Here’s what it’s like caddying at altitude
We all love to hit bombs on the course. Literally, nothing seems to pump out your chest more than when you connect with one off the tee, look up and that sucker is high flying down the center, you know you crushed it, Smash Factor 1.5, it definitely went over 300 (long drives for the average golfer are a lot like fish tales) and the boys are gonna hear about it.
I once had to give a speech in my college public speaking class about the best feeling in the world. I chose, “The Feeling of a Pure 8 Iron.” It was a hard message to convey to the non golfers, but those of you reading this get it and so you know what I am talking about with these drives as well.
Now imagine moving from sea level to somewhere like Salt Lake City where we are playing this week on the Korn Ferry Tour. At about 4,300 feet of elevation the golf ball is going to go farther and it requires adjustment. The thing is that when you play at altitude, you also need to start factoring in things like temperature and the height of the shot as well to do your final calculations on how far the shot will play.
My player and I like to continue to work in sea level numbers so we do all the adjustments. It’s just easier because we know our numbers, especially for the controlled shots, and it becomes weird when you don’t adjust trying to wrap your head around hitting a stock 9-iron 170 yards when, say, you know it is more around 150.
A lot of players and caddies do the same thing as us and so we carry around some homemade charts and sheets that take all the various yardages and breaks them down into the percentages that we might see over the course of a day. In Thursday’s morning round, we began by using 3 percent, after two holes we were at 5 percent for three holes, then 6 percent on the next par 3 and 7 percent to close the front nine. We were playing well and there was a lot of fine tuning. By the end of the day we were using 8 percent and for any shots within, say, 75 yards, they all became feel shots that my player handled. Without those sheets, managing those calculations would be time consuming and definitely would result in some errors at times. We only have a short amount of time (some players believe they personally have a lot more, but that’s another story) to do all the math, discussion and hit the shot.
As a caddie, I know my player averages about 300 yards off the tee at sea level, so when we get here that means a lot of my work and preparation was spent on cover numbers, run outs and positioning off the tee. Normally, on the Korn Ferry Tour, the courses are the type that you just bomb it and wedge it. Not much thought and not as demanding as most PGA Tour courses.
This week, however, it isn’t all smash and grab like usual. Oak Ridge is in perfect condition and it is slated to get really crispy. It is already firm and requiring us to think about roll and big bounces. Positioning off the tee becomes important because you might bomb a drive on a wide open hole to have nothing in, but you may leave yourself with exactly that, nothing. Having 50 yards to a tucked pin over a bunker on a firm green isn’t as ideal as leaving a full wedge shot because they are able to control them more. These guys are so good with their wedges and the percentages are in their favor when they can control the shot the way they want to.
You can see in the picture above from my yardage book how I have noted the line we want to take off the tee. It is a dogleg par 5 and your tee shot is to a blind landing area over a hill. Running through the fairway can leave you blocked out even though it is easily reachable. Our line is somewhere between 369 and 407 yards run out. That translates to about 339-374 yards at our 8 percent altitude adjustment. If it is really warm and running out, I have even noted our max left line meaning that is the farthest left we can drive it and still be safe.
So, a lot to take in and think about if you are unaccustomed to playing anywhere at elevation, but it is something we look at most weeks. We see what our elevation is and the truth is we don’t adjust very often — but there are times where a course is around 1,000 feet and you know the ball will go just a tick farther and so you manage that. Then there are these weeks, which thankfully are few and far between because it is mentally tiring, where we are full on calculating and adjusting for the ball traveling longer distances.
It is fun. I actually love caddying at altitude and feel that I have been able to manage it well with my player over the years. We have a great weekend ahead of us here in Utah and hopefully the players can out on a show.