Placing the blame for their game on the person carrying the bag ultimately reflects poorly on the pro
By RANDY YOUNGMAN
When I caddied for Champions Tour pro Bruce Lietzke during a Toshiba Classic practice round a few years ago, he told me he had “only three rules” for me to obey while I was toting his hefty tour bag around Newport Beach Country Club.
“The first two are ‘Show up’ and ‘Keep up,’ ” he said as we headed up the first fairway, making certain to match him stride for stride.
Jokingly, I told Lietzke that I also had counted to make sure he had the requisite 14 clubs in his bag, so that put me one up on Ian Woosnam’s ex-caddie – the now-infamous Myles Byrne, who had failed to notice Woosie had two drivers in his bag when he teed off as the co-leader in the final round of the 2001 British Open. (The resulting two-shot penalty cost Woosnam a chance for his second major, a boatload of money and, two weeks later, cost Byrne his job. Call it a cad-astrophe.)
Well, I thought it was a funny line.
“Oh, yeah,” Lietzke responded, “my third rule is ‘Shut up.’ ”
Then he laughed. Then he handed me the pin sheet and a yardage book containing diagrams of each hole. The diagrams were plastered with more hieroglyphics than the Rosetta Stone. “All of these numbers mean something,” he said. “Memorize ’em.”
Yes, the joke was on me.
I learned that day, my first and probably last as a caddie, that there’s a lot more to the job than serving as a pack mule. A good professional caddie not only has to calculate the yardage to the hole, while factoring in the elevation and prevailing weather conditions; he also has to be a strategist and psychologist.
In addition, he needs to know when and what kind of information to offer, when and what to say and, yes, when to shut up. Taking the blame for a mistake made by a tour pro – even when it isn’t the caddie’s fault – also might be the right thing to do, too.
Exhibit A: Bubba Watson and Ted Scott.
Exhibit B: Jessica Korda and Jason Gilroyd.
During consecutive weeks this summer, professional caddies attracted the national spotlight. First, Watson sarcastically berated Scott within earshot of the national TV microphones during the final round of the Travelers Championship. Then Korda fired Gilroyd in the middle of a round at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Like umpires and referees, caddies aren’t usually noticed until someone makes a mistake or someone is fired by a high-profile player. (See Fluff Cowan and Steve Williams, Tiger Woods’ first two pro caddies.)
At the Travelers, Watson had a one-shot lead going to 16th hole, a par-3 over water, until he hit a 9–iron into the lake en route to a disastrous triple-bogey that doomed him to a fourth-place finish. After that shot, a subsequent shot from the drop area that bounded over the green and a missed double-bogey putt, Bubba said some things he probably now regrets.
Examples: “So you’re telling me that’s the right yardage?” and “There’s just no reason for me to show up.”
Afterward, Scott, a respected and experienced looper, dutifully took the blame, saying he convinced Bubba to hit the wrong club, adding, “I 100 percent take responsibility for it.”
Bubba downplayed the incident, saying it was a team error. “We mis-clubbed is all.”
No, WE didn’t. He did. The player always has the last word on club choice, regardless of the caddie’s recommendation, a point driven home on the air by CBS-TV on-course reporter David Feherty (“Hey, you hit it, bud.”) as Watson continued to berate his caddie.
Besides, is there anybody who can accurately club Bubba, a freakish talent who can bomb 375-yard drives and rope-hook 140-yard gap wedges out of the pine straw at Augusta? That’s why Scott gets a pass. And, ultimately, it was Bubba who came off looking like a jerk – not his caddie.
Ditto for what happened at the U.S. Women’s Open, where Korda, all of 20 years old, fired her experienced caddie midway through the third round, citing several disagreements with him while shooting 5-over on the front nine. She told her boyfriend, Web.com pro Johnny DelPrete, to grab the bag at the turn, and she proceeded to turn her game around, shooting 1-over on the back nine and finishing the tournament tied for seventh.
“I was just not in the right state of mind,” she said, trying to explain the caddie switch in mid-round. “My boyfriend kept me very calm out there and kept it very light.”
Again, it was the pro golfer who looked bad – not the caddie. Couldn’t Korda have waited until after the round to make the change?
We all know caddies are hired to be fired, just as managers and coaches are. It’s the nature of the job, and changes are inevitable, especially when a player is struggling. But there’s a right way to do it, and there’s a right way to behave even when there are disagreements.
“My rule is that once a pro tees off, he’s exempt from normally acceptable social behavior and covered by a temporary-insanity defense,” Mark Long, Fred Funk’s longtime caddie, told Golf Digest in 2012. “You can’t take stuff personally if a guy gets carried away in competition. I’ve played in tournaments myself and got psychotic.”
OK, maybe so. Maybe Lietzke had the right idea, after all. He checks his own yardages, pulls his own clubs, reads his own putts. The caddie shows up, keeps up and shuts up. Then there’s only one person to blame.