I posted a blog entry after the 2012 Barclays held on the Black Course at the Bethpage State Park and mentioned "set-up man extraordinaire" Rich Roble. Rich passed away on Friday after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.
I'd known Rich for almost 15 years as a member of the Bethpage State Park staff. I can say with certainty he was the grumpiest perfectionist with the biggest heart I'd ever known. Rich was a native Long Islander born and raised around golf. He started as a really good player then a professional caddy from Califiornia to Florida and back to New York. He was a "golf guy".
One thing about a guy raised between the starter shed and the caddyshack is he knew the game. He could wax poetically about a shot hit by an amateur in the 1988 LI Open on the 6th hole of Garden City. And now he seemed to revel in coming to understand the agronomic side of golf. The best golf guys are those that have an appreciation for the game and the ground. Rich had it.
By the time I got to know Rich he was being groomed by Craig Currier as the set-up man for the Black Course. I assumed Rich was drawn to set-up mostly because he was a meticulous and methodical technician, but it could have been that he preferred to work alone. Nobody could cut a cup and set a plug like Rich. To say Rich took pride in it would be an understatement. For Rich it was an obsession.
I learned about Rich's approach to cup setting during the 2002, 2009 US Opens and 2012 Barclays where I was assigned as his partner. This was a lesson in patience for me. Rich was the only guy I could hang around with who'd make ME look calm. He was a character in every sense of the word. He made his own tools, had his own system for flags, cups, and all the rags! A clear carry-over from his days as a caddy.
Rich served in Vietnam during wartime. Like many of his generation it seemed to have had a profound influence on his life, not always in the most positive ways. In fact it I think it is fair to say he had his share of demons. I know many Veterans and I am filled with respect for their experience of the most difficult human endeavor: war.
Rich is gone now in body, but his spirit as the consummate "golf guy" lives on.