Taking a fork in the road | VailDaily.com

Taking a fork in the road

Cliff Thompson
Anna Becker and Jim Mackintosh on the green in South Africa during tournament play last year. Special to the DailyJim Mackintosh.

At an age when most male 50-somethings are stressing out about their 401Ks, periodontal disease or how to dodge the probings of a prostate checkup, one local man has taken a decidedly different road.”This is a guy feel-good story,” says a grinning MacKintosh, caddy for Anna Becker, a former member of the junior Swedish National Team and now an up-and-coming golfer on the tour aiming to qualify for the American Ladies Professional Golf Association.Mackintosh came to the U.S. still bearing his Scottish burr from Blairgowrie, near the Scottish Highlands. He continued on to the Vail Valley in 1976 after teaching skiing in Italy, Switzerland and Andorra, the small country straddling the border of Spain and France. He attended construction college in Scotland and spent a season on a frigid and blustery North Sea natural gas platform 110 miles offshore where it snowed even in summer. Getting to and from the platform for the two-weeks-on, two-weeks off shift meant a nasty helicopter ride that made an E ticket at Disneyland look tame, he says.”As good as it gets’When he arrived in the Vail Valley he decided he had found a place that was not just beautiful and nice – it was “as good as it gets.””I went to the soccer field and played for the Red Lion and met a couple of dozen international mates,” he says. “There was skiing, soccer, work and friends.”Bob Dorf hired MacKintosh to teach the first season at the Beaver Creek Ski School when Village Hall was still an excavation site. In the summer he worked construction at the Beaver Creek Service Center and at the Beaver Creek carpentry shop. Eventually he got into business for himself and built and sold some homes, got married and had a son, Daniel, now in college in Glasgow.But after a decade or two, things changed. He and his wife divorced, and by the late 1990s a desire to seek new pastures emerged, forcing him to re-examine things.”It was not an easy time,” he says, dismissing the notion it was a mid-life crisis. “I got a bit wearied with my tools and looked for an alternative. I needed to reinvent myself.”That alternative was a trip to Bali, Indonesia, a couple of years ago where, among other things, he investigated starting a furniture and handicraft importing business with a couple of friends.While there he spent some pleasant times at the same night club where earlier this fall 200 people died in a terrorist bombing.Paradise not enoughPleasant as Bali was, it wasn’t enough, and the lure of the ski hills drew him back to Vail. He spent a season and a half as a Yellow Jacket patroller.That’s where he met Becker, also a Yellow Jacket. She had graduated from Texas A&M where she was a standout golfer headed for a pro career. She made a stop in Vail for a season of skiing before heading on the tour.”I told her I was looking to change my lifestyle, and she suggested caddying,” he says.For Mackintosh, a self-professed “hacker” who lived 30 minutes from Scotland’s famed St. Andrews course, it was a novel thought that took root after a bit of consideration.”I decided to give it a go,” he says.He packed some belongings, put the rest in storage and midway through last ski season met Becker in Cannes, France, for spring training. What he discovered when they finally hit the road on the Ladies European Golf Tour made him smile.”That was when I realized for the second time in my life that this is as good as it gets,” he says.How good? Good enough that he sold his Wildridge home last year, and last week returned to the Vail Valley to sell his car, as well as some tools and construction machinery.Not for the glamorIn spite of the glamor of the professional tour, MacKintosh says, it’s a demanding regimen of travel, training and maintaining fitness and focus. It took some adjusting to get into the swing of things, he says, but he was able to draw on previous experience to help.”You get to a point in life where you realize what the eyes see is not what the old bod’ can do,” he says. “You have to be smart about what you do when you get longer in the tooth.”Physical fitness is a big part of the professional tour. Mackintosh estimates he walked 500 miles last year carrying the 35-pound golf bag. When Becker jogs to maintain fitness levels, Mackintosh accompanys her on a bicycle.But there were other, more subtle things to be learned.”It took me about four months to be comfortable on the tour,” he says. “As a caddy you have to be a good support system mentally because that’s what this sport is all about. It’s a very demanding mental sport.”His first task before walking onto the tournament links, is counting the clubs in her bag. There’s a penalty if a player brings more than the allowed number. He also makes sure the proper food and refreshments are in the bag, too, usually water and an apple or other fruit.The pressures of tournament play are huge, he says. For example, at a course in Cape Town, South Africa, last year during a training round Becker shot 5 under par on the first eight holes on a course she had never played.”During a tournament, it’s a whole different game,” Mackintosh says. “You have the pressures of representing your country on your shoulders in front of the crowd.”Those pressure can turn a routine 2-foot putt into a small ball nightmare.Still work”It’s not all laughs. It’s very serious. That’s where a caddy can really do his job,” said MacKintosh.Often as not on the course, he engages Becker, who speaks three languages, in light conversation about what happens after the golf day, to try and keep golf from being all-consuming.”The caddy is an integral part of a team,” he says.He even has to accommodate her superstitions, which can be as individual as every golfer.With Becker, one of those is never hitting over a water hazard from a red tee. Another is more a matter of routine: When approaching a green, she likes to be given her putter about 60 yards from the green.Staying focused is a fine line. On her Web site, Becker says when not golfing she likes to ski, cook, jog, play soccer or tennis – even play the saxophone.There’s a bit of study involved, too. Yardage guides have become his bible, which he memorizes with near-religious fervor. He keeps track of how well she hits each club and the distance the ball caries. He also keeps statistics on any change in how well she is hitting the ball so corrections in her swing can be made. Becker tunes her long game her and short game with regular visits to special coaches.A big part of the game, he says, is dealing with uncertainty.”When you’re on a blind hole and don’t know where the ball has landed, it seems like a mile from the tee to where it has landed,” he says.Stickin’ it outThings aren’t easy on the tour if you’re not making the qualifying cut. It costs about $75,000 to travel and compete on the tour for a year. Travel days are Mondays with qualifying rounds played mid-week and finals on the weekends. If you don’t make the cut, you carry all the expense with no winnings, Mackintosh said.Becker has won two Swedish tour events and placed in the top 10 several times. And sponsors are taking notice. For Mackintosh that means this year his traveling expenses are paid. Last year, he paid.”It’s not like a regular job with a regular paycheck. There’s a tremendous outlay before you can put some in your pocket” he says. “She’s definitely on her way. She’s got the mettle of a true competitor.””As you get more in your arsenal of life you’re able to fall back on some of your experiences to find the good in whatever you’re involved in,” he says.For Becker and Mackintosh, the tour will begin in mid-February in Australia and work its way to Europe as the spring progresses.How long does he anticipate staying on the tour?”You’ve got to follow your dreams before it’s too late. I’ll do this until I don’t wake up one morning.”On the Net: http://www.anna-b.nu/left_en.htmCliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com

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