The world of golf lives for the most part in a parallel universe to the world of Greece. Sure, there are a few courses dotted around the country but while efforts are being made to design and build more courses, most of the noise is made by those who claim that golf courses are bad for the environment.
Right or wrong, it is a shame that Greece does not hold the game slightly closer to heart as it remains a game of great skill, courage, strength, finesse and, almost alone now in professional sport, good manners.
And many Greeks, much as they scoff at those who work hard to promote sports such as rugby, ice hockey, baseball and cricket, dismiss golf as a foreign game with no interest here.
Well, they may be surprised to learn that arguably the greatest player the world has seen, Jack Nicklaus, achieved much of his success with a Greek boy by his side, advising, cajoling and carrying his clubs.
For 20 years the unmistakeable figure of Angelo Argea, with his shock of grey hair and slept-in face, was the caddie for Nicklaus, the Golden Bear, the most successful player the game has known whose total of 18 Majors remains a record beyond even the reach of Tiger Woods.
“Angelo was one of the all-time great characters in the game of golf,” said Nicklaus after Argea’s death in 2005.
“He had a lot of personality and was a lot of fun to be around.
“I guess you could say Angelo was one of the old-time caddies who had a flair about him. Angelo was known for his white, or should I say grey, afro but he should also be known for being an excellent caddie.
“Angelo always went out early in the morning and got the pins, and knew enough of the golf course and my golf game, that any information I needed, he generally had.
“But I think it’s as important – or more important – that the player and the caddie have compatible personalities. Angelo and I always had a very good rapport.”
Nicklaus’ idea of Argea’s duties does not quite concur with the caddie’s own version.
The story goes that another golfer noticed that Argea did not perform the usual duties of club selection, reading greens and so on. So he asked him what he actually did for Nicklaus.
“He asked me to do two things,” replied Argea. “When he’s not playing well, one, remind him that he’s the best golfer out there. And two, that there’s plenty of holes left.”
Argea was born in Greece in November 1929 before his family moved to the US. He was working as a taxi driver in Las Vegas when, according to Nicklaus, he hustled his way into a job at the 1963 Palm Springs Classic.
“This gentleman walked up to me and said: ‘Jack, I’ve got the caddie who’s been assigned to you for the tournament.’
“Of course, I knew they didn’t assign caddies for tournaments back then, but I played along and said: ‘OK, I’ll give him a try.’
“That caddie was Angelo. It was sort of a con job but I let them con me because, as it turned out, I won the tournament. I asked him if he wanted to caddie for me in the Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas, and we ended up winning that one too.
“In fact, we won five of the first six tournaments Angelo caddied for me. It was the start of a long partnership and relationship that lasted over 20 years.”
The partnership, which lasted until 1982, went on to win around 40 tournaments including triumphs at the US Open, the PGA Championship and the Open.
The one Major that Argea missed out on was the US Masters which Nicklaus won six times, the reason being that the old school authorities at Augusta insisted on providing their own caddies.
The last Major they won together – Nicklaus won two more after they parted company – was the surprise victory at the 1980 US Open at Baltusrol. It was to remain a cherished memory for Angelo Argea.
“They just kept cheering: ‘Jack is back! Jack is back!’,” he said in an interview with Golf magazine some years later.
“He was grinning all over, smiling, signing autographs. He was so happy. We all were. People will remember us for that day 50, 60 years from now.”
Except, perhaps, in Greece.
Angelo Argea – born Greece November 7 1929, died Canton, Ohio October 10 2005,
©Barney Spender 2009
This article first appeared in the Athens News (06.03.09)