Shouldering responsibility: A precarious life on Tour for game’s supporting cast

Most bagmen go unnoticed, quietly doing their jobs and supporting their employer to the best of their ability. That is what they have been hired to do.

Think about even some of the top players and you’ll be hard pressed to name their caddie? Rickie Fowler? Jason Day? Sergio Garcia?

And then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum where the caddie either plays a vital role or has a high profile himself (or herself, in the case of Nick Faldo’s Fanny Sunesson). Does anyone not know at this stage that Jordan Spieth’s bagman, Michael Greller, used to be a maths teacher, or that Phil Mickelson spent 25 years with Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay? Or that Rory McIlroy’s caddie, JP, got the sack over the weekend?

Then there are the famous moments when the caddie makes a mistake or shoulders the blame and is catapulted into the limelight.

Ian Woosnam’s Irish caddie, Miles Byrne, failed to realise that there were 15 clubs in Woosnam’s bag on the final day of the 2001 Open Championship… at least not until the 2nd tee. The error cost Woosnam a two stroke penalty — he still came third — and ultimately Byrne his job, two weeks later… although he hardly helped himself when he missed his boss’s tee time by sleeping in on the final day of the Scandinavian Masters.

“You know what the circumstances are going to be this time,” Woosnam said. “I gave him a chance. He had one warning. That was it.”

Byrne can hardly complain. Another caddie able to complain for unjust persecution, however, is Christophe Angiolini. The 30-year-old had been caddying for Jean Van de Velde for just a few months when the pair arrived at Carnoustie in 1999. The story of the meltdown on the 72nd hole is written in the annals of sporting infamy but making the argument that Christophe should have reined in his employer on that 18th hole is too easy in hindsight. Angiolini was an amateur 8-handicap golfer; Van de Velde was a seasoned 12-year professional. Van de Velde called the shots — literally — so it was his mistake, not the caddie’s. Even so, it was little surprise when Angiolini was fired two months later. He didn’t start caddying again until 2001.

Watching professionals and their caddies interact is always entertaining and educational. Many talk quietly in their employer’s ear, some don’t talk at all, while others discuss tactics as they stalk the green. Ian Poulter liked to chat to his caddie, Terry Mundy, and most microphones picked up the banter. Poulter still reasons out his shots with his new caddie (Mundy retired with a back injury in May) and it offers a glimpse of how the pros think when they’re competing at the highest levels.

Tiger Woods and Stevie Williams were an unbeatable partnership for 12 years. Williams was on Tiger’s bag for 13 Majors and knew his boss’s game so well that they talked through many of the most difficult shots. He would even stop Tiger at any time in the swing process to reevaluate a shot. When Tiger Woods was out of the game in 2011, following an operation, he and Williams parted ways. What should have been a natural parting of the ways — Williams was already caddying for Adam Scott — turned vitriolic, certainly on Williams’ part. His book, Out of the Rough, includes a warts-and- all take on his time with Woods.

Some golfers fire caddies more frequently than others. Seve Ballesteros was well known for it although no one can compare to former world number one, Lydia Ko, who is now on her 10th caddie. The Korean-born, New Zealand professional is just 20-years-old.

Australian Robert Allenby has had caddie bust ups of legendary proportions. Some resulted in the caddie dropping the bag, mid-tournament, and marching off the course.

In 1995, Michael Waite didn’t just drop the bag: he hefted it over his head and threw it down the fairway.

Another caddie reacted similarly in 2007, while the 2015 confrontation between Allenby and caddie Mick Middlemo almost came to blows.

W

e all know that professionals are exacting individuals and caddies stomping off, mid-round, is not unheard of. In 1997, Seve’s caddie, Martin Gray, walked off the 15th at the Spanish Open, leaving the Spaniard’s nephew to carry the bag. Other golfers have simply pulled someone from the crowd.

Most breakups fall quietly by the wayside.

They’re expected, too, as the nature of golf is so precise and even the most relaxed golfer will eventually want a change.

When a player fails to achieve the level of perfection they aspire to it’s no surprise that the coach is changed, or the golf clubs or the golf ball… so why not caddies?

Caddies will continue to come and go, some accompanied by fireworks and bad blood, and it won’t be long before another heated bust up makes the sports pages.

The smart money is on Robert Allenby.


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