Silent Partners

The golfer gets all the press, but none of them succeed without the help of the caddy at their side. (Getty Images)

The golfer gets all the press, but none of them succeed without the help of the caddy at their side. (Getty Images)

Caddies get special treatment at The Masters. They’re fed well, and generally regarded more like patrons than the help. They even get to wear fancy white onesies! I kid, but they deserve to be treated as well as their bosses at all times. Their role is complex and difficult. With Bubba Watson making a big move on Friday — a tear of five straight birdies that included Amen Corner — I was as psyched for his caddie Ted Scott as I was for him. A major win by a Tour player is just as much a win for, and by, his caddie.

Tour caddies are well-compensated. The winning looper this week will pocket a nice $144,000. But they earn that 10 percent. A long-running joke among caddies is that there are only three rules: Show up, keep up and shut up. Truth is, their jobs might be tougher than the players’. Well maybe not quite, but it’s close. Caddies are part pack mule, part meteorologist, part psychologist (BIG part), part mathematician, part scapegoat, part psychic and sometimes even part bartender. When I played in the LPGA’s Michelob Ultra Open a few years back, a veteran caddie suggested to the man on my bag a little Drambuie and Sprite to calm my nerves. (Full disclosure: He did have a water bottle filled with Chardonnay available at all times. We never used it, but it was a comfort knowing it was there.)

The strongest caddie-player relationships yield the best results. Phil Mickelson and his longtime caddie, Bones McKay, are the gold standard. McKay has been with Phil since 1992, for all five of Lefty’s major wins. Amy Mickelson introduced Bones to his wife. Keegan Bradley never would have rebounded from a triple bogey — as a rookie — on No. 15 during the final round of the 2011 PGA Championship to best Jason Dufner in a playoff without the steadying hand of Pepsi Hale. 2012 U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson and his caddie, Paul Tesori, are genuinely friends. As Tesori was dealing with his newborn son in intensive care and a diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome earlier this year, Simpson was crying with him on the phone from Kapalua. While Steve Williams’ off-color public comments and chattiness with the media caused a rift between him and Tiger Woods, he’s the perfect fit for low-key Adam Scott, who doesn’t mind having someone around who will take a bit of the spotlight off of him.

Yet no matter how close the bond, job security for caddies is non-existent. The player is the employer. First-round Masters leader Bill Haas just fired his own brother in favor of Scott Gneiser, who won the 2001 PGA Championship with David Toms. Lorne Duncan, with whom 19-year-old Matthew Fitzpatrick earned the silver medal at the 2013 Open Championship, was booted by Augusta brass this week because a foot condition demands that he wear sandals, a no-no for the Green Jackets. On Thursday a spectator reported a very basic rules violation by Luke Donald. If Donald had a quick temper, his caddie, John McLaren, could have been watching on TV by Friday because he didn’t catch the grounded club first.

Watson and Scott have had their share of tension. Scott once threatened to walk on Watson if his attitude didn’t improve. And after a mis-club during the final round of last year’s Travelers Championship, Watson berated Scott:

The exchange was uncomfortable to watch, and surely an exercise in humility for them both. The next day, Scott took responsibility, a dutiful goat. But they’re two of the best communicators on tour, and they’ve worked through their troubles. Obviously, all was well with the duo on Friday. They were in a nice rhythm, and Watson is much more collected on the course than he used to be. The left-hander is nicely positioned at seven under for the tournament heading into Saturday’s third round.

So when Watson or another player reigns victorious come Sunday, don’t forget the man who knows the course better than his player, the one who has kept the same yardage book for years, marked with a sophisticated caddie version of golf hieroglyphics. Remember the one who remembered to check the flag on No. 11 to judge the wind on No. 12. Behind every guy who takes home a green jacket is one who goes home with a coveted yellow flag.

3 thoughts on “Silent Partners

  1. Sarah, unfortunately your piece contains a glaring inaccuracy. Matt Fitzpatrick won the 2013 US Amateur at The Country Club memorably with his brother Alex on the bag. He was silver medal/low amateur with Lorne Duncan caddying at Muirfield last year.

  2. Thanks, Nicole. You’re correct. Mistakes happen—we’re getting that fixed right away.

  3. Pingback: Caddies For Life | CURATIO Magazine