Editor’s note: Throughout 2019, we will have caddies reflect on their respective paths to the highest level of their profession. Here, Taylor Ford — caddie for Stewart Cink — pens his firsthand account to explain, once and for all, exactly what it took for him to find a bag on the PGA Tour.
“It’s a long story. Just a bunch of luck and taking opportunities when I had the chance.”
That’s the go-to line whenever I’m asked how I became a PGA Tour caddie – the No. 1 question that PGA Tour caddies are asked, by the way.
The second one is, “how much money do you make?”
It’s so incredibly rude. I’ve had dozens of very successful people ask me that. My answer is always, “you go first.”
Well, for the first time in my life, I’m going to get in-depth and explain the whole story about how I got into caddying.
My name is Taylor Ford. I’m 28 years old, from Westerville, Ohio – a suburb of Columbus – and this past year, I bought a home in Muirfield Village, home of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. I live just off the par-5 seventh hole. I love the community and trust me when I tell you, I lower the median age there by quite a bit.
I currently caddie for one of the greatest men in golf: 2009 Open Champion Stewart Cink.
There’s a lot that happened to get me where I am today. So that quote I gave you at the start of this story? That’s not really the truth, because in order to acquire jobs like this you have to not only seize opportunities, you have to make them.
I have a friend named Maddie Sheils. We met playing at a PGA Junior Series event in Las Vegas during the summer of what was probably our sophomore year in high school. We just so happened to be paired up during a practice round and got along well.
Maddie won the event and I finished somewhere around dead last, in our respective divisions.
We kept in touch and when she was done playing at the University of Nebraska, she qualified for the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur in Cleveland, Ohio.
I had just graduated from Otterbein University back home in Westerville, with a degree in marketing, ready to start my career as an internet marketing agent for a local company. But that gig didn’t start until the fall. So, when Maddie asked if I’d caddie for her in that U.S. Amateur, I said, “sure.”
She played really well and wound up losing in the third round.
Following that week, Maddie decided to turn professional and attempt Q School. Long story short, she made it to final stage but decided to skip it. She didn’t feel ready to play on the LPGA and wanted a year of the Symetra Tour to learn how to play professional golf. She asked me to caddie for her out there.
Truth be told, I’ve told this story less times than I can count on one hand, but on my drive home from Cleveland to Columbus, which is just under two hours, I phoned my long-time girlfriend who I’d been dating since high school and told her how much fun I had and that I was thinking of turning down the marketing job to try this caddying thing out for a little while instead. I wanted to get to the PGA Tour and this was just a sliver of a chance, but I never had a doubt I could get there. I just didn’t know how yet.
She was our high school valedictorian, graduated college in three years and was about to start medical school, with aspirations to become a neonatologist, so this didn’t sound ideal to her, to say the least.
We went back and forth for the next two hours about how dumb I was for even thinking about this.
“You don’t have a chance of getting to the PGA Tour.”
“You don’t know anyone out there.”
“You’re throwing your life away.”
“You’re not going to make any money.”
Needless to say, she made it very clear that it was either caddying or her.
I rang my dad next and explained my dilemma, asking for advice.
He practically jumped at the opportunity more than I did.
Another call I made was to “Skov” – Joe Skovron, caddie for Rickie Fowler.
And, funny story about that…
… When I was at Otterbein, I played on the men’s golf team.
We won three OAC Championship titles in my four years, which also came with three NCAA Championship appearances from our squad. Otterbein always had a top Division III program dating back into the 1990’s.
I wouldn’t trade that college experience for anything in this world. I never even considered joining a fraternity. If you’re ever part of a golf team, you know that the amount of people on there are so few that they become your brothers. I’ve lost touch with just about every single person from my high school except for one. But my teammates from Otterbein are still my best friends and we keep in touch on a daily basis.
During my freshman-year trip to the NCAAs, our team was paired up with the University of La Verne (from Los Angeles County) for just about everything that week.
It became the running joke. They were the group behind us for our practice-round tee times, we were seated together during the award ceremonies and they were staying in the condo right across the street from us. We couldn’t shake them. They finished runner-up that year, we choked in the final round to a 13th-place finish, and both teams got together that last night to celebrate the week.
I really liked the idea of playing golf in Southern California and playing for a very good team. So, I mentioned that to the La Verne head coach.
He said, “come on board.”
So, I applied, had everything ready to go for the following year and was going to head to California to play for the University of La Verne. But just before the school year was about to start, I got a call from the head coach, a guy you may have heard of… Joe Skovron.
Joe said he was sorry, but he was leaving La Verne to caddie for some kid named Rickie Fowler.
This guy is leaving the school to become a professional caddie? What an idiot!
Guess what? Turns out he made the right call.
Joe’s been there to help me every step of the way out here. He’s my big brother on tour.
When I made the call to Joe a few years later in 2012 – Rickie was booming and the next big thing at that point – to explain my desire to caddie for a living, he was brutally honest.
He didn’t say I should do it, or that I shouldn’t. He just explained it was a cutthroat job and it’s hard to get into the small fraternity that is the PGA Tour Caddies.
If I really wanted to try it out, he said, then go for it. Learn as much as I could as fast as I could. If I didn’t like it, who cares? I was only 22 and had my whole life ahead of me.
He also said something to me that at the time was super frustrating, but blunt and true.
“I can’t refer you to anyone,” he told me. “I’m sorry, but I can’t put my reputation on the line until you’ve proved yourself.”
I took that as a challenge – one that I was up for.
Over the next few months, I closed a lot of chapters in my life and I started a bunch of new ones. I called the company I was supposed to begin working with and told them, “thank you for the offer, but I’ve decided to go in another direction with my career.”
I told my girlfriend I was going to caddie and she broke up with me. And I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder to succeed because of it.
It’s all so funny looking back now at where Maddie and I started on the Symetra Tour. We had no idea what we were doing. The first event was in Phoenix, Ariz., and the cost of travel alone was like four times what I made that week. She paid me $300 and 5 percent of her T9 finish ($2,160) for a grand total of $408.
I’m pretty sure that didn’t even cover my flight, or the rental car (I didn’t have any codes that bypassed the under-25 charge), but it didn’t matter. I was hooked. I caddied a couple more events for her but knew I had the ultimate goal of making it onto the PGA Tour sooner rather than later, so I quit and never looked back.
I snuck into the LPGA door by working my first two events for two players who primarily played the Symetra but had conditional status on the LPGA. Seriously, I have around 100 messages via Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn of people asking me how to get into caddying. This is the advice I give people when they ask how to get started: Head to a parking lot for Web.com or LPGA events and ask around on Monday. Or caddie in Monday qualifiers. But I didn’t really bounce around. It only took two weeks.
I started meeting more and more people. One of them was Cyndey Clanton, who offered me a full-time job.
I can’t stress how hard it is to get started as a caddie in any capacity. It’s not like an accounting job where you have a degree and that convinces the employer to allow you to be hired. To be a top caddie on any tour, you have to have a good friend who hires you, or a great reputation.
But you can’t have a great reputation if you’re 22 and have never been out there, so you have to start at the “bottom.”
I believe that most of the caddies with top players all have similar personality traits. I’d also like to think that my personality allows me to work for any spectrum of player. I’ve worked for Stew, who’s 45, and I’ve worked for Derek Fathauer, who was 29. Some caddies are pigeon-holed into only being able to work for certain players because they’re too quiet, or too loud, or too opinionated on things.
It goes back to what Joe told me. Nobody is going to go out there and vouching for some random person who wants to become a caddie and even if you’re a friend of mine, I only vouch for people who I can confidently say that I’ve seen their work or know how they are as a person. A man is only as good as his word.
I’d apologize for this excess information, but I want to use this platform to let people know the whole truth, the whole journey and my 100 percent honest advice and experiences.
Back to the story…
Cydney should be a top-10, Rolex-ranked player. She’s tall, hits it a mile and her iron accuracy is phenomenal. Her short game and putting have always been the biggest battle and, unfortunately, it led to quite a few missed cuts.
At a tournament in Alabama, we were right around the cut line on Friday and she made a late bogey. She was deflated, and I could tell she was throwing in the towel.
I told her, “don’t give up out here on me. We’ve got a few good holes to finish. Take advantage of them.”
She missed the cut.
Following the round, she said she just needed to switch things up and fired me. I thanked her for the fun times and opportunity and 20 minutes later I finally made the move I’d been waiting to make.
I called a friend who had been telling me for months to come caddie on the Web.com, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to give up on Cydney just because she had been missing cuts. So, she made it an easy decision. It was the first time I’d ever been fired, and it was the best thing that had happened to me.
It’s the only time — to the day of this writing — that I’ve been fired.
“Never cut what you can untie.”
That’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.
Following the first time I was fired, I was set to work for Matt Fast on the Web.com Tour. I didn’t know him, but thankfully I had made some friends who were caddies on the Web and Matt needed a guy.
Timing is everything out here. We got along great, and he quickly became a good friend of mine. He was playing well, but my ultimate goal of reaching the PGA Tour never wavered, and an opportunity happened with Fathauer.
It was late in the 2014 season and he already had his PGA Tour card locked up for the following year, so when he offered me the job, I didn’t think twice. I had to quit working for Matt after just four events. It was tough, but he understood and we’re still good friends to this day. I actually became his agent in 2015, but that’s another story.
I worked the remaining six Web.com events for Derek, with the last four being the Web.com Finals. He was tied for or in the lead after 36 or 54 holes of every event. He was knocking on the door of a win but couldn’t quite get there.
Following eighth, 16th and ninth-place finishes, we came to the Web.com Tour Championship ready to close it out. I remember how dejected he was in the parking lot of the third event in Columbus. He kept blowing leads, unable to get out of his own way. I told him in the parking lot that he was going to win the next week.
Sure enough, he did.
It’s hard winning a golf tournament, no matter what tour you’re on. But the pure joy of seeing someone accomplish what they’ve been trying to do for so long is rewarding for a caddie as well.
While we were on the road, I also had a chance to meet up with Cydney and her family when the second event was in Charlotte, where they lived. She told me she fired me because she was holding me back. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but selfishly I’ve always appreciated that comment because it kept my confidence and belief intact — something that’s very important to have as a caddie.
The 2014-15 PGA Tour season began just a couple of weeks after Derek’s Web.com Tour Championship win, so we had a little time to enjoy it.
We both lived in Jupiter, Fla., so the two weeks off were spent paddle boarding and hanging on boats out in the ocean. That’s actually how I met Derek. I moved down to Jupiter in 2013 to be in “the scene” and build better relationships with players and caddies.
Things like that are what I mean when I say, “create opportunities.” Every decision has a consequence, whether positive or negative.
Had I never moved to Florida, I would have never met Derek, and had I never met Derek, I probably wouldn’t have gotten onto the PGA Tour in 2014. And I wouldn’t be working for Stewart Cink today. I believe that there are four or five critical things in your life that lead you to where you are today. If you stop and think about what you’re doing today, there are probably a few people, moments, or decisions that influenced that.
Derek Fathauer is one of those people for me. I’m forever grateful he gave me an opportunity and he’s one of my closest friends out there now.
In 2015, I thought I wanted to become an agent, so I quit working for Derek and I quit caddying altogether, and while doing it on my own for six months, I met with a handful of agencies before receiving a call from 12-time PGA Tour winner, Justin Leonard. It was impossible to pass up that opportunity, so I put the real world on hold, again.
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Crazy how much my life has changed since this! Funny a guy tweeted this to me today.. 2013 President’s Cup. I was on the other side of the ropes with my buddies, a 23yr old kid working my ass off on the LPGA with just a dream of caddying on the PGA Tour. Three years later, I’m finishing my second season on Tour and my boss is a 12x PGA Tour winner and major champion. #GoUSA #GoBucks
Having caddied on the LPGA, Web.com and now the PGA Tour, there are a lot of differences.
The PGA Tour is strictly business. They’re playing for a lot of money, the crowds can be massive during some tournaments, and the TV cameras are a lot closer to us than you think. I mean like right in your face. I always thought they zoomed in! But no, the shot is hit and then they get all up in your business. These guys are the best golfers in the world and everyone wants to win. Not to say they don’t have fun and have laughs out there, but I’ve also passed probably 30 players who’ve still never said “hi” back to me when walking past each other in the five years I’ve been on the PGA Tour.
It was hard starting out because I was the youngest caddie for a few years. I spent a lot of nights alone in hotels and eating dinner by myself. Nobody really took the time to befriend me until I started working for Justin and gained the respect of other caddies. Everything changed for me once I started working for Justin. Fellow caddie Wayne Birch Jr. calls me “Young Fluff” and says, “every bag you touch turns to gold!”
I caddied on the LPGA when I was 22-23 years old. I was having a blast getting to know everyone and learning how to be a caddie. It was probably the most fun. I didn’t have the stress of owning a home and supporting a family. I still don’t have the latter, so caddying is pretty stress-free for me.
The Web.com is only possible if you don’t have what I just mentioned. You have to work knowing that you’re probably not going to break even on a whole season. I was lucky and only worked six regular-season events and four playoff events and had about the most success you could have in a 10-week stretch.
All that being said, being a young guy on the LPGA was hard. You constantly hear the gossip on the range and never talk sports. And they go through caddies more than any tour. It was nauseating thinking about all the changes that could happen if I was out there long. So, going from there to the Web was pretty refreshing to hear a bunch of guys talking shop about sports and other stupid things us guys talk about.
Sometimes I’m asked what the strangest thing is that I’ve ever seen on the course. I wish it was something funny, but it’s not.
In 2015 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, I saw a caddie go down onto the rocks on the 18th hole to look for his player’s ball, only to fall and break his arm in three places. It was so gross and it kind of ruined the hole for me.
It was Matt Bettencourt’s brother-in-law. They were paired with former San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain and it was actually only our ninth hole of the day. I was the only one who could get down there to help him because the rocks were coated with moss and very slippery. It took about 45 minutes for EMT’s to get a stretcher down there and we let two groups play through.
The craziest part of the story is that they had to shovel loose gravel onto the rocks to get better traction and get him back up the cliff and an official started to tell an EMT not to shovel because they didn’t want to compromise the course.
I looked him and the eye and uttered some NSFW words before telling him to stop worrying about the gravel, it’d be repaired by me.
I decided to get disability insurance shortly after that.
I’m also often asked what my favorite course is on Tour.
I always split this into a couple categories. For views, it’s Pebble Beach. Give me a clear sky and 70 degrees at Pebble and you can find me forgetting the distance to the flag on No. 7 because I’m too busy admiring God’s gift.
If it’s layout in the U.S., I’d say Riviera. That course – which still plays under 8,000 yards – has stood the test of time, consistently leaving us with a winner who finishes in the single digits after 72 holes. My only opinion is that No. 10 green is a little too undulated. Don’t make it longer, just flatten it out a little, please.
My overall favorite is obviously Muirfield Village because it’s my home. I grew up going to the golf tournament, I even worked it one summer slinging turkey cheds in the concessions. The peppered mayonnaise is so underrated… Wash it down with a buckeye milkshake.
I’m also going to use this platform to challenge Dan Sullivan (Memorial Tournament Executive Director) and his team to step it up for us caddies.
It’s one of the worst tournaments for treatment of caddies. They’ve fallen behind in still not allowing us to go inside the locker room (sometimes our player asks us to get things like umbrella, gloves, balls, etc.). It’s the only tournament of the year we have to buy our yardage book, we get placed in a 10’x15’ curtained-off area underground in the cart barn for 120 caddies to fit in, and we get a single ticket for the week.
I get that some of these are luxuries, but like I said, it’s just fallen behind the times of what’s standard. It’s not a complaint, it’s just a challenge. I’d like to be proud of my home course when the other caddies come into town. I’d be more than happy to help out.
The golf course is always good.
The last few years, I’ve been working for Stewart Cink and it has provided a lot of highlights.
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Such an honor to be able to witness the boss receive the Payne Stewart Award. If you had a chance to watch the ceremony on Golf Channel, you’ll understand why I’m so lucky to work for a guy like that. If you didn’t.. I highly recommend you Google his 20 minute speech. What an inspiring few days down in Atlanta. Can’t wait to get the 2018 season underway two weeks from now in Asia! #HesSoTall
But those can come with asterisks. You might have success, but you could be miserable. We spend a lot of time with our player, so I’m very lucky that he’s one of the good guys. He’s easy to talk to, I’m never afraid to state my opinion on a shot for fear of getting yelled at or fired. We have a lot in common, so conversation is always available. And the most important thing is seeing him be happy playing again after what his wife, Lisa, has gone through and continues to go through in her battle with cancer. She travels with him every single week he plays.
It should be one of golf’s greatest stories.
Selfishly, I really had fun playing with Tiger at the PGA Championship.
I’ve only been paired with Tiger once and it just so happened to be the Saturday round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive last August. It’s easily the most fun I’ve ever had on the golf course.
That was probably a day for me where everything I worked for and sacrificed in my life the last six years was worth it. I’ll probably catch some flak from the other caddies for saying that, but I didn’t come out there with a friend and just start caddying on the PGA Tour and get paired with the world’s top players and make a bunch of money.
Stew played his behind off that day and we matched Tiger’s 66. With those record crowds, I was awfully proud of the way he played and even more proud watching him close out the tournament the following day to finish in fourth place and secure a spot in the Masters this coming April.
Those moments are the reason we caddie. I haven’t experienced a win on the PGA Tour yet, but it’d be a lot of fun to win a major.
I mentioned earlier how PGA Tour Caddies are a small fraternity.
I’m lucky to have made some great friends out here, guys like Luke Reardon, Tim Mickelson, Joe Greiner, Carl Smith, Cory Gilmer.
We keep in touch even when we’re not on the road together.
Luke is a good buddy of mine and has been living at my place since before he even started caddying for Jason Day (Day also lives in Columbus).
Tim and I talk a few times a week. Cory hasn’t caddied since an injury, but we FaceTime and catch up since we both don’t have a lot going on during our off weeks.
Joe and Carl are both California guys, so they’re always busy enjoying the perks of no-snow winters. But we’re always texting about stuff.
It’s fairly well-known that when Stewart isn’t playing golf, he does competition barbecue with some friends of his.
He bought me a large Green Egg as a housewarming present and I’ve been using that a lot. I think he bought it for me to have something to talk about on the course. I bet he didn’t expect me to love it so much. I hosted Thanksgiving and smoked the turkey on the Egg.
I’ve been bombarding him with questions and his boujeeness of ribs has rubbed off on me. I’m working on trying to squeeze my way into his competition team. I just spent six hours one random day making a couple slabs of St. Louis spares that came out pretty good, but I’m always improving and working on my craft.
It’s nice being able to enjoy that when I’m home.
I try to work out almost every day to keep in shape, but that’s about the only daily constant when I’m home.
I love catching up with friends and family. My girlfriend and I are both foodies so we’re always trying new restaurants in Dublin or downtown Columbus. I love coffee. This is going to sound so hipster, but I bought an espresso machine when I moved into my house and I’ve become obsessed with trying to learn latte art.
I’m dairy-free so I use almond milk and it’s almost impossible to froth properly, so any tips would be great!