Three of the top choices for the 46th U.S. Women's Open championship, which will begin tomorrow in Fort Worth, Texas, are Pat Bradley, Beth Daniel and Patty Sheehan.
Bradley and Daniel are the year's top two money-winners, and Sheehan has recovered from an injury to two fingers on her left hand three weeks ago.
The tournament, making its first appearance at Colonial Country Club, longtime site of a PGA Tour stop, will attract a nationwide television audience, and, while Sheehan, Daniel and Bradley shoot for the top, John Killeen, Greg Sheridan and Jerry Woodard will be three of the key people who are seen and not heard.
They are part of the caddie corps, a colorful story in itself, but what sets them apart is their employers and their length of service.
Killeen works for Sheehan; Sheridan for Daniel; and Woodard for Bradley. In a profession known for its occupational hazards and resulting short-term arrangements, these caddies are veterans.
Reliability, dependability and friendships are common threads for the three teams in the spotlight this week.
Killeen, 31, from Portland, Ore., and the University of Oregon, is the quietest of the three. On tour since 1984, he has worked for Sheehan since 1986.
Sheridan, 36, from Portsmouth, Va., and Virginia Tech, has been out for 10 years, and with Daniel about 3 1/2 years, having previously carried for Kathy Whitworth and Laurie Rinker.
"I was on the men's tour and she [Daniel] called me in Hawaii and asked if I'd work for her," Sheridan said recently. "I jumped at the chance, because I wanted to get back out here, had known her for some time and knew she was a quality player."
Woodard, 35, tired of factory work in his native Akron, Ohio, has been out since 1979 and has worked for Bradley for nearly nine years.
"I've only been late once, back in 1983, the first year I was married," Woodard said. "It was the McDonald's tournament at White Manor [Malvern, Pa.], and I heard about it. Never again."
Sheehan said of Killeen: "Best friend on the golf course. We are 100 percent behind each other. It's a good relationship. Every once in a while I have to play 'boss,' but he does a great job."
Bradley echoed the "best friend," theme, and added, "In other sports, there is a coach or teammates, but here it is just the two of us.
"We'll bounce things off each other, and he knows when to say something, how to say it, and when not to say anything. We discuss things, but I ultimately pull the club.
"Still, he knows my game and my swing. I trust him emphatically."
Woodard was quick to point out one thing. "They used to have an award for the best putter, and Pat won it when she didn't have anybody reading greens for her. She's the best 'reader' out here. She doesn't need me for that. If she's in doubt, she might ask, but that's all."
All three indicated the caddies do give some input, perhaps correcting an alignment after a shot or something like that, but none wants to be called off a shot.
Sheehan was emphatic about this. "If there is going to be a mistake, I want to do it. I don't need conflicting ideas. Once in a great while, he helps [on the greens], though."
Daniel added: "Greg was with me when I had those eight seconds. I remember when I won at Bethesda two years ago, I was so nervous the last round, thinking about the possibility of winning, and he said: 'Shut up and play. You can do it.' "
"He is dependable, even-tempered -- a good contrast to me on the course -- and very organized. He makes my life easier."