Wednesday, October 18

Looping, Part 5: New Generation of Bag Rats

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Caddie Joe Grillo advises Steve Elkington during the final round of the 2005 PGA Championship at Riviera Country Club.

Following is another installment in John Coyne's caddie series. Read Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4.

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.

Shortly after the Professional Tour Caddies Association (PTCA) was formed, the Nabisco Corporation sponsored a $5.5 million tour program, including money prizes for yearlong events, team charity completion and the Nabisco Championship held in October at Hilton Head Island.

One of the groups that it supported on the tour was the PTCA. While Nabisco's contribution to the association was only a small percent of its total investment in golf, just $125,000, it was vital for the caddies.

Nearly $100,000 went directly to the caddies as a payback for wearing Nabisco's white visor. The remaining $25,000 plus contributions from tournament events paid for the association’s van, as well as Joe "Gypsy" Grillo's salary.

Gypsy in turn ran a diner out of the caddies association-owned van, which was usually parked by the practice areas or behind the press tent. Here caddies could avoid the pricey vendor food on the course, and had a place to relax by themselves. The caddie van was their home-away-from home, a place to watch TV and get messages, as well as a decent meal.

The day I was interviewing Gypsy in his van at the 1989 Westchester Classic, Sergio Garcia was also in the van having lunch with his caddie and two other "bag rats." It gave Sergio, and other pros, a chance to have a good meal and a little time away from autograph seekers. While caddies still weren't allowed in the clubhouse, pros like Sergio were welcomed by loopers in their home-away-from home van.

Some caddies, not signed up by Nabisco, had gone out and gotten their own individual sponsorship. Steve Kay, for example, who caddied for Bobby Clampett and Keith Clearwater, had an arrangement with American Airlines. FootJoy provided sneakers for most of the professional caddies, and Nike gave 10 others three sets of new sneakers each year.

Although their players might be making $100,000 to flash a trademark while playing a round, caddies were willing to settle for a few thousand. As a result, they, like all professional players, were fast becoming walking billboards and camera hogs. When it’s "TV time," the caddies were known to quickly glide into camera range to make their presence, as well as their sponsors, known.

Away from the 18th green and the brief attention from television, I watched a number of caddies come and go from Gypsy's van. Rain had halted play and the caddies were finding whatever shelter they could, the club house being, of course, out of bounds.

Watching this new generation of bag rats, I asked Gypsy why he thought they came out on tour to grab a player's bag, since the majority of these caddies with their college degrees, could have found other careers.

Gypsy, who is a Dutch uncle to many of them, said simply, "They love the game and they have the same dream we all have. They want to bring home a winner."


John Coyne is a bestselling author who has written several books about golf. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

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