Duane Bock grew up in quiet company when it came to playing golf on Eastern Long Island. His father, Dave, introduced him to the game, but most of his friends played baseball, football, basketball and soccer. Bock, meanwhile, graduated in 1987 after a standout career at East Hampton High School and played four years of Division I golf at Campbell University in North Carolina.
He moved into rarefied air when he won the prestigious North South Amateur Championship shortly after college and was the ninth-ranked amateur in the country before he embarked on a 12-year career as a mini tour professional, primarily in Canada and South Africa. This week Bock, 48, has returned to the East End, still walking among greats of the game, but now as a caddy for professional Kevin Kisner as they prepare to take on the best golfers in the world at Shinnecock Hills and the 118th United States Open.
“I don’t think I’ve played Shinnecock since ‘92 or ‘93,” Bock said during a break from his preparation this week. “I have talked to some caddies who were there in 2004 who have gone back for a prep round, and they say you can throw your yardage book and course work away from 2004 because the course has changed so much.”
The United States Golfing Association has returned to Shinnecock for the fifth time, having held its men’s championship in Southampton in 1896, 1986, 1995 and 2004. Thousands of spectators, volunteers, golfing officials and media representatives descended on the course starting with practice rounds on Monday. The greatest players in the world — including Kisner, who is ranked 30thin the Official World Golf Rankings — will take on Shinnecock in the four-day tournament running June 14 to 17.
The course has been stretched to 7,445 yards, roughly 500 yards longer than it was in 2004, and it has been restored to the look it had in 1931 when William Flynn, a prominent golf course architect, remodeled the course and turned Shinnecock into one of America’s most classic venues for championship golf.
“It’s the U.S. Open, yes, it’s a major, yes, and the USGA, because it’s a major, they set up the golf course extremely difficult,” Bock said as he began an intensive study of the course last week, which included a walk of the course on Sunday with nothing but his laser and a yardage book. “That’s what major championships test, not just your physical ability, but your mental ability as well.”
Kisner, 34, and Bock met about 10 years ago as they were both trying to break through on the PGA Tour. Their styles and personalities meshed, and in 2008 they embarked on a career together. To date, Kisner has earned north of $15 million with two victories on tour and 27 top-10 finishes. The goal is no longer to hold onto his tour card, but to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team and, yes, even win major championships.
“The game is there, you just have to play great on the PGA Tour,” Bock said. “You have to really be on top of your game to win.”
Kisner’s best finish on tour this year was a second in the World Golf Championships Match Play event in March. Kisner has struggled since and has missed two cuts and finished no higher than 52ndin his last four starts.
“His game is not bad, but it’s a little loose,” Bock said. “We’re not putting it all together. For four weeks in April and May, we had some chances to win some golf tournaments, and I think not winning one of those tournaments was more mentally stressing than anything else.”
Kisner will tee off on Thursday at 1:58 p.m. and will play with Ross Fisher, of England, and Canadian Adam Hadwin. The 10thand 11thare two of the toughest holes on the golf course, so Kisner, with Bock by his side, will be tested early.
“We’ve been doing this long enough now, where this is Kevin’s ninth major in a row,” said Bock, whose wife, Geraldine, will walk the ropes daily with their children Albany, 15, and Alex, 11. They are talented golfers themselves who are making just their second visit to East Hampton, their father’s hometown. “We know how to handle these conditions.”
Following a practice round on Monday, Bock was surprised that the greens were rather slow, perhaps a measured response by the USGA to the disastrous, nearly unplayable, green conditions during the weekend in 2004. “You can do all the prep you want but as soon as you get on site a lot of that changes,” Bock said. “Until then, it’s all hearsay.”
“The middle of the golf course is going to be key,” he added. “Nine through 12 are pivotal holes, they’re difficult, and then 18 also. Anybody who plays those middle holes well with the least amount of damage will be in good shape. And with wind direction changing out of the west, conditions will be changing. The east wind makes this golf course play very difficult, but it’s expected to be a totally opposite wind later in the week.”
Bock waved to old friends and familiar faces during practice rounds early this week, but come Thursday it will be all business as he and Kisner set out to win their first major on Bock’s home turf.
“Since five years ago, once I knew the open was going to be back at Shinnecock, it’s been on my radar,” Bock said. “The ultimate goal is everyone wants to be in contention and have a chance to win come Sunday afternoon, but you have to pay attention to the process and the small goals along the way. Patience is huge, especially in an open championship because you’re going to be tested mentally and physically. You can’t look ahead and get ahead of yourself.
“Even if you birdie the first five holes of the tournament, or if you’re leading after the first round, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be there on Sunday,” he continued. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and a lot can happen over 72 holes.”