The giant live oak tree outside the Augusta National Golf Club clubhouse has to be the greatest hangout in all of golf.
It’s where the powerbrokers of the game and titans of industry mix shoulders with golf’s most exclusive field.
“Meet you at the tree,” is the popular and refrain. And earlier this week, it is where one of the past champions — he’d prefer to remain nameless — suggested that if he were caddying for Rory McIlroy this week, he’d be a lock to complete the career grand slam.
The implication, of course, was that McIlroy could benefit from a more knowledgeable bagman to steer him around the former nursery that is Augusta National than childhood pal Harry Diamond.
It was July 2017 when McIlroy parted ways with his longtime caddie JP Fitzgerald, a partnership that netted four majors, the world no. 1 spot, and made both men gobs of money.
McIlroy turned to Diamond, who grew up playing at Holywood Golf Club and was talented enough in his own right to represent Ireland in team competitions.
It’s a friendship so strong, that each served as best man at the other’s wedding.
It was supposed to be a temporary gig, but here they are two victories and some 20 months later and still going strong.
But not everyone is convinced Diamond is the right man for the job. Former major champion Paul Azinger expressed his concern with McIlroy’s tendency to throw away strokes and said Diamond has to take more responsibility for the careless mistakes made by his boss.
“I think Rory makes a lot of undisciplined decisions,” Azinger said. “Between him and his caddie, they have to be better because it’s a very thin line between Rory and domination.”
Whether Fitzgerald before him or Diamond now, McIlroy always has been loyal to a fault and quick to defend Diamond as a calming influence.
“They just think he’s my best friend and I got him on the bag because I didn’t want to listen to anyone else. But that’s not true,” McIlroy said.
“Harry is an accomplished golfer, and he has turned into one of the best caddies out here, if not the best.
He’s so committed. He’s so professional. And having him by my side out there is so good, and it’s so comforting.
McIlroy isn’t the only top pro that has gone with a buddy on the bag.
Australian Jason Day has teamed with “bestie” Luke Reardon and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood hired his longtime friend Ian Finnis to abandon his job as a golf instructor at England’s Formby Hall.
American Phil Mickelson ended a 20-plus year partnership with Jim “Bones” Mackay last year and replaced him with his baby brother, Tim, as his new sidekick.
More recently, Englishman Lee Westwood sacked veteran bagman Billy Foster and opted for his girlfriend, Helen Storey.
Together, Westwood won his first European Tour title in over four years at the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
It begs the question: Just how important is a caddie in this day and age?
That question was raised again and drew its biggest headlines after American Matt Kuchar won the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Classic with a local fill-in caddie, David Giral Ortiz, and paid him only a fraction ($5,000 - €4,441) of his $1.296m (€1,154) winner’s prize.
Full-time caddies typically receive a weekly salary that covers basic expenses including travel paid for by their golfers.
But then there are bonuses for top-10 finishes and typically a 10% bonus for a championship.
Based on that, Ortiz’s take should have been closer to $130,000 (€115,483).
Only after the story went viral and Kuchar was dubbed “the Cheapskate Champion,” did he increase Ortiz’s pay to $50,000 (€44,418).
The old caddie mantra is “show up, keep up, shut up.”
For some players that’s all they require while other like to have a second opinion in deciding what club to hit or determining the line of a putt.
Caddie Steve Williams is renowned for suggesting that Tiger Woods hit lob wedge at 18 en route to making birdie at the 72nd hole of the US Open to force a playoff the next day, and suggested Adam Scott aim at least two cups right on his winning 12-foot putt at the 2013 Masters.
“I’ve seen instances where caddies made a huge difference in a particular play here or there, but for the most part, they are there because they’re dependable; not because they possess a rare skill,” Golf Channel analyst and former tour pro Brandel Chamblee said.
The role of the caddie has been diminished by the yardage book and modern technology. Caddies have lasers to tell them the precise yardage and even factoring in the elevation.
“You just roll up to the tournament and you buy a yardage book and you go. It’s got everything you need in there,” Williams said.
“Some of us caddies have said that there will come a time when there will be no need for a caddie.”
Until that day comes, Chamblee says hiring a mate makes a lot of sense. Compatibility is key and life on the PGA Tour can be a lonely place.
“If I were playing the Tour now and having any semblance of success, I would love to take my best friends out there, pay them hundred of thousands of dollars to come along and enjoy the ride with me,” Chamblee said. “It’s a lot better life.”
Especially if your mate is able to show up, keep up and shut up.