Caddies voice their opinions on distance-measuring devices at PGA

Rangefinders are an important tool for caddies, but not one they’ve ever been able to use once a tournament begins. That all changes at the 2021 PGA Championship, where they will be permitted. Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, the PGA of America announced its decision to allow distance-measuring devices at their major championships this year starting at the PGA Championship in May at Kiawah Island.

One of the intentions is to speed up play.

Caddies have had differing reactions to this, but most that The Caddie Network has spoken to agree that speeding up play will not result from this.

“I don’t think they belong in tournament play myself and I don’t see how it’s going to speed up play,” Kenny Harms, Kevin Na’s caddie of 13 years, said. “I think it’s going to do the exact opposite. Most times when you’ve got a good caddie he’s going to be waiting there with the yardage. There’s no reason to have a laser. A player’s going to get there and will pull out the laser and he’ll shoot the number, then he’s going to shoot it again and again. Lasers aren’t as accurate as you think they are. If you shoot it three times you might get three different numbers.”

RELATED: PGA of America to allow distance-measuring devices during its majors beginning this year

Harms is worried that the laser may pick up an object behind the pin as well and that would lead to confusion for caddie and player.

Viktor Hovland’s caddie, Shay Knight, anticipates the same issue.

“It’s going to get us an exact number for the pin but if you’ve got grandstands behind and you laser what you think is a pin and you’re actually hitting the grandstands then you’re going to send your player over the green and you’re going to get chastised for that too,” Knight said.

The veteran caddie from Australia isn’t even convinced he will use the device.

“Me personally, I don’t know if I want to use it,” Knight said. “Obviously if you hit it way offline it gives a quicker analysis. But if you’re in the middle of the fairway where (Viktor) usually is, it’s going to be probably easier to get the number off the sprinkler head and get your total number anyway.”

Brooks Koepka’s caddie Ricky Elliott says he doesn’t plan to use a laser at all.

“It’s only important to work out where to pitch a ball (when in trouble). I do agree if (you’re) way offline it may help but there is usually trees and hills in the way.”

Veteran Damon Green sees the device’s advantages when you’re offline.

“I think the rangefinders would be very helpful and save time if the player is off the beaten path. It would save us time trying to find a sprinkler head and do our triangulation.”

Tony Finau’s caddie Mark Urbanek doesn’t see how the distance-measuring devices help with some of the crucial numbers he needs on every hole.

“Everything we do is based off the front of the green and shooting a flag does not give us the front of the green,” Urbanek said. “You’re still going to have to pace off from the edge of the bunker and the closest head, or whatever we have marked in our books. You’re still going to have to get those numbers for the front of the green, the cover, the slopes, and all of those things that you can’t shoot with a laser. It helps to ensure that you don’t mess up the actual pin number but these players want a lot more than where the flag is.”

These players are also the elite of the elite in a sport where precision is critical.

“I think at the end of the day the caddies are going to need to still do calculations on covers, these players are really good, they want firm numbers,” Kessler Karain, the caddie for Patrick Reed said.

He’s also concerned about a distance device’s ability to properly shoot a water hazard.

“A laser can’t hit water, so are you going to trust that number? It’s flat. It’s not like hitting a lip of a bunker,” Karain said. “You can shoot the lip of a bunker all day because it’s facing you, but you can’t shoot water on a par 5 to lay up short and be confident with it. If I had that laser and I’m shooting it with Patrick he’s going to be like, ‘no dude. I’m not taking that number,’ and I won’t blame him, I wouldn’t either.”

Does he figure that his player will be using the device?

“I don’t see him using it that often,” Karain said. “It’s almost like the visualization process we’re used to when playing a hole. Visually, we’re attached to that book.”

For Matthew Wolff’s caddie Nick Heinen, he sees where the distance-measuring devices can help when you’re playing from another fairway, and he thinks the move to these devices will continue among the other governing bodies.

I hope they all adopt it,” Heinen said. “I think ultimately it’s way better for golf. I think once the players get used to having it, it will eventually speed play up. At the beginning it might slow it up just because it’s something different. I do think it would help golf because I think golf needs to do something to speed up pace of play and this is probably a step in the right direction.”

While J.J. Jakovac sees the reasoning behind these devices trying to speed up play, he understands it still comes down to the player and caddie.

“If the guy who’s the slower person just took his rangefinder and shot it, that could conceivably speed things up, but they’re still going to go through their routine and I think people need to change their routine to speed up and pull the trigger a little faster,” Jakovac said.

It’s also hard to calculate slow play because there are variables that cause slower play too, like a super windy day or tough, firm greens.

“If we got to Kiawah and it’s only blowing 5 mph and it’s sunny, the greens are soft that will be a lot faster round than if it’s blowing 25 mph and raining,” Jakovac noted. “It just is, there are a lot more things to factor in when conditions are bad. (The devices are) not a solve for slow play. There’s no way it’s a solve for slow play. But that’s just my opinion and we’ll see what happens.”


  1. Speed the game up? For who-TV? Forget it, leave the game alone, there’s enough technology already. Rangefinder’s are just another aluminum bat, who needs them.

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