The Evans Scholar program awards full college tuition and housing to caddies who meet four criteria: a strong caddie record, excellent academics, demonstrated financial need and outstanding character.
There is much riding on the BMW Championship, the penultimate event in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, and which tees off Thursday at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Ill. Just ask Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, or any of the 70 players vying for the opportunity to advance to Tour Championship next week at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia.
But to fully appreciate all that is at stake this weekend, it might be more illuminating to ask Rose McBride or Mike Ferschinger, Northwestern University students who would not have earned the opportunity to attend this elite institution were it not for the BMW Championship, whose proceeds benefit the Evans Scholars Foundation.
The Evans Scholarship, one of the nation’s largest privately funded scholarship programs, was established by golfer Charles “Chick” Evans, one of the most celebrated amateur golfers of the 1910s and 1920s. He was the first amateur to win the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in one year. Evans, a former caddy, had not finished college and with a desire to give back to the game, he decided to start a foundation that would send worthy male and female caddies of modest means to college. Next year marks the centennial of his birth.
The Evans Scholar program awards full college tuition and housing to caddies who meet four criteria: a strong caddie record, excellent academics, demonstrated financial need and outstanding character. The WGA administers the Evans Scholars Foundation, which this year is overseeing 910 Evans Scholars at 19 different American universities, according to Brian Shell, director of education for the program.
The first two Evans Scholars enrolled at Northwestern University in 1930. Since then, more than 10,000 have been awarded Evans Scholarships. They live together on campus in a house, or Chapter.
To McBride, whose family lives in Addison Park on Chicago’s Northwest side, the benefits of being an Evans Scholar go far beyond the scholarship that will allow her to attend college without worrying about debt or student loans. “You come into a community and you meet people whom I know I will be friends with for the rest of my life. Having this community to come back to every day after classes is such a blessing.”
Ferschinger, a Waukesha, Wisconsin native, agrees. He is president of the Northwestern Chapter. “Leadership,” he said, is the best way to pay back what I’ve been given.”
Both credit caddying with instilling in them indelible lessons they expect will guide them through life. “In the beginning it was difficult for me,” Ferschinger reflected. “I’m a naturally reserved and shy person, so that interaction (with the golfers) was almost more intimidating for me than carrying bags or raking bunkers. But people you caddy for have that wealth of experience they can share with you and that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Golf, he added, was an illuminating window into observing human nature. “As a sport, golf is such a great personal human challenge. You’re competing more against the course or your own skill level, so you’re seeing people when they might not be at their best. You learn to read them. Some you can tell they just want you to just carry their bag and fulfill your own specific responsibilities. But others you can tell want to get to know you and have that constant conversation. You really learn how to deal with (different kinds of) people.”
Caddying, too, teaches perseverance and the benefits of hard work, McBride noted. “I started caddying when I was about 14,” she said. “I was the only girl at the club. It was a little difficult at first. New caddies often times don’t get to go out on the rounds as much. There was a lot of waiting. You had to be patient. But by the fifth year, I was going out pretty regularly as one of the more experienced caddies. I persisted because I knew if I kept caddying and kept showing up I would get to apply for the scholarship, which was the ultimate goal.”
McBride and Ferschinger credit their parents for the inspiration to pursue the Evans Scholarship and keep their eyes on the prize. Besides the physical act of caddying, the application process, which includes an interview, can be grueling. “My parents have always stressed the importance of a good education,” said McBride, whose older brother is also an Evans Scholar (at Marquette University). “They woke us up each morning to go caddying even when we (didn’t feel like it). They’ve been huge influences and I’m so grateful for all their help.”
It all comes down to a manila envelope in the mail that announces the awarding of the Evans Scholarship. It is a “surreal,” moment, Ferschinger laughed, and one to this day he has trouble finding the words to convey the feeling. “It’s hard to (grasp) the gravity of what you’ve just received, which is a four-year education to one of the best places in the country to get an education. We opened (the envelope) and it was this feeling of indescribable happiness and gratitude.”
Brian Shell, too, is an Evans Scholar. Across the generations, the feeling is undimmed. “It’s life-changing, absolutely life-changing,” he said
To support the Evans Scholar Foundation, you can make a donation through its Par Club. Click here for more information.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.