One of the best things about being a pro golfer (and also a hacker), is that there is always an excuse or someone to blame for a bad shot. Whether you are like Bubba Watson in France and blaming the locals for snapping away on their cameras while you take a shot, or at the local course blaming a noisy squirrel for the embarrassing drive you have hooked 40 yards left into a neighboring garden, there is always a need to blame something other than yourself.
Some people see this as a negative thing in golf, personally, I rather like it.
In addition to having a useful object to blame, golfers also often require something else on the course. Information. Seeing a course for the first time is not the same as knowing how to play it. For that you require local knowledge and expertise and because they initially fulfilled the role of both ably, caddies grew in popularity.
“Hi, fancy coming for a game of golf with me?”
“Sure, where are we going? I’ll just get my clubs…”
“…No, it’s ok. You won’t need them.”
“Well, I thought instead of you playing, you could carry my clubs while I play, tell me which shots to play and when, identify the correct club I need to make the shot and then when I make a complete hash of it all, I can look around and blame you for it entirely.”
Of course, caddies have evolved from local people used by wealthy players to assist them around the course, using their knowledge and tact to hopefully enable their golfer to shoot a low score. Today caddying is a full-time job where caddies and professional players form an almost unbreakable bond (though Tiger Woods dumped Steve Williams): caddy and player travel across the globe together. If their player succeeds, the caddy succeeds.
The role of the modern caddy is no easier than of their historic predecessors. For sure, they earn a lot more and enjoy many perks of international travel with their pro. They may stay at plush hotels, but they do earn their money.
The modern caddy is expected to work out yardages for their professional by walking the course in advance of the competition. Not only do yardages have to be accurate, but greens need to be read, and hazards noted. The modern caddy needs to think his way around the golf course and experience it, without being able to pick up a club and see for themselves. Try it sometime yourself.
Then there is the preparation. Do you remember when Ian Woosnam’s caddy David Byrne, forgot to check Woosnam had the right number of clubs in his bag. The caddy only noticed the oversight when Woosnam had birdied a par three to go into the lead and the two shot penalty cost Woosnam a chance of winning The Open. Two weeks later, after Byrne missed the start of the final round of Scandinavian Masters, and Woosnam had to break into his own locker to retrieve his golf shoes. Surprise, the caddy was sacked.
So not only does the caddy have to walk and know every course their pro will play on, they have to ensure their pro is well-prepared for the event. Furthermore, on the course they have to understand their charges’ game intimately, to advise them on the right type of shot to hit in a variety of circumstances and from a variety of positions.
With all the different permutations (wind, moisture, ground conditions, angles, pro’s physical condition, etc., etc.) for each shot, it is easy to see why a caddy’s job is complex.
Caddying is also a career that offers no guarantees of wealth. Working for the relatively few high earners in the PGA tour certainly can be lucrative. However, to caddy for the majority of pro’s – typically winning between $50,000 and $250,000 a year, a caddy’s earnings (usually less than 10 per cent of the pro’s purse) seems pretty meagre for the work and sacrifice they put in.
At the professional level a caddy not only acts as guidance for the golf professional, but also as their motivator, friend, and analyst. They must understand the personality of their employer and use this knowledge to assist their pro as best they can to succeed. After all, it is in both of their interest.
And they must be prepared to accept most of the blame if and when things go wrong. Realistically, a pro can’t fire himself…
The role of the caddy has developed beyond all recognition from the early halcyon days of golf. The pressure is on for both the pro and his second. So much so that for many pro’s, it’s not the clubs in the bag that make them great, but the person carrying it.
Images by Gorilla Golf Blog, Keith Allison