For a first victory, this one was a doozy. There was Kris Tamulis coming out of nowhere for her first career LPGA title last week at the Yokohama Tire Classic. By her side in Alabama was Thomas “Motion” Frank, earning his first LPGA title as a caddie since starting on the women’s professional circuit in 1987.
Frank began working for Tamulis last August at the Meijer Classic (a T9 finish) and the two became instant buddies. His perpetual positive attitude boosted her confidence that great things were still to come in a LPGA career that began in 2005. Coming off consecutive missed cuts, she won last week at age 34 to nearly double the earnings of her best season ever. Four of her seven career top-10s, including her win, have come with Frank as her caddie.
“It’s nice to see an underdog finish one off because no one expected us to be there,” Frank said. “She’s like my little sister, so I think we bond.”
But the story got so much deeper this season, focused on bad and good over two weeks in April, before finishing happily together.
In mid-April, while in Hawaii for the Lotte Championship, a neighbor in Houston called Frank to report that his house had been struck by lightning and burned to the ground. He retreated home to assess the damage for a home always open to friends, as Frank left a key under the front mat when he was traveling on the LPGA. Tamulis had missed the cut in Hawaii and found out about the tragedy when she reached San Francisco to prepare for the following week’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic.
The entire LPGA felt for a man whose back story warmed hearts. Frank took up golf as a 14-year-old on the advice of former PGA Tour player Kermit Zarley after Zarley visited the church of Frank’s father in Houston. He earned the nickname “Motion” from another caddie because he was always moving. Basketball was Frank’s first love, as he played college basketball on a San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College team that won the 1984 national junior college title and featured Walter “The Truth” Berry (future St. John’s and 1986 national player of the year) and Frank “Spoon” James (future UNLV), even though Frank couldn’t afford to play road games “because I was working and going to school.” His first caddie gig was for Arnold Palmer at a 1985 nine-hole exhibition, with Palmer sending him a set of clubs later that season as thanks for his good job. Aside from his infectious smile, he is noticeable on the course because he wears a dress shirt and tie under his caddie bib during every competitive round “because I’m trying to bring back the tradition of the game.”
“Mo believes in me more than I believe in me,” Tamulis said. “He’s just such an inspiration. When the house burned, he had this this unbelievable, amazing attitude. The text I got from him, the first thing he said was, ‘It’s OK, I’ve got the best friends, I’ve got the best family,’ and he’s like, ‘I’ve got my health.’ He just keeps me going, keeps me believing in myself and when I don’t want to be out there he’s like, ‘Come on, let’s do this.’ ”
As Frank was experiencing the loss, Tamulis was having a happy moment. On April 30, she married Jeremy Maddox, a physical therapist in Tampa, Fla.
The news of Frank’s loss built a wave of support. Friends and supporters, including LPGA players Stacy Lewis, Karrie Webb, Laura Davies, Juli Inkster and Anna Nordqvist, raised nearly $14,000 within just over a week. A gofundme.com campaign has raised almost $28,000 of a $50,000 goal by early this week, led by $5,000 from Japan’s Hiromi Kobayashi, for whom Frank caddied for more than a decade. And then there’s the $195,000 first-place check won by Tamulis, of which Frank would ordinarily receive a 10 percent share ($19,500).
“I lost all my memorabilia and I’m a memorabilia guy,” Frank said after last Sunday’s win. “But I've got this now. I can start a new collection.”
When Brian Harman made two aces in the final round of last week’s Barclays Classic on the PGA Tour, it was the third in that tour’s history. Yusaku Miyazato, the older brother of the LPGA’s Ai Miyazato, made two holes-in-one at the 2006 Reno Tahoe Open. The only other person who has done it on the PGA Tour was amateur Bill Whedon at the 1955 Insurance City Open.
The LPGA has also had double aces on three occasions: Jo Ann Washam at the 1979 Women’s Kemper Open, Jenny Lidback at the 1997 Chrysler-Plymouth Tournament of Champions and Laura Diaz at the 2014 Kia Classic.
Kris Tamulis, at age 34 and 8 months, was the second-oldest winner this season. Only Cristie Kerr, age 37, was older. … The LPGA has an off week this week before two big events in Europe. The final major, The Evian Championship, is scheduled Sept. 10-13 in France, followed by the Solheim Cup Sept. 18-20 in Germany. There will be also be an off week following the Solheim Cup as the Reignwood Pine Valley LPGA Classic in China was canceled. … Yani Tseng’s T2 last week in Alabama was her second T2 of the season, her best finishes since a solo second at the May 2014 Kingsmill Championship. Tseng’s last victory came at the March 2012 Kia Classic.