Though most golf fans were pulling hard for favorites Rory McIlroy and Ricky Fowler in the final round of the 2023 U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club on June 18, those affiliated with Live Oak High were no doubt rooting for Wyndham Clark.
That’s because Clark’s caddie, John Ellis, is a 1998 Live Oak High graduate and member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Mark Cummins, who has served in just about every capacity at the school from being a faculty member, coaching several different sports and a stint as the athletic director, was Ellis’ U.S. History teacher in Ellis’ junior year.
Cummins happened to be on vacation during the U.S. Open and watched the final round at Waikiki Brewing Company in Hawaii. Though far from screaming, Cummins drew attention from those in the restaurant as he cheered Clark and Ellis on.
“I was rooting hard and people were looking at me,” he said. “It was, ‘Excuse me, I know the caddie.’ So, I was just clapping for certain shots but a lot of people were rooting for Rory to come back.”
Cummins continued: “John is just a great young man and I’m really happy for him he got to find a great golfer to caddie for because he was a great golfer himself. John is very competitive which he probably got from his dad, who was a quarterback at San Jose State.”
Indeed, Dave Ellis, who passed away in 2021, was the first SJSU QB to lead the Spartans to victory over a top-10 nationally-ranked opponent when SJSU beat No. 10 and eventual Pac-8 champion Stanford, 13-12, in the 1971 season.
Dave later became a renowned SJSU football radio network analyst for 20 years while balancing roles as a Gavilan College faculty member teaching adaptive physical education and working as a counselor at a local facility for struggling youth, according to an article on the SJSU football athletics website.
Cummins last talked with Ellis, 43, at the 2022 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. That’s where he also got to meet Clark for the first time. Much has been publicized since the U.S. Open on the dynamics and closeness of Clark’s and Ellis’ relationship, and Cummins saw it firsthand.
“You can tell Wyndham really liked John and John liked Wyndham a lot, too,” Cummins said. “On the course, Wyndham really trusts and believes in John and knows he’s going to give him good advice, whether it’s reading putts or anything else.”
Such was the impact of Ellis that during the U.S. Open weekend interviews, Clark referred to Ellis not just as his caddie, but as a friend, mentor and coach. Their relationship began when Clark transferred to the University of Oregon—where Ellis was an assistant coach—for Clark’s senior year in 2016.
Under the guidance of Ellis and Oregon coach Casey Martin, Clark became the 2017 Pac-12 Conference individual champion and was named Golfweek’s Collegiate Player of the Year. Ellis had such a positive impact that when Clark turned pro, he took Ellis with him to be his caddie.
“Our relationship has been so close and John has been kind of my rock out here,” Clark told USA Today. “He’s a great caddie, and he’s had opportunities to caddie for other people and he turned it down because he wanted to be there for me. I owe a lot to him.
“I feel like John is meant to be my caddie, but it’s so much more than just a business relationship. We’re really close and good friends, and I’m close with his family and he’s close with mine. This just makes it so much more special that we have that bond and relationship.”
Ellis, who played basketball and golf at Live Oak and is believed to have the course record at Santa Teresa Golf Club in San Jose, is no stranger to the pro golf scene. He turned professional in 2003 after a standout career at Oregon in which he earned all-conference honors twice. From 2004 to 2011, Ellis made nine PGA Tour starts, missing the cut in seven of them, including the 2008 and 2011 U.S. Open.
Ellis won the Canadian Tour’s Order of Merit in 2008 but made just 16 Korn Ferry Tour (formerly Web.com Tour) starts from 2005 to 2015. When his playing career eventually fizzled, Ellis turned to coaching at his alma mater. In nine PGA Tour starts, Ellis made just $55,651 as a player.
However, Ellis pocketed a cool $360,000 (approximate) in prize money caddying for Clark in the U.S. Open. Clark won $3.6 million, and though each player-caddie cut can be different based on negotiations, caddies typically earn 10% of what the golfer wins from a tournament.
On top of those earnings, Ellis also received the first-ever U.S. Open Caddie Award for the best caddie. Now that’s icing on the cake.
“I’m very happy for him,” Cummins said. “I knew his dad, he comes from a great family, just happy for all of them.”