LPGA caddies ‘standing in the dark’ after decision to make loopers optional for remainder of season
Caddies optional? That’s not something you see in professional golf, but it will be the case when the LPGA makes its scheduled return in late July.
On May 20, Randall Mell of GolfChannel.com, reported:
GolfChannel.com has learned that as part of the tour’s new safety protocols for returning amid the coronavirus pandemic, players will be allowed to carry their own bags for the rest of the 2020 season, if they so choose.
The tour informed its members this is a temporary option designed to protect players who don’t have regular tour caddies, who may feel a heightened risk working with unfamiliar local caddies.
Later, the LPGA made clear, “Caddies are a critical part of LPGA tournaments and competitions and we will resume our mandatory policy in 2021. This is not the beginning of a long-term plan to phase out caddies. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“I think the Tour was trying to focus on the local caddie – the extra person that is not affiliated with the Tour, doesn’t travel with the Tour and where they don’t know that person and how seriously they’re taking the COVID-19 issue,” said Caro Masson – a LPGA and LET winner, as well as a four-time European Solheim Cup team member – on the latest ‘Under the Strap’ podcast, which also included LPGA caddies Les Luark and Jason McDede (who happens to be Masson’s fiancé). “But I think there’s a lot more behind this. I’m not part of the board, I’m not a player director, I’m not one of the players that are included in these decisions. We didn’t have a lot of insight. I didn’t see it coming. The players weren’t asked. I’m sure, obviously, everything they decide, they talk with the players that represent us on the board, but I was surprised.”
So, is the “local caddie” stipulation a silver lining for the regular LPGA caddies? Perhaps. But not enough to quell the anxiety that comes with the uncertainty for a group of loopers who haven’t worked since the Tour’s last event in February and won’t work again until – at the earliest – late July.
“I was more along the lines of, I was a little confused by the timing of it,” explained Luark, currently on the bag for Lydia Ko and formerly with Ariya Jutanugarn. “I understand that the Tour has a responsibility to pursue all and every option, whatever it may be, to get us back to playing golf, but with that being said, I really felt that they were missing a pretty good opportunity here with the PGA Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour getting started back up in just a couple of weeks.”
With those other tours scheduled to get back in action over a month before the LPGA, Luark felt it was an opportunity for the LPGA to observe before making any rash decisions.
“So, I was a little surprised by the timing of it,” he said. “Again, I understand they have to pursue everything, they have to get things in place and they don’t want to drop something on people a week or two weeks before we’re meant to go back to play. So, my initial feeling was that maybe this was a little early, a little ahead of the gun here. It made me think that maybe there was something else going on… I just think it was a little bit early. I think maybe we could have had an opportunity to sit down and have a caddie, player, Daytona (LPGA HQ) dialogue, you know, ‘what do you guys think? What do you see as the upside of this? What do you see as the downside of this? What’s going to be the impact inside the ropes? How’s this going to look? How are we going to be perceived?’ A lot of things got missed. And I don’t know what happened in Daytona, or between the players and Daytona. So, maybe we’re just not privy to that. Maybe those conversations happened. I don’t know. But just from where we stand – which is pretty much standing in the dark – it feels to me that a lot of things were missed here that should have been addressed and could have been avoided.”
McDede’s reaction when he heard the news?
“I was actually quite shocked, to be honest with you,” said McDede, who caddies for Nelly Korda. “It was early and I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. When you hear something of that magnitude, it gets your attention real fast. I went on the defensive right away, I would say, like, ‘excuse me? Caddies optional?’ It hit me in a lot of places. I was thinking about my career, my future, all the what ifs of this crazy time. But I would say ‘shocked’ is probably the one word I would use. Over the last couple of days, I’ve kicked it around and I’m still probably in shock.”
Since the LPGA put an emphasis on the temporary no-caddie option being meant to help protect players who don’t have a regular tour caddie and who might normally have to use a local caddie, we wondered: how many players at the highest level in women’s golf – the LPGA – actually employ the services of a local caddie?
“I really don’t think it’s that common,” Masson told TCN. “When I think of people caddying for players that are not professional tour caddies, it’s more the mother, the dad, the coach helping out, the trainer. I have to say that I actually haven’t played with many players who have had a local caddie. I’m trying to remember seeing a local caddie carrying a Tour bag and really, I didn’t have many situations where I remember that. I don’t think it’s too many players that do that. If they don’t have a professional caddie they work with, most of the time I think they bring somebody out that helps them out for a couple of weeks and then they switch it up.”
Luark estimates there’s probably only 2-3 local caddies per tournament on the LPGA.
So, then, what’s the big deal? Consider this: should the Tour resume as scheduled in late July, it will have been five months since many of the caddies have worked. And, assuming things go off without a hitch from there, the remainder of the 2020 season would be less than four months.
With such an abbreviated season, there’s a fear from caddies that players might use this “caddies optional” provision as a loophole to save money – not out of coronavirus concerns.
“What I’m worried about is that they’re going to go from where you might have had 2, 3 or 4 people that might have had to hire a local and now you’re going to possibly or potentially have up to 20 or 30 girls, whether it be college girls or Symetra Tour girls, or girls who just don’t want to spend the money and they’re going to say, ‘you know what? I don’t have to pay $1,200, $1,400, $1,500 per week for a caddie. I’m not going to. Why not save the money for four months?’” Luark said. “Unfortunately, I think that’s going to happen. I hope it doesn’t, because that’s going to impact a lot more people than – just as they said – no locals. I think if they had just stopped it and said, ‘no local caddies allowed – we’ve only got four months left in the 2020 season. Hire somebody. Hire somebody that we can monitor.’ Then it would have been pretty simple.”
You can listen to the complete podcast with Caro Masson, Les Luark and Jason McDede in the player at the top of the page, or find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and Stitcher by searching “Caddie Network.”