‘Help me help you’: Advice for people taking a caddie
“Good swing right there.”
I finally hit a 7-iron somewhere on the face during this early morning range session, and it felt good to have it validated by the voice walking up behind me. I turned around to a young man reaching into my bag to clean some clubs I had already hit.
“Don’t get used to it,” I said only half-joking. “I take it you’re with me today.”
“Yes sir, I’m Marcel.”
Little did I realize that Marcel’s introduction was more than a “Hello.” As my caddie, he was preparing for our round already. And my reaction and behavior right then would be setting the tone for the rest of the day.
Since my write up on “Why you should take a caddie,” I’ve had a number of people reach out to me with some interesting queries and discussions.
While most agreed with my position — and even shared some of their best golf memories — a few recalled a round or two where the player/caddie chemistry just didn’t spark. Why not? What happened? Did they just get stuck with a poor caddie (possible) or was there something early that put out a bad vibe and communication broke down.
I recently had the chance to play a round at East Lake Golf Club, the home of the Tour Championship and a facility that requires players to take caddies for the round. I thought this would be a good opportunity to explore the player/caddie relationship a little deeper. The line from Jerry Maguire (it’s an old Tom Cruise movie for the younger readers) kept popping up in my mind: “Help Me Help You.” Could there be some guidelines for players that would make caddying for them easier, better – and in turn, they would be better able to assist that player? That’s what we’d find out.
I asked Marcel this question and he answered it by first telling me that to be a good caddie, he needed to know what that meant for each player. He was creating a “golf profile” of his player the moment he knew his assignment and met his player. So as he came up to me on the range, he wanted to learn a few things.
- The swing: Well, duh. It’s not about how good (or bad) you are. But more about what can they learn from your pre-round activities. What’s your miss? What’s your shot shape? If they are going to help steer you around the course, they need an idea of what you can reasonably do.
- Your temperament: Virtually every caddie can “read” a player just like reading a putt. In about the same amount of time, too. Is this player a hothead? Is he super serious about golf or is he out here for fun? Is this going to be a quiet day? How are the players engaging with each other? Marcel knew early. “That guy in the blue shirt, he’s not a talker. You… talk a lot.” OK, guilty.
- Short Game: Marcel watched me hit some chips and putts. Some players like to die putts into the hole, some are a little more aggressive. I climbed down into a bunker and bladed a couple shots over the green. “I’m usually OK — but not great — out of bunkers.” He responded, “We just won’t hit into any bunkers today.”
So now Marcel had me and my game assessed. He has a reasonably good expectation of what he can do to make me enjoy my round the most. Now, what can I do to help him reach that goal (again, which benefits me)?
Lighten the load: C’mon, this one is obvious. Do you need the umbrella, rain gear, two dozen balls? Probably not. The bag can get heavy – and many caddies are carrying two of them. Lighter bags aren’t just easier for the caddie to carry, they’re easier to manage (find stuff in) and help caddies keep up. Which again, benefits the player most of all.
Set the Expectation: If a caddie is going to create a mental profile, why not make sure it’s accurate? “I’ll need help on the greens”; “I may lose a few balls right”; “I’ve been battling a pull”; etc. I asked Marcel if he was a good player. He assured me he was. I asked him how confident he was in reading the greens. He said, “It’s what I do best out here.” That was good enough for me. I was going to take his word and trust it, right or wrong. Overwhelmingly, he was right. But taking (and believing) his word, and not having to second guess it, made it a better day for me as well.
Say “Thank You.”: This one should be obvious, too. Did you hit the target line off the tee? Were you clubbed right? Did you make the putt because of a good read? Great! Celebrate. And thank the caddie who made the read. Share in the celebration of it. It makes it a better day for everyone.
Don’t blame: You missed the putt? Sucks, I know. But you hit it. Maybe you pulled it? Did you hit it a different speed than you’ve been putting? Ultimately, golf is hard. A good caddie can help, but they can’t perform miracles.
Don’t be an ass: Or, maybe the caddie just flat out missed the read. You know who feels the worst when that happens? Him or her. So don’t act like an ass and complain, berate, show out, etc. I promise, absolutely swear, that it’s not the caddie that looks bad when you do that.
Show Appreciation: Caddying is tough work. On a hot, humid Georgia day, it’s near excruciating. When the group stops at the turn house (or wherever) for drinks, pick up something for your caddie. It’s $3 or so. And it makes a world of difference.
The Human Factor: This shouldn’t need to be said, but it needs to be said. I’ve asked a number of caddies if there’s such a thing as a perfect loop. No one admitted to having one. Always something that could have been done better. Even more, sometimes, mistakes happen. A headcover goes missing. A towel is dropped. A wedge left behind. No one likes it. But your attitude — as the player — when something like this happens will go a long way in determining the day you (and your playing partners) have. The caddies want you to enjoy your day. They are doing their best. They are every bit as worthy of respect and appreciation as anyone else on the course.
I’ve heard a few nightmare stories about how players treat caddies. Even some high profile folks who should absolutely know better. I hope they shot a hundred and threw their back out.
For the rest of us, just wanting to enjoy a special round in a memorable way, let’s make that memory a good one. Your caddie is there to help do just that. If you give them just a little help in doing so, you’re going to make it so much better on yourself and your group.