It has been a volatile time recently in the caddie world with Tiger Woods sacking his caddie of over a decade, Steve Williams. With Tiger only ever having had two professional caddies on his bag – Mike ‘Fluff’ Cowan helped Tiger win his first Major title at the Masters in 1997 and Steve Williams had been on Tiger’s bag for thirteen of his fourteen Major victories – it will certainly be an interesting time for him in the next few weeks.
Over the years there have been a number of players who have formed great partnerships with their caddies. Bernhard Langer had Peter Coleman on his bag for over twenty-two years and Phil Mickelson has worked together with Jim ‘Bones’ MacKay for over fifteen years seeing him through more than twenty-four victories. Fanny Sunesson from Sweden joined the caddie ranks in the Eighties before she was taken on by Nick Faldo in 1990 – the duo stayed together through four Major victories until 1999. I don’t doubt that these partnerships have seen their ups and downs but throughout it all there seems to be a loyalty, support and mutual respect that never wavers. Other partnerships have been tested to their limits but have survived like Ian Woosnam and his caddie at the time, Miles Byrne. At the Open Championship in 2001 Woosnam started with a great birdie but noticed on the second tee that he was carrying fifteen clubs in his bag instead of the maximum allowance of fourteen – a school boy error by his caddie – and so he incurred a two-stroke penalty. Luckily for Byrne, Woosnam chose not to sack him joking instead that it was the biggest mistake of Byrne’s life and that he certainly wouldn’t do it again!
Once of the most famous partnerships in golf would have to be that of Arnold Palmer and James ‘Tip’ Anderson. Tip guided Palmer to two Open victories at Royal Birkdale in 1961 and Royal Troon in 1962 but the bond they shared saw their friendship last over thirty years until Tip’s death in 2004. Tip was so highly regarded by Palmer that when he couldn’t make it to the Open in St Andrews in 1964, he recommended that his friend, Tony Lema, take Tip on his bag. Lema had barely practiced on the course and poor weather provided the most testing of conditions yet, with Tip by his side, he went on to win the Tournament.
It begs the question – what does it take to be a caddie for the world’s top players? I read once that in the average four-hour round, a golfer will spend a little over an hour actually striking the ball. That leaves almost three hours for the grey matter to give us a psychological workout so, going by those figures, I would put it that patience is of paramount importance! A caddie must not only provide advice on the obstacles and challenges of the course but also inevitably offers moral support, acting as a steadying influence for a top-level player in a turbulent world of media attention. A caddie’s role may flip from ‘verbal punch bag’ to therapist to loyal companion all in the space of a backswing so it takes a certain type of character to handle those situations. An experienced St Andrews caddie once told me that the best advice he could ever share with someone just starting out in the caddying world was that they should learn quickly when not to speak.
So many different people visit the Old Course in St Andrews each year from politicians to film stars to friends making that once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage that the caddies here could spend a lifetime regaling you with their jokes and stories. A favourite tale is that a gentleman was so nervous on the first tee that he nearly missed the ball on striking it and sent it shooting off behind him and into the Valley of Sin in front of the 18th green. His caddie shook his head, handed him his putter and quietly told him that, if he sank the putt, the new course record was his! How much truth the story holds we’ll never know but whether you simply want someone to carry your bag or someone to share a joke with on the way around, I can certainly guarantee that your Old Course Experience will be a memorable one.