Caddies talk about the importance of chemistry with players

Eric Meller, caddie for Jerry Kelly, explains that chemistry between player and caddie is essential to a long-lasting relationship. Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of times, money isn’t everything for caddies. They may be on what others view as a “great bag,” but it can come with a lot of sacrifice.

On a recent Caddie Network podcast, caddies Scott Gneiser (David Toms), Ryan Rue (Chris DiMarco) and Eric Meller (Jerry Kelly) chatted about the importance of good chemistry between player and caddie.

“It’s a comfort level with each other,” said Gneiser, who actually decided to leave Anthony Kim in 2008 after just 10 events together at a time when Kim was projected to be the next big thing in golf. “It’s not even so much the working together with the golf and the clubbing and the yardage, but it’s a comfort level and how you get along. Do you have the same interests so you can talk? There’re moments out there where there’s so much silence that you need something to break the ice, so you know what he’s all about. Like David [Toms] and I have the same interests in sports. Even though he’s from Louisiana and I’m from Michigan, we have the same interests in sports, so we have the same ideas about what we’ve thought and what’s going on. Plus, we have the same mannerisms of being in control, being quiet and knowing what we needed to do. Each one is different.”

Meller, home right now due to the COVID-19 quarantine like the rest of us, pointed to the recent rebroadcast of the 1997 Masters where Mike “Fluff” Cowan was on the bag for a young Tiger Woods.

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“You couldn’t have – as Tiger became Tiger – in my opinion, more differences in the other stuff,” Meller said. “Anyone could caddie for Tiger in a certain realm as far as his talent goes. So, having the other stuff that Gneiser talked about to talk about when there’s stress, or you’re trying to bring the guy down a little bit because there’s three holes to go and you have a one-shot lead, or you’re one-shot back and you need to pump them up… to me, those two were different in that way.”

That was no knock on Fluff, as Meller quickly noted.

“You put Fluff with Jim Furyk for as long as they have been together, and they are an amazing match with what they’ve done together,” Meller said of the 21-year-and-counting relationship between Cowan and Furyk.

Shortly after Woods relieved Fluff of his caddying duties, Steve Williams was hired and the pair would go on a historic run together, teaming up for 13 of Tiger’s 15 career major victories.

“And when Stevie Williams came in for Tiger… People always say, ‘Who’s the best caddie?’ I’m like, ‘For what player?’ Or, vice versa,” Meller said. “You could take me, or Ryan, or Scott, or you’ve had Paul Tesori on here – you’ve had amazing people (on the podcast). Damon Green with all of these championships and skills and things. But this is where our thing is more like a marriage. If there’s not the right chemistry between the player and the caddie, it doesn’t matter how gifted either one is. It doesn’t matter if Stevie Williams has won, what, 80+ times with multiple guys and all these things? His personality is not for every player. Stevie Williams probably could have been perfect for a guy like Anthony Kim, because they probably would have steadied each other the same way he and Tiger did. That’s a guess. That’s a total guess on my part. But these are still human relationships. And especially in the modern game.”

Rue referenced a common line about players and caddies on the PGA Tour, “We spend more time with these guys than we do with our wives.”

That can be a lot of stress. And, just like when any relationship is beginning to sour, the writing is pretty much on the wall.

“It’s a difficult deal,” Rue said. “A lot of times I think whether the caddie makes the decision to leave the player, or the player fires the caddie, you feel it. You know it’s coming whether you’re going to make that call or he’s going to do it. I mean, I think you can ask every single caddie and probably 90 percent of them know they’re getting fired when they get fired. You know the week, you know the look, you just know. It happens. It happens more than people think, and more than people know. And then nine times out of 10, you usually go back and work for the guy.”

Meller drove home the point on the importance of chemistry.

“It’s so much about personality matches that really make it work,” he said. “And that’s where comfort comes in. I heard a recent podcast you did, and you talk about the Bubba Watson dynamic. Eight out of 10 guys couldn’t work for Bubba Watson. Not because he’s not a nice human being, but because they’d have a hard time understanding him the right way. Teddy (Scott) is perfect for him. It doesn’t mean it’ll last forever; we all know that. But it works together.

“I remember when I got together with Jerry Kelly, a lot of people thought, ‘There is no way this is going to last.’ Well, I think they understood certain things about me and certain things about Jerry but didn’t understand that there were other underlying abilities that we both had that meshed very well,” Meller said. “Jerry was very hard on himself and outwardly could look like he’s hard on his caddie. But, actually, when I was being my happy ole jolly self, ‘Hey, if he wants to sulk, I’ll let him sulk and I’ll talk to the other guys in the group and I will do it loud enough and happy enough’ – on purpose at times. We’ve been together so long that I can get away with a lot that caddies may not be able to get away with in the first couple of years. That’s because we have a certain trust and honesty amongst each other. But he’s told me multiple times, ‘Hey, I don’t want you changing who you are. I actually feed off of it even if you don’t know I am.’ A different player might not. A different player might be like, ‘Hey, if you’re not sulking with me then I’m going to fire you.’ And I’ve heard that.”

You can listen to the entire podcast below.

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