How many Leesville High School (LHS) students can say they got a private lesson from Arnold Palmer on the proper technique to blast out of a sand trap? Well, Anthony Wilds can.
"In 1976 at the Bay Hill Golf Club near Orlando, Florida, a company was filming a Cadillac television commercial for the Masters Tournament," Wilds explained. "I hit several bunker shots toward the camera and actually holed one. Bay Hill is near our home. I had played with Mr. Palmer several times."
Wilds was born to Mary and Edward Wilds Sr. in Portsmouth, Virginia on August 28, 1956.
He was a self-described "military brat" growing up: First grade in Columbia S.C.; second, third, and part of fourth grade in Stuttgart, Germany; part of fourth and fifth at Fort Bliss Texas. At that time his dad got orders for Vietnam. He and his family went back to live the next 18 months on his mother's family farm in Mayo, Florida.
"My parents meant everything to me. I have so much respect and admiration for my mom and dad." Wilds said.
When dad got back home from Vietnam he planned to retire after his final duty station, which happened to be Fort Polk near Leesville, Louisiana.
Wilds remembers, "By then I was pretty good at 'being the new kid' in a school." He entered Leesville Junior High in 1968 and stayed through his sophomore year at LHS.
"Those years were very formative years for me growing up. I especially remember getting paddled by Mr. C.A. Hughes in Junior High. I didn't even know what paddling was until then." Wilds shared.
A friend, who he had played baseball with, asked Wilds to play golf on the Fort Polk golf course. Anthony had never played golf before.
"Shortly after that I had a birthday and my brother bought me a four iron and a bag of used balls at the Thrift Store. I started beating those balls up and down in the yards on our street until I could hit them straight. To this day the 4-iron is my favorite club. No lessons-just taught myself." Wilds said.
In Junior High he started playing golf regularly at the Fort Polk golf course.
"I remember making a par and a birdie on my first round and broke 50 for nine holes.” Wilds said.
Chris Hughes, a fellow LHS student, mentioned in an article he wrote for the March 13, 1972 Leesville Daily Leader: " Anthony Wilds Makes Hole-in-One-- on the 154 yard 5th hole with a 9 iron."
That motivated him to play every day-- summer time and after school he was on the golf course.
LHS started a golf team when he was in the ninth grade.
There he met and made friends with Bill and Mike Broyles, Buster Lambert, Bruce Schewe, Steve Eubanks, and Billy Wood.
"We were just kind of like a little band of bandits, just having fun and winning golf tournaments. Darn we were really good; went to the State Tournament two years. Coach Keith Thibodeaux was our coach the first year and Coach Richard Schwartz was our golf coach in 1972." Wilds said.
When Wilds was fifteen he was out on the Fort Polk golf course when the legendary golfer Bryon Nelson came out to play.
Mr. Nelson was visiting his nephew, Kenny Newell, who was stationed at Fort Polk. His nephew worked in the Golf Pro Shop.
Wilds was asked to caddie for legendary golfer.
Byron Nelson told Wilds, "I will give you 20 bucks when we finish the round."
After the round he signed his scorecard and gave it to him for a souvenir.
He still has the scorecard.
"Then he offered me his putter in lieu of the $20. At first I took the putter, but then said, 'I already have a putter and that $20 bucks looked good.' He chuckled at me and reached in his pocket to pulled off a $50 bill, gave it to me and told me to keep the putter. I used that putter in high school, college, and on the mini-tour. I still putt with it today" Wilds said.
After his sophomore year in 1972 his dad retired and the family moved to Winter Garden, Florida.
His dad took a job managing the food division at Walt Disney World.
Wilds enrolled in Lakeview High School, where he played for two years on the school's very successful golf team.
After graduating in 1974 from Lakeview High, he signed a scholarship to play on the golf team at Ole Miss.
After college, he turned pro in 1978 and joined the Mini Tour, where he experienced a level of competition he was not familiar with.
By then he was married and had a child, so he quit the tour and took a position in middle management with General Mills managing restaurants.
During this time he stayed in touch with college players he had met as well as players on the Mini Tour who had been successful.
One was Gary Hallberg, who had played at Wake Forest before joining the tour.
Gary was the first four-time All-American in the history of intercollegiate golf, and he was the first player to obtain his PGA card by winning a set level of money rather than by going to Qualifying School. That was in 1980.
Wilds tells how he started caddying. "In 1982 Gary Hallberg called and invited me to meet him in Boston. There we spent several days renewing our friendship. He was playing in the Bank of Boston Classic, which was played at the Pleasant Valley golf course.
"I was following Gary's group. On the 11th green walking to the 12th his caddie, Eddie Fletcher stopped, put his bag down, took the bib off, and handed it to me. Eddie said he had had enough, ‘Why don't you caddie for him?’
“At the tee box Gary asked me where Eddie was. I told him Eddie said he didn't want to caddie for him anymore. That is how I got started. I didn't know much about caddying but knew a lot about golf. I even had to learn how to get that bib on.” Wilds said.
“The next day they drove down to Pinehurst #2 to play in the Hall of Fame Classic. Again we missed the cut by one stroke. He then asked if I would caddie for him the next week in Columbus, Georgia, in the Georgia Southern Open.” Wilds Continued.
After working with Gary for 18 months, the novelty of their player- caddie relationship had run its course. It was time for a change.
In late 1985, his good friend David Peoples showed up at their beach home in St. Petersburg, Florida.
He offered Wilds the opportunity to caddy for him.
"I thought about the offer all night and decided to resign my present position and went to work for David." Wilds said.
Wilds caddied for David for over 23 years on the PGA tour and the Champions tour.
Together they won the Southern Open, Anheuser- Busch, and Kapalua tournaments.
David was ranked high as 34th in the world.
While caddying for David in the 1992 Masters, Wilds remembered a very special time.
"On a practice round I put a few of my clubs in the bag and played holes 11, pared 12, birded 13, double-bogied 14 and hit the tee shot on 15 (all while wearing my white caddie jumpsuit.) That's how much it meant to me to be able to play that golf course!" Wilds said.
Wilds retired from the PGA 3 and a half years ago. He and his wife Janet lost their youngest daughter in an accident.
"That is when it was time to come home." Wilds said. “We have two daughters and three grandchildren and my immediate family and I didn't want to waste any more time being away.”
Having time to reflect on a 30 plus year career, Wilds said,
"I was in a new era of the caddie profession. I was one of the first competitive players to convert to the caddie profession."
Wilds witnessed the changing of the "guard" from the Palmer and Nicklaus to the Tiger era and the many equipment changes.
"What other profession would give you the opportunity to play golf with two US Presidents: Gerald Ford and George Bush Sr," remarked Wilds.
"Caddies are independent contractors and most are educated and good players in their own right; prepared and professional. Caddies wear a lot of hats--friend, confidant, scapegoat, psychologist. My business was to be a caddie, and I incurred all my expenses. Caddies draw a salary and a percentage.
“Early in my career I worked 30-35 weeks a year. I loved the adventure and able to travel all over the world. Caddying was never a job to me, having the ability to get your golfing fantasies against the best players in the world and someone else is hitting the shot!" I always knew I would be on the PGA tour, but did not know it would be as a caddie." Wilds shared.
"I had success as a caddie but what I liked most was meeting the people along the way, from all walks of life. Some are still life long friends."