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Cali brings caddie pedigree to Ford City

| Monday, Aug. 13, 2012,

Joe Cali has spent the past four summers helping golfers navigate one of the country's most challenging and celebrated courses.

Now he'll take a shot at guiding Ford City's boys golfers around the links when they compete in WPIAL Class AA matches this fall.

Cali, 31, enters his first season as Ford City's boys golf coach with a background that includes part-time caddie experience at Oakmont Country Club.

He's not a longtime golfer — he started playing seven years ago. But he became a serious student of the game in a short amount of time. And he's grown eager to educate the Sabers, some of whom are also in his world cultures classroom.

“It's a lifelong sport that I wish I had picked up when I was younger,” said Cali, who was hired in July. “It's not just swinging the club. … Sometimes I come out of a round of golf, and I'm mentally more than physically tired.”

Cali, a 1999 Kiski Area graduate, hit balls a couple times in college, he said.

But his enthusiasm for the sport took off shortly after he befriended fellow Ford City teacher Jim Simmons, who agreed to teach Cali some basics.

They started going to local courses, including Ford City's home site, Lenape Heights, on a weekly basis. Like most newcomers, Cali struggled. But he consumed every tip Simmons offered and still craved more.

“He just picks up on everything,” Simmons said.

“He goes to golf shows. He researches golf a lot. … About all I could do was give him some basic swings and shots. He's taken it from there.”

When he learned about caddie opportunities at Oakmont, Cali jumped at the chance.

“I did it on a whim,” he said. “I never thought I'd get the job.”

His hiring put him in position to study some of Western Pennsylvania's top golfers.

It also gave him a chance to play the course — caddies tee off after 4 p.m. Mondays.

Cali shoots in the mid- to low-40s for nine holes these days. He's well-versed in course-management strategies and inclement-weather adjustments.

What Cali learned as a caddie will no doubt help him as a coach. But there are challenges that are unique to the latter, he cautioned.

“The difference (in being a caddie) is most of the guys there have played golf their whole life,” Cali said.

“Most of these kids still have the grip-and-rip mentality. … It's all about length for them right now, and I want to get them to manage their game.”

Cali acknowledges he can only advise the Sabers. He can't take the swings or even choose the clubs, and the new coach said the possibility of his guidance going unused makes him a little nervous. But, as a savvy caddie, he knows better than to try to control his golfers.

“When I first sat down with my guys,” Cali said, “the first thing I said is, ‘Your golf game is your golf game. I'm not going to try to change that. My goal is to knock strokes off your score. But you know your game better than I do.'”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1321.

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