course. He played the tips the day before the course closed for the Senior Open and spited the heavily grown rough and slip-n-slide greens with a 68.
He won the RMAC twice and finished in the top 12 at the NCAA Division II tournament in his final college event last month. He’ll complete his degree in the fall by student teaching at Doherty High School, then he plans to move to Arizona and turn pro. He’ll enter the Web.com Tour Q-school in the fall of 2019.
It’s the résumé’ of a contender, not a caddie.
“I feel like I’m close,” Prater said of his pro prospects. “As long as I can roll the rock and drive it, keep it in play, I think I have the game to win at the next level.”
Prater brings plenty of experience as a caddie, as well, having toted bags for four years at the course he grew up playing with his grandparents, Carl and Sue Fetters. He caddied for John Elway last year. He was also recently on the bag for longtime golf pro Tom Lehman.
“He missed the fairway three times in three days,” Prater said. “The next week he won on the Champions Tour.
So for Russ Miller, the Broadmoor’s director of golf, it was an easy choice when Smoltz called in search of a caddie who was a good player and experienced enough to know the greens. That’s what he had at the qualifier at Planterra Ridge in Georgia, and that’s what he wanted at his first Senior Open.
“I said I’ve got the perfect guy,” Miller said. “It was pretty simple.”
Miller saw something else in Prater. Yes, he’s a standout player. Yes, as an education major he knows how to convey a point. But he’s also the kind of young man Miller wants representing his course.
“He knows when to talk, when not to talk,” Miller said. “He knows when to give advice. He’s very, ‘Yes, sir; no, sir.’ I appreciate his manners as much as anything. That’s so important. As we know, you don’t see that enough anymore.”
Aside from a few text messages, Smoltz hadn’t met Prater prior to Tuesday’s practice round, which was also his first look at the East Course.
“I heard he’s great,” Smoltz said, who added that he was fully trusting of Miller’s recommendation.
Prater needed watch Smoltz hit only a handful of balls on the range to know this could long-shot qualifier could make some noise.
“He’s a great ballstriker,” Prater said. “He hits it well.
“I’ve just to help give him any information, make sure he’s confident, no second-guessing. If he sees what he sees and I see what I see, it will work out and we’ll have a great week.”
Prater grew up a baseball fan and, while Smoltz’s prime was before his time, he didn’t need to look up stats to know the pitcher was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and retired as the only pitcher with 200 wins and 150 saves.
Prater also knows Smoltz’s busy schedule hasn’t allowed him to prepare for the course and his job as caddie will probably be more intense than those assisting pros whose careers have spanned three-plus decades. But he believes – with the confidence of a caddie who can juggle a ball with a wedge – that he can provide a major assist.
“I know every inch of this golf course like the back of my hand,” Prater said. “I know every single putt. I know where you can and can’t hit it. I know which side of the fairway is better off being in to have a better shot into the green. I think those little things can help make the golf course play a little bit easier – it might save two or three shots over four days, but those might be really big shots when you’re talking about the U.S. Senior Open.”