The unwritten rules of caddying
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on November 24, 2018.
The request came from The Caddie Network headquarters earlier this week while we were lost in the gnarly bermuda rough, searching for our ball, a swing and the 14th green. What are the unwritten rules of caddying was the question and a good one it was indeed.
First, we had to determine the written rules, as they pertain to the PGA Tour. If a neophyte somehow landed a bag at the Sanderson Farms Classic next week (and chances are you, they, he, she won’t) what are the baseline abilities said person must possess to function as a caddie on golf’s ultimate stage for professionals?
Be able to carry the 30-40 pound golf bag, keep the clubs and golf ball clean. Have a clean towel. Have an extra towel. Know the pertinent details such as where to park, first-round tee time, starting hole, names of players in your group if that information matters to your pro — and it matters to some. A tortoise and a hare pair better in Aesop’s Fable than they do on Thursdays in Jackson.
From there, give accurate yardages, pay attention to the wind and weather conditions. Speaking of weather, if it rains (and it will) one must be able to morph into an octopus who can hold the umbrella, a towel, an extra club and a putter cover, wipe grass and mud off the club-face, while of course carrying the bag, keeping the pro and the clubs dry. On the green you get to do the cool hold-the-umbrella-over-the-pro-until-he’s-ready-to-putt thing.
Again, if it’s your fate to visit the Magnolia State next week and walk beside one of the world’s best golfers you will not receive a piece of paper listing the rules of caddying. You might be asked to sign a piece of paper that says if you get clunked in the head with an errant tee shot during Wednesday’s Pro-Am, the PGA Tour is not liable. But that’s much different. So, we’re here to help. What are the rules? Are there rules? Show up, keep up and shut up is a tired mantra — although those first two will always apply. Hard to caddie if you’re not there and pros become impatient if they’re waiting for their driver because you’re chatting up the cute girl at the beer stand.
Bottom line: Golf is hard and a good caddie trims strokes from the scorecard; he doesn’t add them.
Consider this the cheat code.
1. Count the Clubs. Frequently. On the practice tee, on the putting green, and by all means on the first tee. We all remember the unfortunate incident involving Ian Woosnam in The 2001 Open Championship when he suffered a two-stroke penalty in the final round because he teed off with 15 clubs in the bag. It’s a moment that makes every caddie shudder. It should also serve as a firm reminder to check, double check and triple check. Strange things happen. We could tell you a funny not funny story from a random Thursday on the PGA Tour involving a pro who stuck his putter in the wrong golf bag (same manufacturer) somewhere between the putting green and the first tee. When he rifled a short iron onto the first green, he turned to his faithful looper who we will call “Ryan Bull” and stuck his hand out for the trusty putter. It wasn’t there. The story has a happy ending but we prefer not to discuss it further. Only after years of therapy can it be mentioned in such a public forum. Bottom line: Golf is hard and a good caddie trims strokes from the scorecard; he doesn’t add them.
2. Keep your mouth off another player’s ball. At home, in your weekly foursome, it might be cute to ask a playing partner’s ball to bite or fly or run like it stole something. You might even believe that’s helpful. On the PGA Tour, a simple head nod is sufficient. Sometimes a “Good shot!” or shake of the head is appropriate after a PGA Tour pro does one of the amazing things a PGA Tour pro can do. But as a rule, say as little as possible.
3. Don’t ask too many questions. There’s a time to ask questions. Ease into it. Don’t come blazing into the caddie area and fire off a hundred questions about everything from parking to putting to the drop zone yardage on No. 4. Look around, pay attention, you’ll figure most of it out.
4. Understand how to rake a bunker. It’s not as easy as it looks. Practice if necessary on Tuesday or around the short game practice area. The best Tour caddies can leave a bunker looking better than they found it. Emulate them.
5. Pay attention to where you lay down the golf bag. Watch the thru line. These guys are good, living under par like they do, but every so often they catch one skinny around the green just like the rest of us. A penalty shot is no bueno after a wedge hit in the forehead.
6. A bag laying down will never fall. If you must leave the bag unattended to track down a sprinkler head, etc. and there’s a hint of doubt the bag may topple over, simply lay it down. Doesn’t look as cool but saves a potential embarrassing moment.
7. Be a good catcher. After a pro marks his ball on the green, he tosses it, sometimes hard and not always accurately, toward the caddie. Pay attention. Know his tendencies. Hopefully you were born a good catcher or have a child at home with whom you can practice.
8. Never toss the ball back to your player in the vicinity of water. Unless you brought your swim trunks and are eager to become a YouTube star into infinity, just walk over and hand the ball to your pro. Maybe you think he’s staring right at you and he thrills you daily telling tales from those glory days as an error-free middle-school shortstop. Doesn’t matter. Maybe he’s really looking at the tall blonde in the gallery standing directly behind you.
9. Watch the thru line. When removing or tending the flag, be aware of not only the other players’ putting line to the hole but also where their ball may come to rest beyond the cup. Last thing anyone wants to see is a size 14 heel-print in their line when they’re trying to make a 3-footer to make the cut.
10. Double check the scorecard in the Scorer’s Tent. Two heads are better than one, and all. Mistakes are rare but costly.
11. Stay cool. We’ve seen it many times before. Caddie comes out for first week. His pro does pro things like rip a drive down the middle on the first hole, stick an iron close and hole the putt for birdie. Maybe he even opens the John Deere Classic with a string of birds. Caddie gets super excited, pumping his fist and walking faster as the pro climbs the early morning leaderboard. Calm down. Remain on an even keel. Professional golf tournaments are marathons. Sure, momentum is important, but it’s the Tour caddies job to stay as flatlined as possible. Always slightly upbeat with a cool head regardless of the score or circumstances. For some, this takes effort. The best Tour caddies have the innate trait or they’ve ingrained it through practice and experience. When in doubt, follow their lead.