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O'Donnell's latest role easy for this golf nut to handle

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

The caddy went about his duties largely unnoticed. There was no stampede of autograph seekers between club face cleanings, no endless string of photo requests interrupting green reads.

It turn out Chris O'Donnell may have found the perfect paparazzi cover: golf caddy.

Who expects the guy lugging the bag to be a movie star?

Certainly not most of the crowd at Winged Foot Golf Club for the U.S. Amateur in mid August. That is where O'Donnell -- who made his name in Scent of a Woman and made his big money in two turns as "Robin" in the modern Batman movie series -- made his debut as a serious caddy.

"I didn't even know who he was," said Frank Sonsella, a witness. "He looked just like another caddy. Maybe a little inexperienced, but it's the Amateur, there's a lot of guys toting a bag who haven't done it much before.

"My daughter had to tell me who he was."

Sonsella pauses, leans forward as if he's about to share a secret.

"He looks a little short to be a movie star if you ask me."

Everyone's a critic. If O'Donnell did not learn that in 17 years in the movie business, he surely picked it up in one afternoon as a caddy. One writer covering the Amateur detailed his failure to rake out a bunker for his golfer. It's easy to imagine the grumbling now: Even Matt Damon looked more realistic as a golfer in Bagger Vance than O'Donnell did as a caddy.

Fortunately, O'Donnell will never have to hear it from film critic Roger Ebert or anyone else. He wasn't playing caddy for the big screen. He was doing it to help his big brother. John O'Donnell, maybe the best golfer in a family of golf nuts, qualified for the U.S. Amateur for the first time after years of unsuccessful attempts. This was his moment.

Little brother wasn't about to miss it. Especially after John O'Donnell faithfully attended all those movie premieres year after year.

"He's done ten-fold for me," Chris O'Donnell said. "The least I can do is be on his bag for a week."

Anything golf is a natural role for 34-year-old who first broke into Hollywood at age 17 playing Jessica Lange's son in a movie. Long before he earned that particular breed of fame that comes with being dubbed one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People In The World (1996), O'Donnell was playing golf with his family, playing golf with his buddies, playing golf whenever he could. This is a guy who once told his agent that the main prerequisite for his dream house was that it bordered a great golf course. No wonder, the O'Donnell family home in Illinois was right next to a golf course and Chris was sneaking out to the fairways even before he reached kindergarten.

"I'm not one of those actors who needs to be jumping off cliffs, running with the bulls, flying his own plane," O'Donnell said. "Golf is my speed. It's a game you can never get bored with. There's always another challenge."

Before he was a married father of two, O'Donnell was known for flying his buddies off to exotic golf locals. Bali was a particular favorite. The actor whom Drew Barrymore once infamously dubbed, "a frat boy" lived large on those $5 million and up Batman paydays. When he virtually dropped out of the Hollywood scene for a few years, O'Donnell not so sheepishly admits he was playing golf almost every day.

"It's definitely a passion in our family," John O'Donnell said.

It is a passion well served in Hollywood. Once Chris O'Donnell made it in the movies, he found himself with the opportunity to play some of the greatest courses in the world in celebrity pro-ams and tournaments. More often than not, John O'Donnell carried his bag as the unnoticed caddy in those events.

Which is maybe what made the Winged Foot experience such a particular pleasure. At least for the older brother.

"The security guy stopped him at the clubhouse door with a 'Players' Only,"' John O'Donnell said. "I'll get a lot of mileage out of that one."

Chances are the guard did not even recognize the movie star behind the standard USGA-issue caddy smock. Chris O'Donnell was regarded as just another hustling looper, trying to slip in where he didn't belong. And you thought being in the movies with Al Pacino, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock made you special?

"I can handle being known as my brother's caddy," O'Donnell said.

It's a job as worthy as any other. Even if it doesn't have quite the security of the movie business. No residuals for life here.

"He's coming along," John O'Donnell said, appraising his caddy. "But we need to see a few more strides before we put him on the bag full time."

Batman's Robin A Superhero Golfer?

O'Donnell's handicap: 7 or 8Times he's beaten older brother John: OnceHome course: Los Angeles Country ClubWhat's In his Bag: "Whatever free stuff they send me."

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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