Canadian A.J. Eathorne of British Columbia enjoyed an 11-year career on the LPGA Tour, posting a career-best tie for third at the 1999 Longs Drugs Challenge during her rookie year. She also tied for sixth at the 2005 Michelob ULTRA Open and tied for 12th at the 2001 U.S. Women’s Open Championship.
Eathorne was the 1997 Canadian Ladies Amateur champion and the British Columbia Ladies Amateur champion from 1995-1997. She played collegiately at New Mexico State University, where she was an All-American and was ranked fifth in the NCAA during the 1998 season. She went on to launch her professional career on the urame FUTURES Tour, where she won two tournaments, and finished as co-medalist at the 1998 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament to earn 1999 LPGA membership.
Eathorne recently discussed her career journey with the LPGA’s Duramed FUTURES Tour senior writer Lisa D. Mickey. Here’s what she had to say:
LPGA: How and when did you start caddying on the PGA Tour?
A.J.: I caddied for my friend [Ice Hockey Hall of Famer] Grant Fuhr last summer on the Nationwide Tour at [Hockey Hall of Famer] Wayne Gretsky’s event north of Toronto. I met [PGA Tour player] Kris Blanks last year when he was at the Fry’s tournament in Phoenix. He’s a buddy of Grant’s, and Grant told me his friend needed to play well to keep his PGA card. Kris asked me to caddie for him at the PGA Tour Q-School Finals in West Palm Beach last December. At the time, I was looking for a job. I figured, “I know how this works. I know how to travel. Give it a shot.” So I told him yes.
LPGA: How did that go?
A.J.: Well, he shot a 77 on the first day and he was ready to pack it in. I said, “Let’s go work on the short game.” He didn’t want to do it, but I kept saying, “Let’s try it.” He shot a 65 the next day and we finished tied for 12th. He got his full PGA card. So then he said, “Are we going to keep going?” And that’s when I told him I’d love to try it.
LPGA: Now that you are in your first full season on the PGA Tour, how is it going?
A.J.: It’s going well. Kris missed the first three cuts, but he had to get into a rhythm. He and his family came over to my house and I put out all of these positive-thinking books. He did pick up one to read. It’s funny, because I know what he’s thinking, whether it’s good or bad. There have been a few times out there with him when I’ve felt like I was looking in a mirror, but we make a good team. I’m hoping my short game rubs off on him and his long game rubs off on me.
LPGA: Do you carry a Tour bag every week when you caddie?
A.J.: I do. It weighs about 40 pounds, but sometimes in Tuesday practice rounds when we’re trying different clubs, it weighs about 60 pounds. Hilly and long courses are interesting. Pebble Beach, for example, was a real hike. And if it’s a bad day on the course, that bag feels really heavy.
LPGA: You are now seeing competitive golf from a different view. How does it look from your new perspective?
A.J.: It’s an eye opener – a whole new chapter. I had to figure out what he needs on the course. I had to learn to speak up and not hold it in. I’ve had to do little things, like make sure he’s paying attention to the wind. It’s given me a whole new perspective of what caddies do. I just enjoy watching guys hit balls and hearing the sound that comes off the clubface of their clubs. Guys also chit-chat more and putt all over the place on the practice green, while there seems to be more structure on the LPGA Tour and everybody sort of putts to one hole at a time on their practice greens.
LPGA: Why did you leave the LPGA Tour?
A.J.: I played in only two tournaments last year. For now, I’m taking a break from my own playing career. It’s funny, but now, I look at the course a little differently. I’ve learned a few new shots and I think maybe my course management would be better now. Mentally, I’m also a lot more positive, and we all know that you play better when you’re happy.
LPGA: You played 20 tournaments in 2007, nine in 2008 and the two in 2009. Were you doing anything else while you were slowing down your tournament schedule?
A.J.: I had an office job in Phoenix where I did some sales. It was OK, but I stared at a computer all day and there was no sunshine. I used to pace around the office wearing a headset while I was doing sales on the phone. I did that part-time and tried to play some LPGA Monday qualifying tournaments. It wasn’t my cup of tea, so last summer, I taught some golf and worked with juniors back home in British Columbia. The theme to both my junior clinics and adult clinics was “It’s about the climb.” I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do. I just don’t have the passion to play right now.
LPGA: How would you describe your LPGA career?
A.J.: It had a lot of ups and downs. I never won, but I had a lot of top-10s and personal victories. Finishing tied for sixth at the Michelob ULTRA Open was pretty special. I look at all that I’ve learned from playing on the LPGA Tour. I took away a lot of great things.
LPGA: What do you consider the highlights?
A.J.: Probably tying for third in my rookie year. And maybe getting free balls and shoes in my locker. Laugter But I also remember hanging out with Juli Inkter and Annika orentam, and then getting to hang out with Dawn Coe-Jones. As an amateur, I looked up to Dawn so much, and now she’s one of my best friends.
LPGA: What next on your “to-do list?”
A.J.: Well, my game’s going to continue being a little rusty. I don’t travel with my clubs. I think there’s a caddie event tournament in a week, so maybe I’ll borrow some clubs for that. I play in pro-ams as much as I can and I still love doing any kind of charitable stuff. I’ve hit shots off the first tee for the last 13 years in an event in my hometown called “Penticton Tees Up For Cancer.” I started playing in that pro-am tournament while I was in college. It raises money to buy machines for cancer research and treatment in my hometown.
LPGA: How long do you plan to caddie?
A.J.: For sure, I’ll do it for the whole year with close to 25 events this season. I see the potential that Kris is going to play so well. Plus, I still get paid even if we miss the cut, which is a new thing for me. And I’m still waiting to get married and have kids. Family is very important to me. I’ll probably do more junior clinics and short-game clinics, and maybe add some more teaching. I like variety.