HAVEN – Eric Larson has the perfect face for a professional golf caddy.
The 61-year-old native of Appleton is straightforward, doesn’t waste time with too many words and has the pull of someone who has seen everything. He’s taken aback even when he talks about a life more suited to a Hollywood script than the PGA tour.
Larson is in Whistling Straits in his home state this week, leading for 32-year-old Harris English, who will compete for the United States when the Ryder Cup opens on Friday.
“I visited my family and friends last week before coming here,” Larson said on Thursday. “So it was pretty cool. Everyone is happy that I am part of it. “
Larson is so taken for granted while speaking outside the chipping green on Whistling Straits that it is hard to believe that he has attended one of the world’s biggest golfing events for the third time since 2008.
In 2005, he was released after spending a decade in federal prison for selling cocaine.
“You can read all about it,” he said.
History is pretty wild for a sport that is generally buttoned up. After reaching the PGA Tour while working for Ken Green and Mark Calcavecchia, Larson began selling cocaine to supplement his income. He insists he never used the drug or sold it on the tour. He was caught sending cocaine from Florida to Wisconsin and received a severe sentence for trading it across state lines.
Larson’s time in jail also had some Hollywood twists. He crossed paths with actor Tommy Chong, half of the comedy duo Cheech & Chong, and they remain friends. Larson and Chong were on a podcast together last year discussing their story and their encounters with Jordan Belfort, whose story was the basis for the film “The Wolf of Wall Street”.
Calcavecchia never let up in support for Larson and hired him again when he was released from prison.
Golf would be Larson’s salvation. It was a sport he fell in love with in Appleton.
“My dad got me to do this when I was 12,” said Larson. “And we belonged to the Butte des Morts Country Club – my mother did. Played golf and worked on a golf course. “
Larson loved to play at Butte des Morts and also at Reid Municipal Golf Course and Ridgeway Country Club. He attended Appleton West High School.
“I did everything right,” said Larson of his prep golfer days. “It was long ago.”
After high school, he moved to Florida and briefly played golf at Palm Beach State College. He got to know Green and Calcavecchia through a mutual friend.
“We played a lot of golf together and I started playing for Ken Caddy in 1991,” said Larson.
Caddying was a natural career development.
“I enjoyed it,” said Larson. “I saw how good these guys were. And the opportunity to travel and be there. It’s the next best thing to be there. “
Since his release from prison, Larson has become a popular figure on the PGA Tour. He started caddying for English over three years ago. English is enjoying the best year of his career, winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the Travelers Championship.
“He saw me at the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs,” English said of Larson. “He’s seen me in every situation. He’s one of the most balanced guys out there.
“I know this tournament means a lot to him. This is his third Ryder Cup. Caddy for Jeff Overton (2010), Anthony Kim (2008) and now me. He’s been in that environment. When he returns to Wisconsin, he’s an hour.” Grew up from here, so he’s going to have a lot of family and friends out here. “
Larson played for Overton in Whistling Straits in the 2010 PGA Championship. English said the Wisconsin native gave him the obvious advice about the strong gusts coming off Lake Michigan.
“This upwind course in particular doesn’t really block much, so your ball will be hit by the wind from start to finish,” said English. “And we don’t see that much when you play your normal American courses and the trees and so on. But we had to work a little bit on that this week and get used to it.”
Larson has seen it before in all weathers. He just takes everything in his career as it comes. He doesn’t even think about how long he’ll want to drag those heavy bags up and down the golf courses.
“I don’t know,” said Larson. “I’m just trying to get through this week.”