A caddie's worth

By Rex HoggardAugust 9, 2011, 7:40 pm

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Two out of three isn’t bad, at least if one takes into account the emotional turmoil Steve Williams has been saddled with for the better part of the last year and a half. Not to mention more than a decade’s old gag order.

Williams is a Jedi Master when it comes to the trifecta of the caddie code, show up, keep up and shut up, although why he blew through the stop sign on the latter on Sunday at Firestone is still perplexing.

“I have been caddying for more than 30 years now. I have won 145 times and that is the best win of my life,” said Williams following his new man Adam Scott’s victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, forgetting, we can only surmise, the baker’s dozen of majors he won with that other guy.

The New Zealander was clearly hurt by his very public, and very messy, split with former boss Tiger Woods and maybe the emotion of the moment got the best of him. But in this Williams is no different than 95 percent of all professional bagmen. A caddie-yard axiom comes to mind; there are two kinds of loopers – those who have been fired and those who are about to be.

Tony Navarro didn’t go all soapbox when Scott showed him the door not long after the two had finished runner-up at this year’s Masters, the Australian’s best Grand Slam finish ever. Bobby Brown didn’t start muckraking when Dustin Johnson bagged him for a more veteran looper despite caddying his man into the hunt at two of four majors in 2010.

Williams is one of the best in the business, but there’s a reason why caddies prefer the shadows to the spotlight. In many ways the golden rule is built in to shield the looper from unwanted – and unfair – analysis, as well as the player.

“I tell (caddie Michael Christensen), it’s a team effort until I step in with the club in my hand to hit the shot, at that point it’s all on me,” Kevin Streelman said.

Williams’ public epiphany, however, has opened the floor to a debate over a caddie’s worth to his player. Some in the mainstream media have speculated that a professional looper is little more than a mule who must adhere to the age-old adage that the help should be seen and not heard.

At best this analysis is an oversimplification. At worst it is blatantly wrong.

“I’ve heard on the radio guys saying (Williams) is not a coach, and that he’s not important in the big picture of things,” Stewart Cink said. “But that’s not true at all. These guys are just not pull carts out there.”

Cink should know, after Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” Mackay, Cink and his man Frank Williams may have the longest running caddie-player tenure at 13 years. It’s a relationship that spans a half dozen PGA Tour titles and the 2009 British Open, where, Cink said, Williams earned every penny of his winner’s share.

“We worked together on No. 18 to come up with a plan in case that hole played down wind (like it did on Sunday at Turnberry),” Cink said. “There was an area, about 8 yards short of the green, that we decided to play to and it worked out perfectly.”

In regulation Cink birdied the 18th hole to force extra holes and made par at the finishing hole in the playoff to beat Tom Watson.

World No. 1 Luke Donald, who split with his caddie, his brother, last year, concurred with Cink: “If I thought my guy was carrying luggage I wouldn’t pay him nearly as much as I am.”

In Cink’s and Streelman’s estimation, a good caddie can be worth a stroke a round under the right circumstances. But both players quickly point out a caddie can cost a player as well.

“I’ve cost my guy a stroke, for sure,” said one caddie who asked not to be identified. “You make mistakes, but the real test is when your guy isn’t playing well. That’s when a caddie earns his money.”

The last time Glory’s Last Shot was played at Atlanta Athletic Club may be one of the best examples of a caddie’s worth. Clinging to a one-stroke lead through 71 holes with a hanging lie and 209 yards of water and rough between himself and major glory David Toms looked to his caddie Scott Gneiser for advice.

“You want to lay up?” Gneiser offered. The rest is major championship history.

The best player-caddie relationships transcend the basics of “how far” and “which way?” The most successful tandems are more than employee-employer – they are friends who spend more time together than most families.

“It all depends on the player, some players want their caddies to stay quiet and be ready and that’s the extent of their relationship,” said Streelman, who has known Christensen for 15 years. “Others, like me and Chad (Campbell) and Stewart (Cink), we have our best friends caddying for us. It just helps keep everything loose and relaxed.”

It’s the kind of relationship that Woods and Williams used to have, before feelings were hurt and the wrong things were said. It’s what makes the relationship work, and why the breakups are often messy. It’s what prompted Williams to say more than he should have, and why the sudden collection of caddie critics are so wayward with their slings and arrows. On this point the pundits are correct, a caddie is not a coach they are much more.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.