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November 12, 2003

Building partnerships

From: Ventura County Star, CA - Nov 12, 2003

Veteran caddie Bernards walked PGA fairways with Berganio; now he sees big things in Ramirez

By Bob Buttitta,

As the full-time caddie for David Berganio since 1997, Oxnard resident David Bernards has seen the best and the worst professional golf has to offer.

In 2002, Bernards was on Berganio's bag when the Sylmar native came within a poorly hit 4-iron shot of winning the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Phil Mickelson wound up winning in a playoff.

Had Berganio, 36, won the tournament, he would have taken home a crystal trophy and Bernards the flag from the 18th hole at PGA West, where the final round of the Hope was played that year.

"Besides getting some of the purse for a win, the winning caddie gets the flag from the 18th hole," Bernards said. "It's a symbolic trophy.

"It's now my objective, my quest to win a flag. That is what keeps me out there. That to me is what I am after."

He was thinking that quest would come with Berganio, a childhood friend who he has known since they played high school golf together at Alemany High in the San Fernando Valley.

But Berganio missed half of this season with a bad back and his status is still unclear. There's no telling exactly when Berganio will come back.

"I don't know if Dave and I will ever progress to greatness together," Bernards said. "But I do know there is a player out there who thinks like I do and who has the game needed to help me reach my goal.

"Is it Mr. Ramirez in three years? Who knows, but I do know the quest will continue until the flag comes off the stick."

Mr. Ramirez is fellow Oxnard resident John Ramirez.

Over the last few years, the 23-year-old Ramirez has been one of the top amateur players in Ventura County.

He has consistently finished in the top five in all of the city and county championship tournaments, including a fifth-place finish at last weekend's 2003 Tournament of Champions.

Ramirez is a raw talent, having taken up golf a few years ago.

Bernards, a man who has seen some of golf's greatest players up close and personal over the last six years, believes Ramirez can be a big-time player on tour.

"The first time we teed it up I knew (Ramirez) could be competitive professionally because of his determination and his natural talent," Bernards said. "I have only known him for about a month, but in that time we have worked together every day. He's fearless and he has all the skills."

Until about a month ago, Bernards had never heard of Ramirez, never mind have an idea he could some day be a top professional golfer.

By chance, Ramirez works with Bernards' girlfriend at a grocery store, and one day she asked her boyfriend if he would play a round with Ramirez.

Bernards liked what he saw, not just the swing, but Ramirez's passion for the game and his desire to get better.

He was also impressed Ramirez refused to allow being deaf to stop him from pursuing his dream.

"Working for a hearing impaired individual is not that much different than working with a golfer who can hear," Bernards said. "The only problem is I don't know sign language.

"But we have developed our own signals using numbers, so I can let him know what club to hit, yardage, etc. It's not been a problem."

Besides sharing a love for golf, the two men have a similar outlook on life. Both have faced obstacles in their travels to reach their goals, but both believe nothing in life is out of reach.

"Like caddies, golfers have different personalities and it's important to find someone who you mesh well with," Bernards said. "John is someone who cares about others, and that is a trait I look for in a person. I think we look at things in a similar way."

Ramirez is thrilled Bernards has interest in him.

"He has already been an awesome help to me," Ramirez said. "I'm very happy he thinks I can play on the Nationwide Tour."

Bernards said he fell in love with golf at age 12. He hoped to make a living at the game, but when that failed, he took a job at Amgen, a biotech company in Thousand Oaks. He has worked there for five years.

"It got to a point where I was going to either do something with golf or finish a career with Amgen," Bernards said. "So I took the steak out of my mouth and went to the tuna and crackers and jumped into golf.

"I got teaching a credential through PGA of America, passed my Player's Aptitude Test and started teaching at Lake Lindero Golf Course with Roger Gunn. While there I got a call from David asking me to come caddie for him a few weeks, but two weeks turned into five years."

Bernards caddied for Berganio on the Nike/ Tour and then the PGA.

"People think being a caddie is a vacation, but it's not," Bernards said. "It's demanding, you have no benefits, you pay your own travel. People don't understand the struggles, like being at a Nationwide Tour event and making $40 on a 50th-place finish by your guy.

"It's been to where I only have $5 in my pocket and not enough for a bus ticket home, but I have a knack for finding a way to get by."

Bernards would like to see Ramirez turn pro and then try to play Monday qualifiers for Nationwide events starting next March.

"The next few months we can work with John on his short game especially, getting his game in shape," Bernards said. "Then we try the Monday qualifiers. If I thought he needed another two years to work on his game I would be blunt and tell him that, but he has the game to compete now."