For caddies, there are few career highlights more significant than being part of a Ryder Cup
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Jim Furyk stopped in on the BMW Invitational in Philadelphia three weeks ago to take his players out to a team dinner.
Consider it yet one more evening of close bonding for Team USA.
One night later, Furyk was it again, this time springing for dinner for the team’s caddies and caddie assistants at Sullivan’s Steakhouse. It was a terrific night. The players may hit the shots, but their caddies will be an integral part of the team’s effort this week at the 42nd Ryder Cup. When you haven’t won a Ryder Cup on foreign soil in a quarter-century, hey, it is all hands on deck.
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And yes, we’ve come a long way as it pertains to getting all the pieces and parts aligned for an event as massive as the Ryder Cup, which begins on Friday at Le Golf National outside Paris. Years ago at this event, caddies arranged their own transportation and accommodations for the week. On Sunday night, caddies and their wives flew from Atlanta to Paris onboard the team’s private charter.
“I took some of the guys to dinner at the BMW and let them know they were valued – valued by us as captains,” Furyk said Tuesday at Le Golf National. “Their player relies on them 52 weeks a year, and I wanted some feedback, some input. I wanted them to help me do the best job I could for the team.
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“You know, obviously to have them over here and all the prep work, and to see their work in the yardage books, in the greens books, what they do on a weekly basis for their players, you can’t replace it.”
So instead, you enlist it. Embrace it. Find a way to make it an asset in a competition where a razor-thin edge can be significant. In addition to the 12 men who will be on the bags for the U.S. players this week, several other caddies have taken on team roles driving some of the team carts that will be traversing the golf course.
Mike “Fluff” Cowan, Furyk’s longtime regular caddie, is involved, as are Ron “Bambi” Levin (who has worked for U.S. vice-captain David Duval), John Wood (Matt Kuchar) and Damon Green (Zach Johnson).
Cowan’s role? “To do whatever is asked of me. I’ll probably end up being his (Furyk’s) cart driver, and basically be a gopher. I want to make sure everybody out there has what they need.”
The Ryder Cup is a worldwide spectacle despite being staged without a dime of prize money. But if you think the caddies aren’t heavily invested in the outcome, think again.
Jimmy Johnson, who works for Ryder Cup rookie Justin Thomas, was on Steve Stricker’s bag at Medinah in 2012. When the U.S. took a 10-6 lead into the Sunday singles and lost, it was a bitter pill. Johnson said even when he watches the tape he cannot believe that Europe pulled off that victory.
Many things had to happen down the stretch. Justin Rose made three key putts to flip a 1-down deficit against Phil Mickelson; Furyk finished bogey-bogey to lose to Sergio Garcia; and Stricker made a bad bogey at Medinah’s par-3 17th and eventually lost the clinching point to Germany’s Martin Kaymer.
“Stricker would probably get that ball (at 17) up and down 99 out of 100 times,” said Johnson, who will be working his sixth Ryder Cup (his fourth time caddying; two other times he was a caddie assistant). “You feel it, caddying in the Ryder Cup. It’s like caddying in a major. It gets the juices flowing, for sure.
“That 2012 Ryder Cup … I still have a knot in my stomach from that one.”
Paul Tesori (Webb Simpson) had three goals when he started out as a caddie nearly two decades ago. Win a Tour event; win a major; and caddie in the Ryder Cup. When Simpson won the U.S. Open in 2012 and made the Ryder Cup team that fall, Tesori checked off all three.
“Even though we lost the Ryder Cup, it was still right there with the U.S. Open,” Tesori said. “The week was just incredible. I loved every aspect of it. When you end up losing, there’s always that taste that you can’t get that back, but it’s still never taken away, for me, from the week.”
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Cowan caddied in his first Ryder Cup in 1985, working for Peter Jacobsen. Europe, led by Seve Ballesteros, was coming off a tough loss at PGA National in 1983, but that result gave the team confidence that it could win once they returned to home soil at The Belfry in England two years later. Cowan remembers when American Craig Stadler missed a putt on the final green and European fans broke out in cheer. That was, well, different than the norm.
“You’ve got to take that with a grain of salt,” he said. “They hadn’t won in a long time. Overall, I enjoyed it. The fact that it’s match play just makes it different, simple as that.”
At the Ryder Cup, it’s easy for players to get too amped up. One role a caddie undertakes is trying to keep a player calm and in his usual routine. That’s more easily said than done, especially with some 7,000 fans filling the amphitheater that surrounds the first tee at Le Golf National. Johnson also has been involved in eight Presidents Cups (including last fall at Liberty National with Thomas); that experience will prove valuable as Thomas readies for his first Ryder Cup.
“He got a little taste of it in the Presidents Cup before the Ryder Cup, and I think that’ll help,” Johnson said. “It helped Jordan (Spieth, in 2013) when he got a taste of a Presidents Cup first. If your very first team event was a Ryder Cup? Wow. That would be an eye-opener.”
The U.S. has two such “true” rookies in Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau. Europe has five.
Ted Scott, Bubba Watson’s longtime looper, considers his player’s opening-day, opening tee shot at Medinah in 2012 as one of his coolest experiences in golf. Watson got the crowd around the first tee revved up and cheering loudly as he stood over his opening drive, creating a memorable moment for player and caddie.
“I’m thinking, how in the world is he going to hit this ball?,” Scott said. “That was pretty iconic, something that will be talked about for years.”
Watson is back playing in the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2014, having served as vice-captain two years ago at Hazeltine in Minneapolis (Scott was there, too, helping the caddie crew). Scott says because of the pressure and intensity that hangs in the air during Ryder Cup week, the event is considerably different than any other week on Tour. Johnson said it’s like being in the Sunday back-nine hunt for three straight days.
“The Ryder Cup has a tension to it that has a different feel, even different than the majors,” Scott said. “You’re playing for pride more than anything, and that’s something everybody is passionate about. You also have a lot more people than just yourself, and you also have a lot more people than yourself that you’re (potentially) letting down. So, you have that in the back of your mind.”
All of which is why Furyk two weeks ago in Philadelphia thought it was a good time to get his caddies together for some thick steaks and tasty wine, and to hear their thoughts and ideas.
“The players will be under the most stress they have been, a lot of them, all year,” Furyk said. “To have that confidante on their side is comforting. You can’t replace that. I guess that (caddie) position … I’m not sure it’s changed over the years, but I think it’s probably been valued and probably appreciated more, as it should be.”