How do caddies deal with a hothead player?

Kip Henley
With plenty of experience, caddies like Kip Henley can read a player like they can read a putt. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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Caddies are so many things to their players while inside the ropes: friend, butler, personal mathematician, swing instructor, cheerleader, shrink and, sometimes… punching bag.

In our latest ‘Under the Strap,’ podcast, we were joined by PGA Tour caddies Kip Henley and Don Donatello – two guys who were (and still are) strong players. We wanted to learn a little about dealing with tense moments on the course between player and caddie and how to handle that.

The No. 1 takeaway? In the majority of cases, you can’t take what the player says personally.

RELATED: This is how Webb Simpson reacted to caddie Don Donatello being late for first week on the job

“If you’ve caddied on the PGA Tour in 10 or 15 events, at least, where you’ve really got a dose of caddying and having to deal with every personality that comes down, you really can start to see… I’m telling you, the caddies on the PGA Tour, we’re not having to control our emotions,” said Henley, who is currently caddying for Stewart Cink. “We’re caddying. They’re having to play and to think and do everything – have the embarrassment of missed shots. We get to just observe. And man, oh man, as a caddie, you can see certain guys you get paired with – you can tell the other caddie, ‘this is what’s going to happen on the next hole. And when he gets to 15, this is going to happen! And when he gets to 17, this is going to happen!’ And, I’m telling ya, you’re usually spot on about everything. You’ve just seen so many things with so many guys and how they react so many ways. You start to learn.”

Henley believes that if he had spent one year caddying on the PGA Tour before turning pro in 1982, he would have made it to the Tour as a player.

“I would have 100 percent made it to the PGA Tour,” he said. “I didn’t realize how big of an idiot I was on the golf course until I saw these guys. Not every one of them, some of them are just so dang gifted that they can get away with murder, mentally, but most of them are really sharp cats that think things out and let stuff go and don’t worry about embarrassment. It’s really a masterclass in learning the game and psychology – caddying on the PGA Tour. It’s so much fun really and truly.”

When it comes to dealing with a hothead player, Donatello (currently on the bag for Will Gordon) admitted that – at times – it’s difficult. Especially with his own competitive nature.

“It’s a very tough thing, because me, I’m out there and I’m trying to give it everything I’ve got and not taking it personally is the biggest thing,” he said. “But, after a while, you can only take so much punishment. You can only take so much and then you’ve got to stand up for yourself.”

Sticking up for yourself, Donatello said, is a good thing because it shows the player that he’s not treating the caddie the right way.

“But, in the other sense, if you put yourself in their shoes, they’re trying to provide for their family, they’re trying to keep their sponsorship, because it might be the year their contract is up – they might be on the bubble to get their card – we’ve all been there,” Donatello added. “And, definitely, your mind changes when you get down the stretch like it did in Big Break for me. I got more intense the tougher the pressure got. Granted, I performed, but that’s one thing I’ve learned. I’ve never blamed anybody – my caddie, I’ve had caddies before – I’ve never blamed them on any shot. I’m the one that hit the shot. I’m the one that pulled the club, I’m the one that made the decision. I wish every player did that, but they don’t have anybody else to blame but us. So, they might as well let us take the punishment.”

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes caddies need to fire the player and move on.

“I was working for a player,” Donatello said. “I guess I had made a mistake on the first hole. Guess I made another mistake on the second hole. Guess I made a mistake on the third hole. He said, ‘Are you going to get your head out of your ass?’ On the fourth hole, it’s a par 3, and it was a perfect little 9-iron and he wanted to hit pitching wedge. And I told him, ‘Pitching wedge ain’t going to get anywhere.’ So, he decided to hit 9-iron. He pulled it, left, about 20 yards left of his target and went in the bunker and he’s screaming at me the whole way up there, ‘this is the reason why I wanted to hit pitching wedge!’ And I said, ‘What? So, you could take the bunker out of play over here 30 yards left of your target line?’ He goes, ‘No! Because pitching wedge wouldn’t get me in trouble!’ I said, ‘It’s going to get you in trouble when you pull it off line.’ He goes, ‘I don’t want to hear it. You made a mistake. Own up to your mistakes. This is four in a row.’”

At that point, Donatello had had enough.

“I go, ‘I quit!’ So, I took the bib off, put it on the bag and started walking in,” he said. “He ran after me, begging me to come back. He said, ‘I’m sorry. I apologize. I’m sorry. Sorry. Please. Please. Please. Come back and work.’ I go, ‘No. Get someone in the gallery to caddie for you. Guess what? There’s nobody in the gallery!’”

Burn!

“So, to make a long story short, I came back, I grabbed the bib,” Donatello said. “He ended up shooting 4 under the rest of the round and we ended up like 3 under for the day and everything was great.”

Henley explained the time he had to make the decision to leave Vijay Singh.

“I’ve had one kinda famous quit,” Henley said. “And I’ve quit a couple of guys, but usually you quit because of an injury for them, or they’re going to fire you pretty quick, but I had one famous quit with ole Vijay. Really and truly, it wasn’t like he beat me up or anything. He was tough on me a lot. But he’s more old school. When I quit him, I said, ‘I’m just too big of a girlie-man to be your guy, Veej.’ But most of the work for Vijay was really, really incredible and cool.”

The issue for Henley, he explained, was the criticism from Singh that could be harsh.

“He took a couple of shots at me that 95 percent of the Tour caddies would have taken and would have just gone on and kept doing their job,” Henley said. “But, I’m kind of an old, southern redneck and you treat each other with a little bit more finesse down here because if you don’t, you’ll get in a big fight… I quit him after five weeks. I just couldn’t take any more of the taking shots at me. It was more me than it was him, too. Me and Veej are still friends to this day, you know? I’m not throwing rocks at Vijay. He’s an incredible guy. An incredible player. You hear about him cheating, but that guy was the most honest guy I think I’ve ever worked for. I never saw him fudge one little single thing. Who knows about all those stories, but that’s my one famous quit.”

You can listen to the complete podcast with Don Donatello and Kip Henley in the player at the top of the page, or find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Stitcher by searching “Caddie Network.”

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