Erin Hills caddies

Justin “Bud” Jackson (left), Tim Bowring (with his son Theo) and Julius Germany pose for a photo at Erin Hills.

TOWN OF ERIN – We’ve all witnessed the miraculous shot in golf. The banana ball that bounces off a tree and rolls to within tap-in range. The sure-thing water ball that caroms off a lone rock and back onto terra firma. The ugly worm-burner that skips and bounds and rolls right into the hole, as if drawn by some unseen force.

Writ large, there was Gene Sarazen’s 4-wood “shot heard ‘round the world” at the ’35 Masters, Tom Watson’s chip-in at Pebble, Phil Mickelson’s slash off the pine straw, Tiger Woods' … well, he had a bunch of them, didn’t he? Old Tom Morris probably authored a wee miracle or two with his cleek and mashie.

We’re talking miraculous in the secular sense, of course. Really, what we mean is fortuitous.

But what if we told you about a shot that transcended luck? A shot in which circumstances pointed to divine intervention? Would you believe it, or dismiss it as a crazy coincidence?

If you believe in miracles, true miracles preordained by a higher power, then this will be an affirmation of your faith. And if you don’t believe? Well, it’s still a damned good story.

* * * *

The caddies at Erin Hills are a tight-knit group. They’ve trekked hundreds of miles together, commiserated over the double bag of slicer and hooker, or the guy who couldn’t break an egg and blamed every skull and shank on his looper. They’ve slogged through pouring rain, dragged through 95-degree heat. Theirs is a brotherhood born of shared experiences.

That’s why Julius Germany was overjoyed when he learned Tim Bowring would be joining a group of caddies for a recent 36-hole getaway at the Golf Courses of Lawsonia in Green Lake.

Bowring, 35, of Wauwatosa, caddied for nine years at Erin Hills but, with two young sons, left after the 2019 season to pursue a job that offered a little more stability. Germany knew that Bowring was battling an illness, but he didn’t know it was severe and potentially life-threatening. He was just glad that he’d be seeing his brother.

“When we planned this trip, the last thing I was thinking was that Tim would be able to go,” Germany said. “But in the group text I saw his number and I was like, ‘Bud, Tim’s going. Man, it’s going to be really cool to see him.’ ”

Bud is Justin “Bud” Jackson. He and Germany caddie at the Augusta National Golf Club in the winter and at Erin Hills in the summer. Perhaps you’ve heard of Bud’s older brother, Carl Jackson. He’s the caddie who draped his arm around a sobbing Ben Crenshaw on the 18th green, moments after Crenshaw holed the putt to win the 1995 Masters.

The fact that Germany and Jackson are Black and Bowring is white shouldn’t even merit a mention. But with what’s going on in the world. …

“Yeah, we were just talking about that,” Germany said, nodding toward Jackson. “My parents taught me, and I live by it today, treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s the morals I move on. That’s all I know. No matter who you are, where you come from, what you look like, treat people how you want to be treated.”

Can we get an amen?

So, Bowring joined his buddies at Lawsonia. He declined to go into specifics about his illness, saying, “Let’s call it blood poisoning and leave it at that.” Suffice to say there have been hospitalizations. Pain. Exhaustion. Depression. He hasn’t been able to work at his job at Spectrum since early June.

“The toughest thing about the whole golf trip is, how do you tell your friends that you might not see them again?” Bowring said. “It’s just really tough. Just the fact that I’m going to miss all these guys and miss the game … if something would happen … it’s hard to wrap your head around that, especially after you’ve been such good friends.”

Bowring tried to play in the first of two rounds, on the Woodlands course at Lawsonia. He lasted six holes.

“I played, but it wasn’t golf,” he said. “We got to No. 7 and I had to go in. I was exhausted. I couldn’t swing a club anymore. I went into the clubhouse and I actually fell asleep on one of the tables. I was just absolutely wiped out.”

When the caddies started their second round, on the famed Links course, Jackson roused Bowring and insisted he re-join the group. Jackson, who doesn’t play golf, was riding along in a cart, and the seat beside him was empty.

Now, a word about Bud. Fortunate is the golfer who draws him as a caddie, because his calmness and economy of word and movement seem to rub off on others. Nothing fazes him. In nearly five decades of looping, he’s carried the bags of famous golfers, athletes, entertainers and politicians. He’s seen literally every shot that can be hit, good, bad or indifferent.

Jackson, 63, also is a deeply spiritual man. Just being around him, people have said, they can sense it.

“I’ve got God as my pilot and Jesus as my co-pilot,” he said. “I can ride on the propeller of the plane and no man, woman or human being can do anything to me.”

As they rode together on the Links course, Bowring confided in Jackson the depths of his despair over his illness. Bowring believed there was a God, but he wouldn’t call himself a religious man. His girlfriend has been telling him he needs to pray more. His attitude was OK, yeah, whatever. He’d get around to it.

“I was always spiritual, believing there’s a realm where your soul goes,” Bowring said, “but not to the point where, OK, let’s talk to the Big Guy, he’s going to change my life.”

Jackson listened, and then he said this: God put us together today for a reason.

“Bud looked over at me and he said, ‘Do you know that God told me to talk to you today?’ ” Bowring said. “I said, ‘What?’ He just had a big smile on his face. I started crying and he said, ‘Good. Tears of joy.’ How have I not felt this or seen this yet? I said, ‘Well, what the hell does he have to say? Tell me. Let’s hear it.’

“He said, ‘Tim, you’ve got to open up your heart a little bit to God because you haven’t done it.’ I believed there was a higher power or whatever. I said, ‘Yeah, I know I need to let God in. Especially with what’s going on. I might as well give it a shot.’ ”

They arrived at the 14th hole, a 152-yard par-3, parked their cart under a tree and watched the caddies tee off. As Germany addressed his ball with a 7-iron, Jackson turned to Bowring and said, “God told me something good is going to happen today, something crazy.”

Not five seconds later, Germany’s ball was in the air. It landed on the green, spun a few feet to the right and curled into the cup for a hole-in-one.

As the caddies whooped it up, Bowring felt as if he’d been hit by a thunderbolt. You could have knocked him over with a feather.

“I was dumbfounded,” he said. “I couldn’t believe what I just saw.”

In that instant, everything changed.

“The world got brighter,” Bowring said. “I can taste the drink I had, the smell in the air, the look on Julius’ face. I remember Bud walking away. He had a cigarette in his hand but he looked like an angel walking into a cloud. It was just absolutely incredible.”

Bowring was so energized he was able to walk the final few holes. After the round, the caddies shared drinks and laughter in the clubhouse. Bowring went outside by himself, laid down in the grass and tried to absorb what had just happened.

“The grass felt better than it had ever felt in my life,” he said. “I can’t explain it. It’s amazing, honestly, since the incident happened, there’s been these little subtleties that have made my life amazing. I’ve been praying every day. It’s powerful.”

Was it a miracle? For those who witnessed it, you needn’t ask.

“It’s not even a question,” Germany said. “At least in my mind, it’s not. And the way Tim feels is confirmation for me that it’s what I think it is. In just that one second, God showed him, ‘I’m real. I’m going to show you. This is real.’ Man, I get chills thinking about it.”

Said Jackson: “The Lord gives some people a blessing and they call it good luck. No, it’s not luck. I always say if it walks like a duck, it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

They know some people will read this story and call Germany’s ace a one-in-a-billion coincidence, like winning the lottery on your birthday or drawing a Royal Flush in a high-stakes game of poker.

Was it that, or something else?

“I’m not here to say, ‘You should feel this way’ to any person,” Germany said. “You’re allowed to have your own opinions about everything. But man, when you live it and it happens to you, there’s no doubt about the higher power upstairs. There’s no doubt.”

At the very least, it’s a damned good story.

“It’s a life story,” Bowring said. “It’s inspiration. It’s hope.”

For sure, it is that.

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