You Need a Very Thick Skin to Carry That Weight as Caddie
YOU can make a good living as a caddie - a very good living - if you are lucky enough to get on the right bag, but anybody who runs away with the idea that this is an easy way to make a living may want to think again.
It is hard work, and the top job requirement is that you MUST have a thick skin. As if it is not bad enough that you have to lump around a huge golf bag containing 14 clubs, waterproofs, an umbrella, assorted energy drinks, bananas, sandwiches and whatever else takes your employer’s fancy, you also have to accept that there are times when you are going to get the blame for a poor shot. “You gave me the wrong club.” “175 yards? It never was.” “Can’t you stop these idiots taking photos when I am at the top of my backswing?” You get the picture.
Alastair McLean appeared to lead a dog’s life when he carried Colin Montgomerie’s bag during the Scot’s glory years. When things were going well, there was no better company than the big Scot, but when it went wrong, woe betide anybody within 50 yards of him. And McLean was always the nearest.
A caddie needs to be a best friend, a psychologist, a shoulder to cry on, a comedian, a mentor and a human punching bag. They accept it because if they get on the right bag then they know that they can make a great deal of money. McLean is estimated to have made more than £1m during his years with Monty. They briefly parted company but McLean is back on Monty’s bag on the Champions Tour. Can’t live with him, can’t live without him.
Nobody would describe Tiger Woods as a fun guy to be around when he is out on the course, but despite all his injury problems there isn’t a bagman in the world who wouldn’t want the opportunity to traipse round in his wake, hoping that he is going to remain fit and start contending for titles again. Fluff Cowan might even still be with him had he not started to believe he was as important to Tiger’s victories as the player himself. And the same applies to Steve Williams, once famously described as New Zealand’s wealthiest sportsman. You need to be fit to lug a tour bag around but I am sorry, it does not qualify anybody to lay claims to being an athlete.
Williams did himself no favors when he described his first victory with Adam Scott as the best of his career. It was an insult to Woods and it was nonsense.
Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion and a two-time Ryder Cup player, has been through more than his fair share of caddies and is the first to admit (I know, because he has admitted it to me) that he is not the easiest man in the world to work for. He banks on the fact that his caddies know that nothing he says to them on the course should be taken personally, and that when they walk off the 18th green everything is forgotten.
And who would want to be on the bag of Sergio Garcia when things go wrong? It is bad enough having to take verbal abuse, but is rebuilding bunkers mentioned anywhere in the job description? Probably not. To be fair, Garcia does seem to have mellowed since winning The Masters and getting married.
Anybody who has ever played golf will know that there are times when even the most laidback of individuals can crack. Nonetheless, it was a shock to both witness and hear the exchange between Bubba Watson and his caddie, Ted Scott, at the 2013 Travelers Championship. Watson stood on the tee at the par-three 16th in the final round with a two-stroke lead and promptly dumped his shot in the water. He snapped at Scott: “Water. It’s in the water. That club. Yes, the water.” Later, after he flew the green on his next shot, Watson said: “So you’re telling me that’s the right yardage?” A triple-bogey six cost the left-hander the tournament. He later admitted on Twitter that he had chosen the wrong club.
Enduring player-caddie relationships are a rare thing. Even Luke Donald, the most mild-mannered of all world-class golfers, parted company with his brother.
A rare exception was Phil Mickelson, who had Jim “Bones” McKay with him for more than 20 years. They are friends, on and off the course, and although McKay would never venture an opinion unless asked to do so he was happy to discuss club selection and breaks on greens with Mickelson. But even Mickelson and McKay came to the end of the road in 2017.
Rory McIlroy had J.P. Fitzgerald on his bag since turning pro. Fitzgerald was heavily criticised for his part in McIlroy’s infamous blow-up at The Masters in 2011. Pundits believed he should have been more assertive and taken his employer to one side. But at the end of the day, Fitzgerald was an employee. Had McIlroy needed his help then he would have asked for it. McIlroy followed Mickelson’s lead in 2017 and fired Fitzgerald, replacing him with Harry Diamond, one of his closest friends and a man who had never caddied professionally in his life. But McIlroy felt that he needed something different.
Jason Day, whose world ranking has tumbled, had Colin Swatton on his bag when he first turned professional and Swatton was by his side throughout all his tournament victories. Swatton was his father figure, coach and friend, but that didn’t stop Day telling him in 2017 that their relationship wasn’t working any more, and that it was time to part company. It came as a huge shock to Swatton who, to his credit, announced that he understood Day’s decision.
In a unique twist, Billy Foster famously decided to sack Darren Clarke a number of years ago because he was convinced the big man wasn’t making the most of his considerable talent. Foster then went on to carry Lee Westwood’s bag.
It is no coincidence that although leading players and their caddies part company fairly regularly, the best bagman don’t have to wait long for another golfer to come along and offer them a job.
Fanny Sunesson, who caddied for Nick Faldo during five of his six major victories, even coaches Martin Kaymer, a former winner of the US Open and PGA Championship.
So, don’t feel too sorry for them the next time you hear a player taking out his frustration on his caddie.
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