RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - When Graham DeLaet was in need of a caddie for the Rio Olympics, he did what any Canadian would do. He drafted a hockey player.
With his usual bagman, newly married Jules Trudeau, opting out of Rio because of Zika fears, DeLaet turned to his neighbor Ray Whitney, a recently retired veteran of the National Hockey League where his career spanned 17 years.
Whitney certainly knows what it means to wear the Maple Leaf, having represented Canada at four world ice hockey championships, though on each of those four occasions he returned home without a medal.
Now working as a golf caddie in Rio, “Wiz” is hoping in some fashion to end that jinx and help land DeLaet on the Olympic podium.
“I was captain of Team Canada in Germany,” Whitney told Reuters. “I’ve been there (in medal contention), been a part of all that. I hope I can help (DeLaet).”
After signing for a five-under 66 on Thursday that left him in a tie for second, three strokes behind first-round leader Marcus Fraser of Australia, DeLaet joked that he could have scored even better had his regular man been looping for him.
Whitney, who scored 385 goals and 1,064 points in 1,330 career games in the NHL, said he simply tried to keep out of DeLaet’s way as the golfer opened the defense of the Olympic gold medal last won by Canada’s George Lyon in 1904.
“It was great, they (top golfers) walk quicker, you’ve got to keep up, clean clubs, get the next one out,” said Whitney. “It was smoother than I thought it was going to be. You get a little nervous thinking about all the things you have to do.
“Those of us who know the etiquette of golf barely use it, out here they use it all the time.”
Hockey players, who earn a living in one of the world’s tougher sports and golfers, long respected for their etiquette and decorum, have developed a strange kinship.
A scratch golfer himself, Whitney has previously caddied for women’s seven-time major winner Juli Inkster but he is by no means the only former NHL player to work for a champion.
Dan Quinn has periodically been bagman for former world number Ernie Els while ‘The Great One’, Wayne Gretzky, has the current world number two Dustin Johnson as his son-in-law.
“I’ve caddied for Juli Inkster a couple of times for her events in Arizona but it is not quite as serious as this,” said Whitney.
“Hockey players hook up a lot with golfers because professional athletes like to play with each other and our ‘off time’ is generally in the summer and a lot of guys live where golfers tend to live.”
Whitney said his Olympic experience in Rio will be a one-off at golf’s elite level, unless he is ever asked to work as a caddie at the Masters, the first of the year’s four major championships.
“Ok, there are certain things that could change that,” laughed Whitney.
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes