Veteran caddie Scott Vail joins up with major champion Henrik Stenson
NASSAU, Bahamas – Consider this an early Christmas for caddie Scott Vail. He has a new bag, and it’s a very good one. Vail, who looped for Brandt Snedeker for 12 years on the PGA Tour, is on the bag for European stalwart Henrik Stenson this week at the Hero World Challenge, and Stenson confirmed earlier this week that the partnership will continue into 2019.
“This is our second outing. We’ll see,” Stenson said at Albany Golf Club, site of the Hero World Challenge. “We’re on the dating stages. We’ll see how the honeymoon goes at the start of next year. Basically, Lordy and I are on a break.”
“Lordy” would be Gareth Lord, who was on the bag for Stenson when the power-hitting Swede broke through to win his first major, the 2016 Open Championship at Scotland’s Royal Troon. Stenson tried to play through an elbow injury sustained in summer last season, but recently had minor surgery and took a five-week break before making two late starts in 2018.
Lord is recovering from shoulder surgery at home in Monaco, and Vail stepped in with Stenson at the recent DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, where Stenson tied for 12th having not played since the Ryder Cup. Stenson and Vail were off to a quality start through 36 holes at Albany, tied for the tournament lead at Hero alongside Stenson’s Ryder Cup teammate, Jon Rahm.
Vail and Snedeker had parted ways at the start of the year. Vail was on the bag for eight of Snedeker’s nine PGA Tour victories, as well as Snedeker’s FedEx Cup victory, and subbed on Keegan Bradley’s bag earlier this year when Chad Reynolds was out. But he was looking for an opportunity where he’d get at least a handful of tournaments to properly gel with a player. When Stenson called him, he not only felt very lucky (“Really, he’s a world-class player, and it’s a privilege,” Vail said), but also was ready to go.
“I did some of that a year ago (subbing on a player’s bag), and you can’t get into any routine or get a feel for a guy,” Vail said. “So, I said to myself I wasn’t going to come out unless I knew I could have a handful of tournaments, at least. It takes a while to gel with somebody. I wanted to make sure I was going with somebody who was a fit, which is most important, because you spend so much time with him. Personality-wise, it’s like a marriage, and you need to endure some time with him. That’s very important.”
Vail is a strapping Canadian who is known for carrying a positive outlook. He lives for the competition. He hails from Oshawa, Ontario, and makes his home in Toronto. When Snedeker captured the 2013 RBC Canadian Open, the victory arguably was bigger for the caddie than it was for the player. Before tapping in for the win at Glen Abbey Golf Club, Snedeker turned to Vail and asked, “How does it feel to win your own national championship?”
It felt incredible. It’s the highs such as that one that Vail relishes most in doing what he does for a living. He’s roughly 14 years into caddying on Tour after graduating from the Web.com Tour alongside Snedeker, and seeing the world is great, but the thing that gets his adrenaline going while inside the ropes is the sheer thrill of chasing a trophy.
“I like competing and I like feeling the pressure if you’re in the mix, stuff like that,” he said. “It’s a good group of guys out here. I’m fortunate that I have some good guys I hang out with, and we get along well. It’s fun. It’s fun to root for each other, and if you’re in the final group on Sunday, all of a sudden you want to cut their throat out. I enjoy that.”
Vail’s father, Eric “Big Train” Vail, played in the NHL for parts of 10 seasons, skating for the Atlanta Flames, Calgary Flames, and Detroit Red Wings. (He scored 32 or more goals in three seasons.) Vail, a big Maple Leafs fan, figures he can trace his love for competition to his bloodlines.
“Probably a little,” he said. “I definitely come from a competitive background with my dad playing professional hockey, and I have a few uncles on his side that were drafted by the NHL.”
Starting anew with a player can be a tricky endeavor. There is a feeling-out process from both sides of the player-caddie equation as the two try to build a trusting relationship. Vail said early on, he has been doing all that he can to observe and learn, and doesn’t want to say too much to Stenson, or “over-caddie.” But the two were on camera the first two days exchanging plenty of dialogue over shots, with Stenson showing off his world-class iron game.
“Henrik’s iron game is ridiculous,” Vail said. “There are times you want to pipe in, but it’s a learning process, learning the tendencies of a player, what he likes, what he doesn’t. Because everybody is different. And I’m different than his caddie, too.
“So, you have to find your happy medium in there somewhere, and it takes some time. You also learn. When you work with world-class players, you learn stuff from them. I hope they can learn something from me, too… but I know I’m definitely learning a lot from them.”
Asked what he gains with Vail on his bag, Stenson didn’t pause. “The gun show!” he said, smiling. “Have you seen the state of his arms? He’s strong!”
Turning more serious, Stenson, once ranked No. 2 in the world, added, “He’s a positive guy and he’s obviously got the experience. I’ve been out with him (in tournaments) a bunch of times over the years. Of course, it’s different when he’s been on Brandt’s bag rather than mine. But he seems calm and easy-going and all that.
“You try out a partnership and give it a few weeks and see if it’s something to move ahead, or if it’s time to move on to try something else. Like I said, we’re in the dating stages. We’ll see where it takes us.”
Yes, at Albany, it’s early days for this pair. But so far, so good.