Tuesday, July 6

The Odd and Fragile Life of the Tour Caddie

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Whiffling Straits, a golf blog authored by Mike Zimmerman.

By Mike Zimmerman

DURING THE FATHER’S DAY blowout at the House of Whiffle that kept me from fully engaging in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open, I had an interesting discussion with my sister-in-law. Though she’s not a golfer, she was curious about the events unfolding on the TV in the kitchen (where I was in charge of the food preparation). In particular, she was asking about the role of the caddie.

“Do the players have their own regular caddies, or do they have different ones every week?”

Most full-time tour pros have their own caddies who travel with them, I explained. Though they sometimes change from time to time.

“Do they tell them which club to use?”

Not exactly, but they do usually provide input. And certainly the yardages. A lot of it depends on the player, and how much he expects from the caddie, and what kind of a relationship the two of them have.

“Is the caddie like a coach?”

Well, a little bit, sometimes. They won’t typically give the player advice on their swing, but they often help them read the green and make strategy decisions. More than anything—again, depending on the player—they’re like an on-course sports psychologist. At least the good ones are.

Blame and Shame at Pebble Beach

After the tournament, a couple of caddies got some extra attention in the press: Steve Williams, because of how Tiger Woods seemed to blame him, at least in part, for a couple of poor decisions made during Sunday’s disappointing final round; and Bobby Brown, Dustin Johnson’s caddie. Brown’s role was notable because he had previously spent three years as a full-time caddie at Pebble Beach—and because Johnson had won the two previous AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am titles. Certainly, it seemed their combined experience at the famous course would help Johnson carry the day on Sunday.

But, as we all now know, it was not to be. Johnson, who began the day with a three-shot lead, shot a disastrous 82 to finish in a tie for 8th.

Williams was typically mum. But Brown later spoke to the Monterey Herald about his player’s ill-fated left-handed chip on the second hole:
“I was a little bit shocked to see him go at that thing left-handed, because the first thing I thought he was going to do was take an unplayable, or chip it back into the bunker,” Brown said. “It all happened so fast. I was about ready to say something, and he kind of told me to get out of the way and said, ‘I got this.’ At that point, you kind of get out of the way. Maybe next time I won’t get out of the way. I’m not sure.”
How hard should a caddie push when he thinks his golfer is making a bad decision?

Bones Lets Phil Be Phil

If Jim “Bones” Mackay had gotten his way at Augusta earlier this year, Phil Mickelson would have laid up on that now-famous 6-iron from between the trees on 13. But Bones has been with Phil ever since he turned pro in 1992, and he knows by now just how hard to push—and when to step back and say, “OK, you’re the boss. Now give it a good rip!”

Edwards Curses Watson

In the Golf Channel documentary “Caddy for Life” (based on the book by John Feinstein), Tom Watson tells of a time when his long-time caddie Bruce Edwards cursed him out in the middle of the round.

It seems a discouraged Watson was dithering about whether to go for it or lay up on a par 5. Edwards felt strongly that Watson should do the former—and that his golfer needed a good kick in the pants, as well! So Edwards read him the riot act (including a few expletives), threw Watson’s 7-iron and 3-wood at his feet, and then stormed down the fairway with the bag, leaving Watson to make up his own dang mind.

Again, it takes a special relationship for something like this to transpire—without a subsequent termination.

The Caddie’s Dilemma

Maybe Brown should not have been so quick to “get out of the way” on the second hole. But it’s impossible to say. If he had talked Johnson into trying something different and it hadn’t worked out, it might have rattled Johnson just as much. It’s kind of a no-win situation: Caddies are often quick to get the blame but rarely get proper credit when they contribute to a win.

Swing coach? No. Sports psychologist? Absolutely. Scapegoat? Sometimes. No doubt about it, a successful tour caddie is a special breed.

Mike Zimmerman is a writer who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Visit his golf blog, Whiffling Straits.

(Image: nsaplayer/Flickr)

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