He thought it was a prank phone call.
Peter Nascimento, Golf Operations Manager at the Links Shell Cove, was still in high school and was convinced his mates were geeing him up.
“I took a call offering me the chance to caddy for Arnold Palmer. I thought it was a gee-up, so I hung up!”
So as quickly as that, Nascimento had almost blown the opportunity of a lifetime to caddy for one of the game’s greatest players.
“I phoned back a bit later on and asked Lynne (Whitehouse) if she’d called me to ask if I wanted to caddy for Arnold Palmer. She said yes, and that the offer was still there."
It did not take too long for him to reply when he was certain it was for real.
“I would love to!” he grinned.
Nascimento was a talented 17-year old back in 2004 who looked to some folk like he was ready to go places. The Illawarra product had represented NSW as a junior and was a member of a strong metropolitan major pennant side at The Lakes Golf Club.
“I was playing a fair bit of golf back then in the Jack Newton Junior Golf ranks. I was going OK,”
He was not expecting to caddy for Palmer, nor was he all that aware of the King’s legacy in the game.
“I probably wasn’t as well versed on what I should’ve been on one of the greats of the game. Since then, I have become a bit more interested,” Nascimento laughed.
The day was a bit of blur for Nascimento. He was naturally quite nervous about the occasion.
“I cannot remember what I was expecting that day. I turned up at the ‘Aussie', and I was kind of nervous, I did not know what to expect. I had not caddied before. I did not know what I was supposed to do, what was it going to be like. All I knew was that he was nice,” Nascimento said.
Palmer was grouped with Australian legends Peter Thomson and Bruce Devlin that day to play a nine-hole exhibition game marking the centenary of the Australian Open Championship. Nascimento was ready with the caddie's bib on before Palmer arrived.
“I met him just off the first tee that day. Someone introduced us. He was all smiles. He asked me a bit about myself.”
If Nascimento was not as well-versed about Palmer as he should have been, by the time he managed to lug the great man’s bag to the first tee through the assembled gallery the teenager knew there was something special about him.
“When I picked his bag up for the first time I wondered how am I going to do this for nine holes, it was so heavy,”
“There were way more people there than will ever watch me play, that is for sure,” he laughed.
“Watching him and Thomson and Devlin interact with one another, you see they are not phased. They were just like old friends going for a hit on a Saturday afternoon. I was amazed.”
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Once the pressure of the opening tee shot was over, Nascimento relaxed and got to enjoy the experience.
“It was better when I started walking down the first fairway next to the King. He asked me a lot about myself to get the conversation going. I remember I asked him about his most memorable wins. I tried to learn a bit about him and his golf.”
“It was a special time. I was thinking to myself; everyone is outside the ropes looking in, and I am standing here next to the King. It was kind of surreal. Here’s someone who paved the way in the game and I am getting one-on-one advice. It was fantastic.”
When asked about his caddying skills on the day, however, Nascimento let out a wry smile.
“Well…" he began.
We were on the fourth hole. Palmer turned to me and said what do I hit here?
“I ummed a bit. Four iron. I think it is a four I told him,
"I could not have the great man hit one in the water, could I?
Luckily for Nascimento, Palmer’s shot cleared the water. Sadly it went a little too far.
“He smashed it. It was all over the flag. However, it flew straight over the back of the green,
“He turned to me, winked, and said: I should’ve hit the five iron, Peter.”
“I put the club back in the bag, kept quiet and just said to myself, OK, so this is what a caddy does. Just keep up and shut up from here,” he smirked.
Nascimento harboured an ambition of making a career as a touring professional and Palmer was pleased to offer his advice, telling the teenager to keep enjoying the game.
“He said just to enjoy being out here. He loved the game, you could tell. That is one thing I took away from the experience.”
Nascimento did not end up chasing his dream of a pro golf career. These days you will find him working behind the counter in the pro shop and running the member's competitions at The Links Shell Cove, south of Wollongong. He heard of Palmer's death while working yesterday and it brought the memories flooding back.
"I was sad when I found out, for sure."
“The longer time goes by, the more I appreciate how lucky I was.”
“I will enjoy telling my kids and my grandkids the story of the time I caddied for the great Arnold Palmer,” he smiled.