A Good Walk Unsoiled: A caddie’s guide to the dos and don’ts of a pro-am
Congratulations, it’s your lucky day.
Soon, you’ll be playing in a PGA Tour Pro-Am. You’ve decided to drop $3,000 to $10,000. Or maybe someone else paid the entry fee. Someone who a) really likes you, b) wants to reward you or c) covets your business has made it possible for you to hack away beside real touring professionals inside-the-ropes on a tournament-conditioned course replete with grandstands, electronic scoreboards and the like.
Whoever wrote the check, a memorable round of golf lies ahead.
You’ll play 18 holes with a professional tour player, obviously, and three or four other amateurs, who you may or may not know beforehand. It’s possible you’ll have two different pros, each for nine holes, as the Tour implemented a policy in recent years that allows members to shorten what can become a long, tiring day.
Per Tour rules, each golfer will have a caddie. Your caddie is likely a friend, a local caddie (often a teenager) or, perhaps, the guy from the adjacent office. For weeks, he bugged you for this opportunity. He wants to live out his own twisted dream and carry your bag so he can snap photos, eavesdrop on conversations and regale everyone back at his local club with ‘stories from the Tour’ and how he and Lefty are best buds.
Even though the pro-am has a more relaxed vibe, it’s pertinent to remember the Tour caddie and player are working. If you’re fortunate enough to play in the premium Wednesday pro-am, a morning round provides a window for the Tour caddie to gain valuable information. He might glean a nugget that will shed light on similar conditions the following morning in the tournament’s opening round. He’s charting clubs and yardages, watching how balls react, taking one last look at a green complex and discussing tee shot strategy with his boss.
The man is busy, scouting the course, continuing the research that enables him to have smart answers for the questions his pro is certain to ask. Some of these may or may not include: Is there a players-only port-a-potty behind the 12th tee? Which one of these six putters do you prefer? How would you feel if, tomorrow, in the first round of the tournament, I remove the driver I’ve used to make $5 million this year and replace it with this new prototype that produces good numbers on Trackman?
Despite having to solve these riddles while toting a 35-pound golf bag, the Tour caddie will still probably find time during the pro-am to chat with you the friendly, nervous amateur. That’s called multitasking. All Tour caddies excel at multitasking. Not convinced? Just wait for the rain and watch ‘em go. It’s like they have hands coming out of their back.
In my years as a Tour caddie, I worked dozens of pro-ams. While in golf anything can happen and you never truly see it all, I feel like I witnessed enough to offer suggestions. Some are more gentle than others.
First, for the most part, my pro-am experiences were pleasant. Some amateurs were thrilled to have such a cool once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Others were seasoned vets of the pro-am circuit, having maybe even played in a Desert Classic or Pebble Beach Pro-Am. On occasion, the chance meeting developed into a friendship renewed annually or a drinking buddy for an evening. Maybe there was an invitation to eat a steak at the amateur’s restaurant or play a round at his private club.
I’ve heard tales of Tour caddies falling into free luxury accommodations for the week or meeting a Swedish millionaire who had six frisky & single nieces on his yacht in the marina, and closed the round by telling the Tour looper to: “Grab a couple of your buddies and come on by later this evening.”
Alas, Fortuna never spun her wheel that direction when I was around.
Anyway, keep these tips in mind to make the most of your lucky day.
1. Be cool
Look, you’re excited, understandably so. There’s a funny joke or anecdote you’ve perfected and saved to execute in the presence of a professional athlete. You can’t wait to tell him about your latest swing theory or business venture. Just relax. There’s plenty of time. You’re going to be together for hours and most Tour pros have perfected the art of the pro-am. They know how to share the moment with the entire group, engage each member in conversation one-on-one, offer compliments for good shots and subtly share advice or encouragement, if necessary. Resist the urge to bum rush pro and caddie on the first tee or risk wasting all your good material by the second green.
2. Question suggestions
As the round unfolds, ask your pro how he got started playing golf. Tour players are really just regular people who are insanely good at controlling a white dimpled ball. And most love golf, or at least they did at one time. Any pros I’ve encountered enjoy talking about those fun days from childhood, when golf was a game, they played 54 holes a day and finished in the dark as supper waited on the table. It’s a good conversation starter.
Do not, on the other hand, ask your pro if he inhales or exhales on his downswing, why his right elbow juts out so far from his body at the top or if he’s always had that inside-to-outside loop in his putting stroke. Don’t ask for a blow-by-blow of the 41 he shot on the back nine last week to fall from contention and crash outside the top 25.
3. No 3-woods out of the rough
Just don’t. Tour rough is healthy and mean. If you hit it in there – and you will – excavate your ball back onto the short grass as efficiently as possible. It will help your score and keep the pace moving, which are equally vital.
For real, it’s important. Also be aware of shoulder tension and grip pressure. They work together to smooth out a jittery takeaway.
5. Pick it up
When your hands are shaking like a pine needle in a hurricane and your backswing is faster than Usain Bolt, bad shots will follow. So, on the (hopefully) rare occasion that you’re lying six in the greenside bunker, quietly pick up your ball and wait for your teammates by the green. That will save you from skulling a shot off the metal bleachers and into the beverage stand and again, keep things moving.
6. Stay in the moment
Think about it, you’re enjoying a rare experience in professional sports. Imagine hitting with Roger Federer the day before Wimbledon or catching Tom Brady passes on Super Bowl Eve. Not happening. But right now, there you are, walking down the fairway at TPC-Somewhere with a guy who may one day win a Green Jacket, if he hasn’t already. Look around. Take a deep breath. Smell the freshly mown grass, observe the tournament experience from the inside looking out, notice the detailed work performed by the golf course superintendent and his amazing staff (sometimes they use scissors to trim the grass around the sprinkler heads!). Nobody expects you to play well, or to your ‘normal game.’ There’s no reason to ever say anything like, “I don’t know what’s wrong today, I shot 78 at my home course last weekend.” When the bad holes come, shake ‘em off. Your team is counting on you for three, maybe four holes of solid play to help the team score. Only four people care who wins the pro-am anyway. The goal today is a good walk, unsoiled.
Use the rest of your day to find the Swedish guy with the yacht.