Caddie Network

Hawk’s Eye: Caddying is a form of art, where the ‘ask’ is different for every player

St. Andrews
John Hawkins counts a round of golf at St. Andrews as one of the most enjoyable caddie experiences he’s ever had. Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Back when I could play a little, my caddie’s name was George. A personable kid in his early 20s, George could be quick with a joke or a light of your smoke, but he also could show up an hour late and make you feel like it was your fault.

It got old after a couple of years. And it ended when I realized George was stealing stuff from my golf bag — an inexorable conclusion to a very inconsistent relationship. You reach a point of diminishing returns many times in life. If you’re lucky.

Besides, I really wasn’t that good a golfer, just a low to mid single-digit handicap who would rather walk than ride, too lazy and out of shape to schlep it for four hours. I would eventually join a club that required you to take a caddie if you went out early on the weekend, but I wasn’t going to impart my competitive disposition on some 17-year-old mommy’s boy who just got his driver’s license.

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So I found another regular guy. Anton is one of the nicest and hardest working people I’ve ever met, but he was Helen Keller when when it came to reading greens. Finding the perfect caddie is very difficult, if at all possible, even for someone who doesn’t count strokes for a living.

If you’re in the business of writing about the men who do, there is value in recognizing the importance of compatibility, an elusive asset that has a lot to say in determining who wins and loses on Sunday afternoon. It’s about more than throwing a few blades of grass in the air and recommending the 7-iron. It’s certainly not about having a close personal relationship, which can prove detrimental (and tricky) when a player and caddie are demanding a full emotional investment from each other.

That might be the biggest difference between the guys who work for tour pros and those who carry a bag at the local club. I’ve been fortunate enough to play many of the great courses in New York’s Westchester County and on Long Island, where the pot-luck nature of caddie assignment can make the experience an unforgettable one — or turn what should have been an enjoyable round into an arduous one.

Some loopers think you woke up at 5 a.m. and drove two hours so you can listen to their shtick. They often double as amateur comedians, losing sight of the fact that you came here to play golf and, heaven forbid, shoot a decent score. It’s not a malicious act of self-absorption, but it does have its consequences.

The worst such case actually occurred on my second trip to Bandon Dunes back in 2011. Our group of eight was was given four caddies for the entire stay, and midway into the first day, it became abundantly clear that I’d drawn the short straw. If my guy insisted on bombarding me with personality, no problem, but he was a lousy caddie at a place where good ones can save you five or six strokes a round.

I decided not to use him the following morning, at which point you would have thought I’d sold military secrets to the Russians. He still had one bag to carry, so he wasn’t unemployed for the day, but the tension was obvious, and the other caddies refused to speak to me. This mutiny was far more bothersome than the shortcomings of their colleague, but I still accept some of the blame for not comprehending the potential repercussions of my decision.

We ended up brokering a deal, a swap that allowed everyone to live somewhat happily ever after, but a certain amount of damage had been done. I’m not a pro golfer. Not even close. But I love to compete, and even if I didn’t, nobody flies 3,000 miles and drops a couple of grand to let some cat in a jumpsuit ruin their week.

Speaking of 3,000 miles… On my first visit to the Old Course at St. Andrews in the mid-1990s, I walked on as a single, leaving my clubs and fate in the hands of a robust Scot whose name I don’t recall. We weren’t halfway down the first fairway when my caddie asked what kind of player I was.

“Five handicap,” I told him.

“Let’s see if we can break 80,” he replied without skipping a step.

It was a bit like having a seeing-eye dog guide you through Midtown Manhattan. My man gave me a specific target on every shot, basically tossing my driver into the North Sea. His knowledge of the grounds was frighteningly uncanny, his ability to communicate masterful. And as that wonderful afternoon drew to a close, we arrived at the 18th and the boss knew exactly where we stood.

“You need a par for 78?”

He was merely confirming.

He was right.

The perfect caddie. If only for a day.

All views expressed in this column are those of John Hawkins and do not necessarily reflect those of the Caddie Network.

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