Player-caddie relationship has its perks, drawbacks

By Jason SobelJune 26, 2013, 4:38 pm

BETHESDA, Md. – Show up, keep up and shut up. We’ve all heard those words before – they’re sort of the official unofficial motto of caddies, one which every looper from Eddie Lowery to Danny Noonan to Steve Williams has understood since the first time a strap touched their right shoulders.

That motto may make for a nice sign to hang in the caddyshack, but it doesn’t ring true anymore – at least the last part. These days, caddies on the professional circuit are instead expected to speak up, calling out yardages, gauging wind conditions and suggesting clubs for their players.

On Sunday, Ted Scott did just that. With his longtime loop Bubba Watson leading the Travelers Championship with three holes to play, Scott suggested a 9-iron over the 8-iron at the par-3 16th hole, and his player promptly deposited it in the water hazard guarding the front portion of the green.

What happened next, in a few prolific bursts, was YouTube gold. Watson berated Scott for his suggestion, then again after his shot from the drop zone flew the green. It was hardly the first instance of a player castigating his caddie in public, but the television cameras and microphones ensured the world would know about this one.

In the ensuing minutes and hours, Twitter timelines exploded with disgust for Watson’s audible outburst. After taking full blame, Scott found some humor in the situation, later tweeting, “Not sure what @bubbawatson was talking about. I never make a mistak.” Leave off the last “e” for epic.

Was public sentiment correct in instantly chastising Watson for his treatment of Scott? Or did we just have the curtain pulled back on the unseemly part of the player-caddie relationship?

In order to answer these questions, it helps to first understand this dynamic.

“Oh, yeah. It’s weird,” Brett Waldman, currently on the bag of Sean O’Hair, said of the player-caddie dynamic. “It’s definitely weird that I spend more time with my boss than my wife.”

The old joke around pro golf is that many player-caddie relationships are more stable than marriages, though some can be equally volatile. Think about it: Caddies are both employees and partners; they work for their players, but also with them.

“The dynamics are very interesting,” explained Scott Vail, who for the last seven years has caddied for Brandt Snedeker. “You have to separate between boss and employee and friend. In my case, Brandt is a friend, too. We have respect for each other. When it’s time to go to work, we don’t put our friendship aside, but it’s just a different dynamic in our relationship on the golf course.”

The job extends past simply finding yardages and pulling clubs. As many observers witnessed in the case of Watson and Scott, caddying can also include the role of punching bag – at least figuratively.

“Sometimes when a player messes up, he would rather think it wasn’t his fault, so as to keep his confidence level maybe higher than it would have been,” said Bob Estes, who has worked with his caddie, Chuck Mohr, since 2001. “Just like if you miss a putt, you might prefer to blame it on a misread rather than it being a poor putt. I don’t like to play mind games like that, but some guys do.”

“If I needed advice from my caddie, he'd be hitting the shots and I'd be carrying the bag.” – Bobby Jones

“Nobody but you and your caddie care what you do out there – and if your caddie is betting against you, he doesn't care, either.” – Lee Trevino

“The only time I talk on the golf course is to my caddie. And then only to complain when he gives me the wrong club. – Seve Ballesteros

Caddie culture may have advanced to the point where it’s a career and not just a job, but treatment toward caddies doesn’t always show similar progress.

“You hear some of the caddies talking about certain players who are much tougher on their caddies than other players might be,” Estes explained. “I’m sure there have been many instances where a player has chewed out his caddie, whether it was deserved or not. Sometimes it could be over a bad yardage or forgetting the umbrella or leaving a club on the driving range – something like that. There are reasons that the employer will chew out his employee, but hopefully it’s always in private and not in front of other people. That’s a situation where you kind of need to take him off to the side and talk.”

“Some guys belittle their caddie, they just do it in private,” one caddie said on the condition of anonymity. “I’ve worked for two different blamers. I guarantee 20-30 percent of the guys just cream their caddies – and only some of those guys apologize after the round is over. And a lot of ‘em are good friends. I had a buddy ream me so badly. After the round was over, we had a three-hour drive. I chewed him out the entire time for being such a jackass to me.”

Using that analogy to marriage again, there are times when irreconcilable differences can lead to the dissolution of the relationship.

“When it comes to the end of a relationship, you can see,” said Mick Doran, who has caddied for Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Darren Clarke during a 25-year career and now works for Brendan Steele. “The player is always on him. I’ve worked for some good players. It might look easy on TV, but it’s not. They talk quietly to you. When it starts getting to the abusive part, you know it’s time to move on.”

So, you want to talk hypocritical?

While players sticking it to caddies is enough to cause a social media uproar, caddies sticking it to players is still seen as high comedy. Case in point:

Golfer: “You’ve got to be the worst caddie in the world.”

Caddie: “I don’t think so. That would be too much of a coincidence.”

Golfer: “Please stop checking your watch all the time. It’s too much of a distraction.”

Caddie: “It’s not a watch – it’s a compass.”

Golfer: “I’d move heaven and earth to break 100 on this course.”

Caddie: “Try heaven, you’ve already moved most of the earth.”

Golfer: “Do you think I can get there with a 5-iron?”

Caddie: “Eventually.”

“There have been plenty of caddies just drop the bag,” said the aforementioned anonymous caddie. “I’ve twice seen it myself mid-round. I mean, you’re just an employee and if a guy treats you like that, you can just take off.

“The first tournament I ever caddied was at Westchester Country Club. We had a late tee time, so I went out early to how the course was playing. Well, I’m out on 15, just to the right of the green, watching shots and putts.

“Here comes this player and his caddie – I won’t say who it was – and I hear the caddie yell, ‘I’m trying my best!’ The player says something back and the caddie slams down the bag, pulls off his vest and starts screaming at the fans. ‘Who wants this job? You want it? You want it?’ He points at me; he has no idea who I am. I’m like, ‘Um, I already have a job.’

“So he starts climbing this hill just off the 15th green. He goes about 20 yards and then turns around. I figure he must have come to his senses. Nope. He gets back down to the bag, takes his wallet out and walks back up the hill.

“Just like that, he was gone.”

“A lot of people on the outside feel like we’re just part of the background,” Doran contested. “But we’re not. We’re doing a lot. If you can save them a shot each week, that’s a lot. But you do sometimes mess up.”

When these circumstances happen – and yes, they will happen – every caddie appreciates when his player follows such a mistake by claiming “we” messed up, rather than pointing a finger at the guy carrying his clubs.

“You have to remember,” Estes said, “it’s an employer-employee relationship, but at the same time you’re teammates.”

Ask a veteran caddie and he’ll claim that the usual stuff associated with caddying is hardly the most difficult part of the gig.

“The psychological part of my job is easily the most important part of my job,” explained Kip Henley, who has caddied for Brian Gay for the past seven years. “Saying the right thing at the right time and knowing when to shut up and get out of the way. The psychology of caddying is way ahead of yardages and reading greens – no doubt about it.”

All of this information leads us back to the Watson-Scott situation from this past Sunday.

Chris Stroud was Watson’s playing partner in the final twosome of the day, giving the eventual runner-up a front row seat at what occurred on the 16th hole.

“For him to hit that one shot poorly and then just go off like that was very surprising,” said Stroud. “For being that close, he could have easily have made a bogey there or at least a double and still been OK. My caddie [John Limanti] and I were talking about it the whole way up to the green while he was in the drop circle. He just talked himself out of the tournament.

“I think more than anything he'll learn from that. I think the next time he's in that situation, I think he'll draw and say, ‘You know what, I'm not going to do that again. I'm going to choose to be positive with myself and just be persistent and just do the best I can.’

“For Bubba to do that was a little bit of a surprise. I'm sure he'll learn from it.”

With everything we’ve come to know not just about that specific situation on Sunday, but the dynamic between players and caddies, let’s review those earlier questions.

Was public sentiment correct in instantly chastising Watson for his treatment of Scott? Or did we just have the curtain pulled back on the unseemly part of the player-caddie relationship?

The correct answer may be yes in both instances.

Behind closed doors, among whispers down the range this week, Watson is being called out for his boorish behavior. There are players and caddies alike who seemed to enjoy seeing a “blamer” as they call that type exposed in a public forum.

Then again, there’s something to be said about being teammates, too. Scott has looped for Watson for years, at one time before his Masters win giving an ultimatum that if the player’s attitude didn’t improve, he would walk away from the job.

With that in mind, Watson wasn’t just berating an employee on 16; he berating a friend and partner. Some have contended that if he wasn’t so secure in their relationship, he wouldn’t have felt so comfortable reprimanding him in public.

What we do know is that it’s something that has happened many times before and will happen many times again – even if it isn’t always televised.

After all, as Scott knows so well, everybody makes mistaks.

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: Who's got next?

By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

The sprawling legacy of the Class of 2011 can be traced to any number of origins, but for some among what is arguably the most prolific class ever, it all began in June 2009.

The 99-player field that descended on Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., for the AJGA’s FootJoy Invitational included Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and so many others, like Michael Kim, who up to that moment had experienced the weight of the ’11 class only from afar.

“It was that year that Justin won the FootJoy Invitational and that got him into [the Wyndham Championship]," Kim recalled. "That was my first invitational and I was like 'these guys are so good’ and I was blown away by what they were shooting. I remember being shocked by how good they were at that time.”

Tom Lovelady, who like former Cal-Berkeley Bear Kim is now on the PGA Tour, remembers that tournament as the moment when he started to realize how special this particular group could be, as well as the genesis of what has become lifetime friendships.

In the third round, Lovelady was paired with Spieth.

“We kind of hit it off and became friends after that," Lovelady recalled. "The final round I got paired with Justin Thomas and we became friends. On the 10th hole I asked [Thomas], ‘Where do you want to go to school?’ He said, ‘Here. Here or Alabama.’ My first reaction was, ‘Don’t go to Alabama.’ He’s like, ‘Why?’ I wanted to go there. I knew the class was strong and they only had so many spots, but that’s where I really wanted to go.”

Both ended up in Tuscaloosa, and both won an NCAA title during their time in college. They also solidified a friendship that endures to this day in South Florida where they live and train together.

While the exploits of Thomas, Spieth and Daniel Berger are well documented, perhaps the most impressive part of the ’11 class is the depth that continues to develop at the highest level.

To many, it’s not a question as to whether the class will have another breakout star, it’s when and who?



There’s a good chance that answer could have been found on the tee sheet for last week’s RSM Classic, a lineup that included Class of ’11 alums Lovelady; Kim; Ollie Schniederjans, a two-time All-American at Georgia Tech; Patrick Rodgers, Stanford's all-time wins leader alongside Tiger Woods; and C.T. Pan, a four-time All-American at the University of Washington.

Lovelady earned his Tour card this year via the Web.com Tour, while Schniederjans and Rodgers are already well on their way to the competitive tipping point of Next Level.

Rodgers, who joined the Tour in 2015, dropped a close decision at the John Deere Classic in July, where he finished a stroke behind winner Bryson DeChambeau; and Schniederjans had a similar near-miss at the Wyndham Championship.

To those who have been conditioned by nearly a decade of play, it’s no surprise that the class has embraced a next-man-up mentality. Nor is it any surprise, at least for those who were forged by such an exceedingly high level of play, that success has seemed to be effortless.

“First guy I remember competing against at a high level was Justin. We were playing tournaments at 10, 11 years old together,” Rodgers said. “He was really, really good at that age and I wasn’t really good and so he was always my benchmark and motivated me to get better.”

That symbiotic relationship hasn’t changed. At every level the group has been challenged, and to a larger degree motivated, by the collective success.

By all accounts, it was Spieth who assumed the role of standard-bearer when he joined the Tour in 2013 and immediately won. For Rodgers, however, the epiphany arrived a year later as he was preparing to play a college event in California and glanced up at a television to see his former rival grinding down the stretch at Augusta National.

“Jordan’s leading the Masters. A couple years before we’d been paired together battling it out at this exact same college event,” he laughed. “I think I even won the tournament. It was just crazy for me to see someone who is such a peer, someone I was so familiar with up there on the biggest stage.”

It was a common theme for many among the Class of ’11 as Spieth, Thomas and others emerged, and succeeded, on a world stage. If familiarity can breed contempt, in this case it created a collective confidence.

Success on Tour has traditionally come slowly for new pros, the commonly held belief being that it took younger players time to evolve into Tour professionals. That’s no longer the case, the byproduct of better coaching, training and tournaments for juniors and top-level amateurs.

But for the Class of ’11, that learning curve was accelerated by the economies of scale. The quality and quantity of competition for the class has turned out to be a fundamental tenet to the group’s success.

“Since the mindset of the class has been win, win, win, you don’t know anything other than that, it’s never been just be good enough,” Lovelady said. “You don’t think about being top 125 [on the FedExCup points list], you think about being as high as you can instead of just trying to make the cut, or just keep your card. It’s all you’ve known since you were 14, 15 years old.”

It’s a unique kind of competitive Darwinism that has allowed the class to separate itself from others, an ever-present reality that continues to drive the group.

“It was constantly in my head motivating me,” Rodgers said. “Then you see Jordan turn pro and have immediate success and Justin turn pro and have immediate success. It’s kind of the fuel that drives me. What makes it special is these guys have always motivated me, maybe even more so than someone like Tiger [Woods].”

The domino effect seems obvious, inevitable even, with the only unknown who will be next?

“That’s a good question; I’d like for it to be myself,” Lovelady said. “But it’s hard to say it’s going to be him, it’s going to be him when it could be him. There are just so many guys.”