Caddie Network

Here’s what it’s like for a caddie to take on a new bag on the PGA Tour

Harold Varner III, Ray Farnell
Caddie Ray Farnell has worked with Harold Varner III since 2015. As he explains, there’s plenty you have to learn about your player — quickly — on the PGA Tour. Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

So, what’s it like for PGA Tour caddies to take on a new bag?

What are the biggest things you have to adapt to with a new player?

The Fall part of the 2019-20 season has seen many caddies on different bags. Changes happen every season, but nonetheless working with a new player is part of the job.

We spoke with a few veteran caddies about the experience of starting for a new boss.

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“It’s different every time. You think you have one caddie style but you can’t, better not, you better be flexible to who you are working for,” Kip Henley said. “It’s exciting every single time. You’re always thinking that you can help this guy be one of the big guys. And you hope that there are little things that you can do that can help them advance.”

Henley also stressed that caddying is a study in human nature and the subtleties of personalities. Personality stands out as a key component in new work relationships to other caddies as well.

“The first thing to adapt to is personality,” Ted Scott said. “You have to learn what motivates them, what frustrates them so that (1) you don’t become part of the problem and (2) you can see where they need help and provide encouragement and know what words to say.”

For Henley, this learning curve is short.

“You have to size them up pretty quickly, and that first week you’ve got to make an impression,” he said.

Sounds like a lot of pressure, right? It’s almost like you’ve got to pitch a perfect game from the onset and really make that positive impression in week one because, after all, this is your livelihood.

Not so, says veteran caddie Andy Barnes.

“I guess it might seem that way, but in our profession when you have been out on Tour for many years other players see how you work and typically know you to some degree before hiring you,” Barnes said. “In the end, you have to be yourself and hope that you click with the pro.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Scroll through the slides to learn all the ways in which a caddie has to adapt — in every facet — when taking on a new bag on the PGA Tour.

Bubba Watson and his caddie Ted Scott on the 10th tee during the first round of the 2019 PGA Championship. Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

In Between Shots

Figuring out what to talk about in between shots during dead times, or in practice, is an art that varies for each caddie depending on their ability to roll with a player’s interests.

Scott said he knows a player who required his caddie to read a specific newspaper before their practice time. The caddie would arrive to the course an extra hour or two early, read the paper, take notes and discuss the news that day on the course.

Those kinds of off the cuff conversations about other subjects go a long way in the player/caddie development.

“Trying to figure out what to talk with the (new) player about between shots is just as important as what you’re going to talk about with him before he hits,” Henley said. “You can tell when a guy lights up, instantly, and you can tell in the inflection of his voice.”

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Scott agrees that this time is vital and chalks its importance up to the sheer volume of it while on the course.

“Golf is a game where I don’t think many people can play for five hours and concentrate for five hours. If Tour players hit, on average, 70 shots and it takes them about one minute with their routine to hit each shot, that’s 70 minutes,” Scott said. “So, you figure that you’re out there for five hours and you’ve only got to concentrate for a little over one hour, so what are you doing with the other four hours? So, what you talk about in that time can play a big role in how your guy feels.”

And the chatter doesn’t have to come from a caddie. In the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Scott was caddying in the penultimate group for Olin Browne, paired with eventual winner Michael Campbell on Sunday.

Campbell held a slim lead over Tiger Woods and pulled his tee shot into the trees on the 72nd hole.

“Olin Browne charged over to Michael and told him a joke, he basically distracted Michael from himself,” Scott said. “Because the moment was so crazy, who knows what (Michael) could have been thinking about. Olin was in his ear and Michael was probably half listening and half thinking, but it was enough to make a difference.”

Campbell said afterward that the distraction helped him.

Apr 9, 2019; Augusta, GA, USA; Charley Hoffman and caddie Andy Barnes walk down the 13th fairway during a practice round at the 2019 Masters. Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Talking before a shot

“When you work with a new guy you have to find out what kind of verbiage he likes hearing on the golf course,” Barnes said. “Do you like hearing a front edge number? Do you like knowing that it plays about five yards uphill? Some people don’t. Some like front edge, to the pin, and maybe the back edge, and that’s it.”

Barnes discovered what his players have liked pretty early on.

“James Driscoll (former boss) liked a lot less numbers. I remember early on I started giving him a few extra numbers and he was like, ‘hey, that’s too many numbers, I’ll figure it out.’

“Charley Hoffman (current boss) likes more numbers because that helps him. Charley speaks more out loud to narrow down a number we think it’s playing, how far the shot is we are trying to hit, where we’re trying to land it. Where we land it dictates everything for us.”

For Scott, he had to adjust from giving more to less numbers. His boss from 2003-2005, Paul Azinger, wanted more yardages, whereas when he got to Bubba Watson starting in 2006, the big lefty wanted less.

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When a player is in between clubs, the discussion tends to increase.

“If you’re in between clubs I think it’s our job to say ‘OK, it’s probably a really hard eight, but the pin is tucked over that bunker and we have 10 yards behind the pin, the error is past the pin, so maybe we sautée a 7 iron in there” Barnes said.

Farnell began working with Harold Varner III at the 2015 Australian PGA Championship and the veteran says it took only two rounds before Varner started having him help with club selection when they were in between clubs.

But each situation, and player/caddie relationship, is different. In Barnes’ experience, he likes to defer to the player on shot selection early in the working relationship.

“You let (the player) dictate the first few weeks, only speak up when you need to. Once you get a little more comfortable, you might get a little louder, present the numbers before he has them,” he said.

“In the end, the caddie has to be who he is but has the freedom to speak up and should not be afraid to speak up in certain situations. Those are the caddies that last longest. The ‘yes’ caddies who don’t speak up after a few weeks, they’re the ones that don’t seem to last.”

Knowing what to talk about while waiting between shots is a big part of whether or not a player/caddie relationship will work out. Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Trial and Error early on

“You may say something that you might feel is encouraging and they can turn around and take it the wrong way because they’re competitive, they’re the best in the world at what they do,” Farnell said.

“I said ‘nice roll’ to my player on a (missed) putt during a round and he said, ‘if I wanted a nice roll, I would have gone to an f-ing bakery’.”

Scott learned immediately when not to talk during tournament loops with Azinger.

“The first week I worked for Paul (2003 Buick Open), he hit a shot and I was like, ‘get down, get down’ and he said, ‘hey, don’t ever talk to my golf ball’,” Scott said. “He didn’t like it when I did it, or his playing competitors did it. He’d say, ‘hey man, don’t talk to my golf ball.’ They could be cheering for him and he’d say that.”

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Perhaps Azinger just thought it was bad luck, or maybe it distracted his own concentration, but to each their own.

“Players are all unique, that’s the cool thing about the game there’s so many ways to go about doing it,” Scott said.

Farnell sees today’s younger pros as a lot less irritable than some of the vets when he started 15 years ago.

Whereas Farnell’s players used to yell at him if his phone was out of his pocket, now he says players are with their phones at seemingly all times as they check Instagram and other sports scores during practice.

“If Harold’s playing with Tiger, he will give Harold a hard time and say, ‘put your phone away, you’re here to work! What’s with you kids and these phones?’ He’s still old school in that way. But that’s just how the world is now.”

Knowing your player’s clubs

“Knowing your player’s capabilities with each club is a huge thing that affects whether a player/caddie team is going to stick,” says Steve Hulka, the 40-year veteran looper of over 150 Tour bags. “As a caddie, you need to know what he can and can’t do.”

And that comes through experience, but also from being assertive.

“The real key is to ask,” Andrew Landry’s caddie, Terry Walker, said. “I’m not afraid to ask new players things like, ‘what are your numbers with every club in the bag?’”

Asking for yardages is something many caddies do, including Farnell.

“Ask, then you observe,” Farnell said, with major emphasis on ‘observe’. “It’s amazing a player’s perspective on how far they hit a 7 iron versus how far they actually hit it.”

Barnes says he sees a major difference in his player’s distances from a Tuesday practice round versus a Thursday round of competition. Many caddies chalk it up to adrenaline, speed and the fire of competition.

But a keen caddie will also point out when they think there’s an inconsistency in the player’s clubs.

“You notice the 8 iron is only going five yards further than the 9, and it’s because you find out the 8 is weak,” Farnell said. “And you can tell your player that.”

Farnell discovered through leg work in the True Temper truck a few years back at the Canadian Open that Cameron Percy’s sand and lob wedge were longer than his 9 iron after hearing his boss complain about his wedge distances.

Percy couldn’t believe he missed that detail.

Golf Balls

As caddies begin with a new player it doesn’t take long to tell how often they like to either change or stick with their golf ball.

“Paul Azinger would take every ball out of play if it had a scuff. So we started with about 15 balls a round and we probably went through about 10 of them because back then they were a little softer and they would get nicked up,” Scott said.

Watson is a little more care-free about that subject.

“Bubba is a guy that will play 15 holes and then just change to a second ball really late in the round pretty much every day,” Scott said.

“So, it was a huge contrast for me as a caddie because you’ve got one guy who changes golf balls at seemingly every swing it felt like, and then the other guy I wanted him to change it I was like, ‘dude, change your ball’.”

Perhaps it’s a good thing for Watson and Scott that Watson didn’t care to change his golf ball at the 2012 Masters on that Sunday when the lefty struck one of the most famous shots in Masters history, the wedge out of the trees right of 10 in the playoff.

“In the (2012 Masters) playoff against Louis (Oosthuizen) he teed off on the 19th hole [of the day] with the same ball he teed off with on No. 1. It was just like, it’s fine. But it’s not superstition. Bubba grew up playing with one ball,” Scott said. “You know as a kid, you only have three golf balls and you go play in a tournament and you play with one ball until you lose it in the water or something.

“You get on Tour and it’s got a nick and you think it’s not going to be as good.

“Bubba’s just like ‘why? why would I change? It doesn’t matter I’ll just keep playing with this one’.”

But player preference on this subject certainly varies.

Walker said that typically Landry likes to use a new ball before a par 5 and will stick with a ball that has a scuff if he’s in the middle of a birdie run.

“When I caddied for K.T. Kim, anytime there was a scuff on the ball he would ask for a new one,” Barnes said.

Other player preferences

“Some players like to have their grips cleaned before every round, some players like to just have them wiped off, some players don’t like you to touch their grips at all,” Walker said. “Those are things that you kind of have to ask about or learn through the process.”

Another player preference is how many golf balls they like to use on the practice green.

“Some guys, when they go to putt before a tournament round, only want one ball, others want three or two,” said a 25-year veteran Tour caddie, who wished to remain anonymous. “They all want something different. And sometimes that changes and they want to putt with three balls mostly, but only putt with one ball before their tournament round.”

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The veteran looper says this isn’t hard to overcome as a caddie, it’s just something you need to become aware of and adapt to quickly.

Many players are distracted by shadows. Landry hates them, Walker says. After topping a shot in a Korn Ferry event in Wichita because of a shadow cast from a fan, Landry and — his looper of nearly three years — Walker have become extra careful with them.

“He doesn’t like me to stand so close with my shadow, I’ve learned to be very careful with other players and caddies too when we’re playing a tournament, be aware of where their shadows are being cast,” Walker said. “Sometimes I’ll have to ask them to move to the other side of the tee or something.”

Arriving at the first tee

“If you work for the same guy for one, two, or five years and he’s always getting to the tee right when the other group leaves, you have a timeframe in your head, your body clock, knows how much time you have to get your bib, to collect your pin sheets, rule sheets, fluids and snacks,” the veteran caddie said.

“Now you work for a new guy and he gets to the tee three minutes before he tees off. But you’ve still got to get everything.”

For Farnell, it’s a matter of problem-solving in these situations because you still have to retrieve these essentials.

“Get the pin sheets before you start the warm up, get the waters on the range and get the fruit or a sandwich beforehand so when you get to that first tee you’re ready,” he said. “The last thing you want to do is say, ‘hey, I’ll meet you on the tee’ and then they’re late. So, you want to walk with them to the tee to ensure they get there on time.”

Longtime caddie Kip Henley quickly studies up on his new players to know exactly what they want. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Video work of player’s swings

“I’m working for a new player and taking video of his swing when he’s on the practice range. But he’s had to retrain me and I’m retraining myself about where he wants the video taken from,” the veteran caddie said. “At what height, at what spot down the line, or is it down the line of his club or his hands or his body?”

There are many preferences, as you might expect, at the highest level of the game.

“It might just be literally six inches different, but it can make a difference,” the veteran looper said. “Getting that dialed in to where he’s comfortable with where you’re taking it from and making sure you’re in the right spot to take it can be a really big learning curve.”

For Walker, who takes notes in his phone about these positions and about what Landry is working on with his coaches, he feels like he’s constantly making adjustments as to how to best capture his player’s swing.

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“I’m still learning to be honest with you,” Walker said. “Andrew always wants two different views, one from directly in front of him and one from behind the club.”

But the key for Walker is knowing exactly what Landry’s target is so that he can help his player get his hands parallel with that target line on the range.

While gathering video for a player’s use is one thing, gathering practice footage for yourself as a caddie is huge, too. And that comes especially into play when you’re trying to learn a new player’s practice drills and how you can help with them.

For Henley, who began working with Stewart Cink to begin the 2019-2020 season at Sanderson Farms, he quickly noticed Cink’s elaborate putting drill he builds with alignment rods before his rounds. Henley says it looked pretty detailed and specific, but took the initiative to film the drill right away.

The next day, he beat Cink to the practice green and saved him five minutes of setting up time.

First time under pressure

“If you’re working for a competitive person, and Bubba is one, you’re going to be battle-tested right away,” Scott said. “The first week we finished 11th, the second week we finished 12th. So we were playing well. And he didn’t want much help then because he didn’t know me. Why would I ask this guy for help? But as we started to work together more he would ask for more help.

“Early on, you could see when he needed help. Sometimes I would step in and try to help whether he wanted me to or not. And you take that risk. It’s a job where sometimes you might step up and take a risk that could put your job on the line. If it works out it could be huge, if it doesn’t you might get fired.”

Henley thinks you can learn enough about a player in that very first week on their bag.

“You could pretty much size a new player up in one week or once the flag goes up and you see how they act under true pressure and everything,” Henley said. “One week you can pretty much tell what a guy’s made of.”

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