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For Evans Scholar Diego Origel, caddying at Olympia Fields saved his life

7 Min Read

Beyond the Ropes


    Written by Helen Ross @Helen_PGATOUR

    Diego Origel will happily tell you that caddying is in his DNA.

    “It’s in my blood,” he says. “It's something I'm always going to be proud of. It's something that's going to stick with me for the rest of my life. I'm willing to get old and say that I was once a caddie and fortunate enough to do it at Olympia Fields Country Club.”

    Evans Scholar Diego Origel. (Evans Scholar Foundation)

    Evans Scholar Diego Origel. (Evans Scholar Foundation)

    Origel has worked at the course that hosts this week’s BMW Championship, the second event of the FedExCup Playoffs, since he was in seventh grade. Eighteen holes some days; nine holes on others. Sometimes, he’d even get three loops in, starting around 7 a.m. and finishing with a twilight round as shadows enveloped the course.

    “I love every second that I’m there,” he says.

    Origel has caddied when the heat index was in the triple digits or when rain made keeping clubs dry a challenge. But he’s never seen caddying as a job. For him, working at Olympia Fields was a “life-changing opportunity” that has enabled the 20-year-old son of Mexican immigrants to go to college thanks to the Evans Scholars Foundation.

    The Foundation, which was established in 1930 by the Western Golf Association and World Golf Hall of Famer Chick Evans Jr., covers full tuition and housing for standout young caddies with limited financial means. Evans Scholars come from 29 states and Canada and attend 24 different universities. And 40 percent of the 12,040 scholars to date are first-generation college students like Origel, who is a junior studying urban planning at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

    The Evans Scholar program has been a focus of Origel’s since he first went to Olympia Fields eight years ago to learn about the caddie program at the suggestion of one of his teachers. He was one of 80 kids there that day, listening to caddie superintendent Jim Salvatori . At the mention of the Evans Scholar program, Origel took particular interest.

    “He had us all sitting in the caddie shack, and he basically explained to us just how caddying works, what it is, and the great opportunities that come along with it,” Origel says. “I remember everybody's face, and I could assure you, my face was probably the most amazed at that opportunity. So, I was like, I for sure want to do this.”

    For the past three years, Origel has not only caddied at Olympic Fields, he’s worked as Salvatori’s special assistant. It didn’t take long for the superintendent to notice the teenager’s commitment to the job.

    From left to right, country music star Luke Combs with Diego Origel at the BMW Championship pro-am. (Courtesy Evans Scholar Foundation)

    From left to right, country music star Luke Combs with Diego Origel at the BMW Championship pro-am. (Courtesy Evans Scholar Foundation)

    “A lot of kids come through here, some just looking around for a summer job, some more serious. I could tell right away that Origel was one of those,” Salvatori said in an article published in July on “He would do whatever it took to make it. He figured it out.

    “There’s more to caddying than carrying a bag. You have to learn how to do it right, how to relate to members and other caddies. He’s completely reliable, devoted, zero maintenance.”

    Origel grew up in Chicago Heights, which is about eight miles from Olympia Fields. His father Octavio Origel Sr. worked as a crane operator at a steel mill and his mother Ana Origel cleans houses. They have been in the United States for nearly three decades, arriving two years before Octavio Jr., now 26, was born.

    “They came for the reason of better opportunities for me, my brother, and even themselves, honestly,” Origel said.

    Although he’s now playing to a single-digit handicap, Origel knew virtually nothing about golf when he first went to Olympia Fields. But one of his neighbors, Winifred Goncher, who was like a second mother to him, played and she often talked to him about the game and the networking opportunities it could produce down the road. In fact, Goncher was the one who drove him to the golf course that life-altering day when he was 12.

    Evans Scholar Diego Origel. (Evans Scholar Foundation)

    Evans Scholar Diego Origel. (Evans Scholar Foundation)

    In 2018, though, Origel’s life was changed again. He had just bought his first car but since he only had a learner’s permit, his father drove him to Olympia Fields. It was a rainy day and Origel, who was just wearing a polo shirt and shorts, wasn’t really dressed for the elements. Not to mention, there weren’t very many cars in the parking lot when they got to the course.

    “I told him, I was like, ‘Dad, I think this is a day to go home,’” Origel recalls. “… And he told me, ‘No, son, you have to go work, go at least try to get something.’”

    Turns out, Origel did get a bag. When the group stopped at the halfway house, Salvatori pulled up on a golf cart. He told Origel to get in and as they drove back to the clubhouse, Salvatori explained that someone ran a red light and plowed into the passenger side of the car his father was driving. Octavio Sr. was being airlifted to a local medical center.

    A detective on the scene told Origel that if he’d been in the car, he would have been “smooshed into his (dad’s) shoulder,” likely killing them both.

    “That’s where I like to say caddying saved my life,” Origel explains.

    Octavio Sr. was placed in a controlled coma for more than a month. And when he finally woke up, the first thing Origel remembers his father saying was, “I’m late for work,” as the nurses restrained him from getting out of bed.

    His short and long-term memory is not what it used to be, and Octavio Sr. lost his senses of taste and smell. He still works at the steel mill but can no longer operate a crane. Navigating his new reality has been a challenge for the close-knit family.

    “If the average person sees him on the street, you'll think he's fine,” Origel says. “But as we know him, and like we knew him, his version back before, he is a completely changed man. So, the whole family had to kind of just get used to this new version of our dad the way that we have. And we love him.”

    After the accident, Origel was worried that his dream of attending college was over. That changed, though, two years later when he received the news that he had been awarded an Evans Scholarship, one of nine in the Foundation’s inaugural class at UIC.

    Diego Origel is one of nine Evans Scholars in the Foundation’s inaugural class at UIC. (Evans Scholar Foundation)

    Diego Origel is one of nine Evans Scholars in the Foundation’s inaugural class at UIC. (Evans Scholar Foundation)

    “It changed my life forever, and I'd say maybe my parents even more,” Origel says. “It was definitely an achievement for myself. It's a goal that I put out there for myself nine years ago when I first learned about caddying. I always woke up and it was, ‘Let's work towards that Evans Scholarship today.’ I definitely saw that hard work does pay off when I did receive it.

    “There were endless days of caddying that I solely caddied for the scholarship. I knew that I wanted to work for it. So, there’s that aspect of it being for myself. And for my family – it completely changed their lives. I mean, college wasn’t going to be an option for me.”

    This week at Olympia Fields, when he isn’t working a shift at the putting green on the South Course where special guests are getting to go for prizes, Origel will take his parents to the BMW Championship. He also caddied during the Wednesday pro-am.

    Diego Origel caddying for Scottie Scheffler at the BMW Championship pro-am. (Evans Scholar Foundation)

    Diego Origel caddying for Scottie Scheffler at the BMW Championship pro-am. (Evans Scholar Foundation)

    “It means a lot, especially seeing them at the place that I enjoy going to so much,” says Origel, whose favorite TOUR players are Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler. “I know that course. I know every inch of that course, and just to be able to share them being on it is like, wow, like your home, your course is capable of having these guys here.

    “So, it's definitely nice seeing them play. And Olympia's going to get very tough. They can get it to a very vigorous course by growing out the rough. I enjoy seeing how they play out of it.”

    As a fan, as a caddie and most importantly, as a college student.

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