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Looping for Her Livelyhood

There are so many sides to this complicated game. For the past four years, I've been able to brag that I knew it from at least two angles: media and player. Now I can say I know it from three. This past week, I caddied for one of my best friends at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament and needless to say, it was one of my biggest lessons in life, and certainly one of the most appreciated.

My player was Stephanie Sparks. Last year she was an LPGA rookie and she experienced one of the roughest years that any player can. She only made one cut. She was forced to return to 'Q-school' if she wanted to get back out on tour. Because this event is such a grind, a one-time shot, an all-or-nothing go, you don't want just any caddie on the bag. You want someone who knows you well and can try to ease your mind when things get stressful, and believe me, they do.

Steph seemed to think that person was me, and why wouldn't she? We've been friends since we were teenagers. I've played the game on a professional level and I'd been to Q-school twice myself. If anyone could understand what she was going through, I could. You know what, I had no idea how hard it would be.

Before the week started, I picked the brain of a friend of mine who caddied on tour for six years. I asked her what it was like to be a looper and she told me, 'It's like a dance out there.' Boy was she right.

There are so many moving parts and all the professional caddies operate under a reliable system that's been intact for years. Awareness is the ultimate prerequisite and you cannot miss a step. If you do, everyone notices, especially your dance partner. Keeping her happy is your main priority. Not upsetting any of the others is easily next in line.

Are the clubs clean? Is one end of you towel wet? Do you have tees in your pocket? Do you have a penny, a nickel, a dime and a quarter so your player can choose which coin she wants to use to mark her ball? Do you have plenty to eat and drink in the bag? How about a rain suit in case it pours? Umbrella? Sunscreen? Check. Now you can leave the parking lot and head to the range.

Are the grips tacky? Are her practice Titleist balls dry? Are the grooves on her irons clean? Does she have enough range balls? Are you keeping an eye on her swing in case she asks you a question, and are you aware of the time so you aren't late to the tee? Are you mentally exhausted yet? I hope not, because now it's time for the real show to start, and don't forget, her entire year relies on these four rounds of golf.

Show up, shut up and keep up are the three golden rules of caddying. The last two are by far the most challenging, especially during a week like this.

As Steph's longtime friend, it was very difficult for me to watch her struggle each day. She felt as if her entire future depended on each shot. How do you handle a situation like that? What do you say? When do you say it? Do you say anything at all?

Typically, I'm a person who's not afraid to offer up my opinion, but this past week I learned that sometimes you just have to let your friends experience things for themselves and make sure you're standing there in the end to pat them on the back for a job well done or hold their head if they need to cry. Unfortunately for Stephanie, it was the latter emotion that came pouring out. She missed the three-day cut by one lonely stroke and there was nothing I could do about it. It was a week filled with emotion. It was a bonding experience that I'll never forget. I've always respected tour caddies, but now I appreciate even more the effort and support they give their players week in and week out.

Rest assured Stephanie will find her way back to the LPGA in the very near future. She's loaded with talent and the confidence is sure to return to her game soon. As for me, I'll keep the job I've got, but I warmly welcome the chance to caddie again one day. Until then, I'll work on strengthening my lower back muscles. Man, am I sore!