Player-caddie relationship has its perks, drawbacks

By Jason SobelJune 25, 2013, 10:32 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.

Getty Images

Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

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

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

Getty Images

Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

Getty Images

McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

Getty Images

Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.