The best professional Tour caddies remain stoic in every situation. Driving rainstorm that requires six hands? No problem. Talking their pro into a perfect club on the back nine Sunday with a 1-shot lead? Piece of cake. Remembering the 17th always plays shorter than the number and that putt in the back half of the green breaks more than it looks? Easy as waking up in the morning.
Still, these are real, live human beings we’re discussing. They have hearts and souls and feelings and stuff. While they can appear calm in the worst conditions, certain scenarios can rattle their minds and souls. Spend 25-30 weeks a year out there following the sun and everything is possible.
Here are scary sights and sounds from the Tour that are certain to spook even the most grizzled looper.
1. “We just had a great season with Brand A clubs. I’ve played Brand A clubs since high school. But Brand B offered me more money so I’ve decided to play their clubs this season.”
The road to Q School (now Korn Ferry Finals) is littered with the skulls and souls of professional golfers who cashed in on a career year and collected a fat check to switch clubs. It’s mind-blowing, but every caddie can tell this tale, even if it hasn’t affected them directly. The purses are $6-10 million every week. The FedEx champion made $15 million in one week last season. Compared to other pro sports there’s much less guaranteed money, however. Put a pro in a quiet windowless room with a salivating agent, a company president hungry to land a ‘name’ player and a contract loaded with zeroes and bad, bad things can happen.
Once I heard this tale: A pro, on the heels of a great season or two, was contemplating an equipment change.
His caddie, aiming to make a point, posed this question: “Do you think Da Vinci changed his tools after the Mona Lisa?”
The pro replied, “Not sure. Never heard of him. Must have lost his card on the European Tour.”
2. Empty back pocket
Many caddies keep their precious yardage book, loaded with valuable information, integral piece of equipment on Tour, tucked in their back pocket. On occasion, things fall out of the back pocket. On more than one occasion. There are ancient tales passed down through the generations, regarding unfortunate loopers who sat down to handle nature’s call and heard their book pop out of their pocket and into the bowl below. A terrifying turn-of-events if there’s ever been one.
3. Seven Putter Tuesdays
An afternoon on the practice green goes on forever. What began as harmlessly trying out one new putter turns into a several-hour-affair. As the gnats emerge, dusk settles in and stomachs rumble, it’s become a Seven Putter Tuesday, accompanied by unsolicited advice and stroke suggestions from a couple of club manufacturers, a random caddie, a reporter, two or three ‘high-level coaches’ and some stranger who somehow landed a badge crept inside-the-ropes and may spend the night in the cart barn. After such an ordeal, there’s only one logical next step for a wise caddie: check Friday night’s flight schedule and tell your wife or girlfriend you’ll probably be home in time for dinner.
4. The fierce howl of a heavy wind
Listen for the wind, a sage caddie once told me. I’m still not sure exactly what he meant but it sounded cool at the time. It’s much easier to discern what it means to be awoken by the whistling wind on cut day of the last tournament of the year when your player is on the bubble of the Top 125 and desperately needs to make a significant paycheck. Palm trees bowing, dust clouds spinning, making educated guesses amid the gusts as the season hangs in the balance. Scary stuff.
5. “My (brother, friend, neighbor) just lost his job and is going to come out and caddie the next two or three tournaments. Hope that’s OK.”
Like being warned that a missile is bearing down on Hawaii — nevermind, that actually happened to Tour caddies in 2018 — this statement is scary. I’m hopeful these words are spoken less frequently than they once were. In modern pro golf, players have so much to gain — FedEx points, millions of dollars, boxes of free shirts — and so much to lose — swing, mind, wife — that most understand it’s necessary to have a seasoned caddie on the bag at all times. Have you seen the yardage books? Inside-the-ropes on the PGA Tour is no place for a novice to be fiddling through the pages as they flap in the wind.
Any Tour caddie who has ever heard such a statement, however, was wise to start working the familiar avenues — texts, calls, direct messages, SnapChats or whathaveyou — and begin the hunt for a new bag to carry.
6. Two sets of Irons on Wednesday
I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. A certain Swedish professional with a funny hat. A bag carried by a pro turned caddie who has one of the best nicknames in golf. An iconic course on the Monterey Peninsula. And a bag full of rattling, clanking irons all jammed in compartments uncomfortably. Two full sets. Not on the range, but on the course. For several hours. If I had a dollar for the on a hilly course. The image of my caddie friend’s puzzled countenance, clouded in disbelief, haunts me to this day.
(Worth noting this was in the pre-launch monitor era. Let’s hope technology has spared us from witnessing such a disturbance again).
7. Midseason Swing Change
It’s harrowing to type, much less ponder or relive.
Super Coach flies in for a week. He has come to the professional golf tournament seeking superstar clients who can win a major and make him rich or at the very least help him create a solid income stream through a series of late-night Golf Channel infomercials. Since nobody ranked in the top 30 is showing interest at the moment, he’s decided to use John Journeyman, for whom you are caddying, as a guinea pig on which he will test a half-dozen new theories, starting with the grip, stance and backswing but also including breathing patterns, downswing transition keys and several key reminders for impact and release.
With one eye looking down the range for the game’s up-and-coming star and one eye on John’s inside takeaway, the reconstruction of Journeyman begins. All the caddie can do is sit there, dream of being anywhere else and repeat to himself that he most certainly will go to prison if he chooses to crack Super Coach on the head with Journeyman’s sand wedge.
Felonies aside, a long, hot, fruitless summer lies ahead for this tandem. Our friendly caddie has just become his pro’s ‘Eyes’ and will be asked 6,212 questions and asked to take 9,222 videos of Journeyman’s swing. On the golf course each Thursday, the ball goes left, the ball goes right and on Friday the duo goes home. Journeyman can be found crumpled into a ball wondering why he ever listened to Super Coach, who is long gone, having jetted off to ruin the next unsuspecting victim. Our caddie has become good friends with James Beam and Uncle Tito.
8. Shanks, plural
Multiple, in a short period of time. Never good.
Plenty of great players have hit one shank in competition. It happens. Close to a perfect shot and all that, some have said. Webb Simpson hit one in the Ryder Cup at Medinah, off a tee if I recall. Wander over to YouTube and find that people who are much sicker than most have posted compilation videos of world-class players, respected champions firing hosel rockets all over creation. It’s disturbing, especially for the man standing to the right of the ball. Again, one shank no big deal. Two or more, in a bunch, downright frightening.
So there you have it. There are other scary scenarios but this is a family-friendly website you’re reading. Just keep these in mind next time you see a Tour caddie and buy him a drink or give him the keys to your Lamborghini for the week.
Be safe out there. Happy Halloween.