This article first appeared in the Nov. 6, 1972, issue of Sports Illustrated. Written by Tim Sullivan who caddied for Al Capone at Burnham Golf Club.
"Kid, I need a good caddie," said Capone. "Your sister here tells me you're very good. Think you can carry all those clubs?" He pointed to a golf bag as tall as I was, leaning against the wall. I told him sure I could. "Let's go then," and he marched out to the first tee, followed by the gang. They made up a foursome—Capone and McGurn against Burke and Guzik, with a bet of $500 a hole. Capone teed off first. He fetched the ball a whack that would have sent it clear down the fairway, only he hooked it and it curved way off to the left into a clump of trees. I scrambled around on all fours for about 10 minutes trying to find it, scared to death Al would lose his temper and hit me or maybe shoot me, but all he did was grin, pat me on the head and call me Kid. "It's O.K., Kid," he said. "So we lose a stroke, that's all. Just gimme another ball." And I thought: "He can't be as mean and rough as he's cracked up to be."
A slew of bodyguards followed along the sidelines and after them all the other kids, staring open-mouthed at Al and jealous of me. Was I proud and awed! I could hardly believe it—me, Tim Sullivan, caddying for the Big Fellow. Every now and then he would spot a soda-pop stand just off the course and stop to buy us each a bottle.
He played a terrible game. I don't think he broke 60 for the nine holes. He could drive the ball half a mile, but he always hooked it, and he couldn't putt for beans. Guzik was worse and Burke didn't play much better. Only McGurn shot a pretty fair score, around 40. In addition to the regular $500 a hole, they kept making side bets and Al lost most of them. About $10,000 changed hands that day.
When it was over Al gave me a $20 bill, more money than I'd ever held in my hand before. "All this?" I said, dumfounded. He nodded. "Sure, why not? You earned it." And then he asked me how would I like to be his regular caddie. What
I didn't realize until I was a little older, he also wanted Babe to be his regular girl.
Al came out to Burnham twice a week on the average. I always caddied for him and he always tipped me $20 or more. It made a tremendous difference to the family budget. After a while even Mom, who worried herself sick at first about my associating with gangsters, didn't talk about it any more. Al's game never improved, not even after he took the club pro, Freddie Pelcher, down to Miami with him for the winter so he could get a golf lesson whenever he wanted. He paid him $100 a day, I was told, treated him to all the best whiskey he could drink and invited him along on the parties. I felt so bad about Al losing his ball so often I began cheating for him. I would keep a couple of extra balls in my pants pocket, drop one near the spot where his disappeared, and pretend I'd found it. He caught on pretty quick, but he just laughed and said, "You're O.K., Kid."
One afternoon when Banjo Eyes was playing against Al for big money he spotted me fishing for a ball in my pocket. "The boy's cheating!" he screamed. Al pretended not to believe it. They started arguing and Banjo Eyes called Al a liar. "Nobody can get away with that!" Al yelled, turning red in the face and swelling up like a bullfrog. "On your knees and start praying!" When Banjo Eyes hesitated, Al reached into his golf bag where he stowed his gun during a game. Banjo Eyes dropped to his knees, shaking, and I thought Al would blow his head off. I started crying from fear. I admitted I'd cheated and begged Al not to hurt Banjo Eyes. He calmed down right away, dropped his gun back into his golf bag, slapped Banjo Eyes on the back and said, as if nothing had happened: "Come on, let's finish the game."
Al once shot himself accidentally on the course. I saw him do it. He was lifting his golf bag when the revolver inside went off, shooting him in the foot. Probably one of the clubs jarred the trigger. Hopping around on the other foot, bellowing like a bull, he was a terrible sight. They drove him to the Hammond hospital, but the head doctor wouldn't let him stay more than a day. He was afraid some rival gangster out to-kill Al would shoot up the place. I tried to find out where they'd taken him so I could visit him, but they wouldn't tell anybody. He was back in a week, limping a little, but able to play nine holes. After that the boys double-checked to make sure the safety catch was on before they deposited any gun in a golf bag.
One afternoon Jake Guzik and Banjo Eyes turned up without Al. Jake waddled up to the caddie line and asked: "Where's the kid who caddies for Al?" I was at the end of the line, with about 20 boys ahead of me, but he jerked his thumb at me and told me to follow him. I said I couldn't, it wasn't my turn. His fat jowls shook. "You're caddying for me today, see," he said. "Let's get going." What could I do? I walked past the line, with 20 pairs of eyes burning holes in my back.
That Guzik, he was a lousy loser with a vicious temper. When he took his first swing at the ball and it moved about 10 feet, he kicked a tree. By the 5th hole he'd lost maybe a thousand bucks to Banjo Eyes. He'd been cheating, too. When he had a bad lie and thought nobody would notice, he'd shove the ball with his foot. On the 6th hole he landed in a sand trap. "How do I get out of here?" he asked me. I didn't know much about the game. I told him so, but he figured I was holding out on him for some reason. I had to say something, so I said to try blasting it out with a driver. He got the ball to the top of the trap and it rolled back. He tried three times and every time it rolled back. Then he blew up. He grabbed the driver like a bat and went for me, yelling every dirty name you could think of. I ran zigzagging across the fairway. Luckily, he was too fat and slow to catch me or I think he would have killed me. He stopped finally, out of breath, broke the club across his knees and threw the pieces at me. I stayed close to the clubhouse while he played the last holes with another caddie. When he finished, I got up enough nerve to ask for the money he owed me. He just snarled.
Next day half a dozen of them came, Al included, and I told him what happened. He called Guzik over to him. "What do you mean treating the Kid here like that?" Guzik said—I'll never forget it, of all the dumb alibis!—he said: "The Kid gave me a bum steer." Al moved in closer, scowling. "Why ask a boy? You're a grown man, ain't you? Besides, you never paid him. Pay him now." So Guzik pulled out his wallet and took $1 from it. "I said pay him!" Al shouted in his fat face, and he grabbed the wallet, removed two $10 bills, handed them to me, and threw the wallet at Guzik's feet. Guzik picked it up and waddled away without a word.
They all carried hip flasks and kept swigging as they went along. When they got high, there'd be some pretty wild clowning. They'd play leapfrog, turn somersaults, walk on their hands. There was a crazy game Al called Blind Robin. One guy would stretch out flat on his back, shut his eyes tight, and let the others tee off from his chin. They used a putter and swung slow and careful. Otherwise they would have smashed the guy's face. On the putting greens they'd throw down their pistol holders—clunk—and hold a wrestling match. I kept busy picking up the stuff that dropped out of their pockets—flasks, cigars, bills and change. They made an awful mess of the greens, digging up the grass with their knees and elbows. But there was never a peep out of the management. As soon as they left, the maintenance crew would head for the damaged area with wheelbarrows full of sod.
During a match the drunker they got the more they cheated and the more they caught each other at it. One time when Burke tried to sneak a better lie he and McGurn fought about the bloodiest fight I ever saw in or out of the prize ring. None of the gang tried to stop them. They just made a circle around them, laughing and cheering. A big crowd of golfers gathered, too, but they didn't make a sound. They seemed hypnotized. I got the feeling they were scared that if they said or did anything the gang would turn on them. It lasted about half an hour. Burke knocked McGurn off his feet a couple of times, but he came up quick. He'd been a prizefighter in his younger days and Burke was no match for him. Pretty soon the Killer had blood streaming from his nose, turning his white sport shirt red. One of his eyes closed completely. McGurn knocked him down 10, maybe 12 times, and at last he stayed down. I figured he might be dead. Banjo Eyes threw a pail of water over him. It had no effect. There happened to be a doctor in the crowd who finally brought Burke around. "Don't talk," he warned him. "Some of your teeth are loose, but you'll be all right after you see a dentist." Burke tried getting up by himself, but he couldn't stand. The boys made a stretcher with their hands and carried him to the clubhouse.