The Golf Life: Mr. XMarch 13, 2017

Undercover Tour Pro: What We Really Talk About Inside The Ropes

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Illustrations by Peter Arkle

I think most fans would be very surprised by the conversations that go on during tournaments. When my caddie and I are waiting on a tee box or standing in a fairway, it might look like we're in deep debate over what club to hit and how, but nine times out of 10 we're not talking about anything remotely related to golf. Everybody out here knows to speak just above a whisper so the gallery won't hear. And obviously, if there's a TV microphone in sight, we keep it clean. No sense getting fined for telling a story.

I usually play six rounds a week. Most are over four hours, with the occasional pro-am fivesome that drags past six hours. If I was thinking about golf even half the time, I'd go insane. Sure, if it's the back nine on Sunday and we're on the leader board, I don't mind giving a little extra attention to each shot, but other than that, my caddie knows to keep it to sports (football, basketball, baseball, hockey, go-cart ballet . . . whatever), restaurants, random gossip (usually sourced from other caddies), movies, music, vacations, jokes. My latest caddie actually reads joke books. He's always got new ones, of varying length, and they're nearly all terrible. The kind that begin, "An Irishman, a Scotsman and an American are walking across a bridge, yada, yada." My caddie's probably a little loud for some, but I think he's one of the best. When things go south out here, it's essential to be around someone who maintains a sense of humor.

There are certain players we'd rather not have in our group. I actually don't mind playing practice rounds with a lot of the grinders, but once the tournament starts, they become hard to watch. The routines get longer and longer. It makes me tired, even impatient. Then there are the players who'd love nothing more than to tell you all about the latest discovery they made with their swing coach, or the theory behind the grind on their new gap wedge. Please. Stop. If one of those dudes invites me to play a practice round, I'll just text back whatever it takes to get out of it. Sorry, but don't want to play that early. Thanks, but can't play in the afternoon.

It's not that I don't love the game and its stories. Of course I do. But when you're at the golf course nearly every day, and your performance has direct bearing on your life and livelihood, it's easy to get too tangled in it. I think we've all been there. For me, I've learned that playing well for four hours in a row, let alone four days, is basically impossible if my head is spinning that hard. My rule is, I only think about golf when my glove is on, or about 45 seconds per shot. So, my total concentration in a round is never going to amount to much more than 50 or 55 minutes. That's how I stay relaxed, fresh. And it's working. Last season I enjoyed a solid jump forward in the rankings, and I can play any tournament I want in 2017.

In pro-ams, I consider myself fairly friendly. I have no idea how I compare to other pros, of course, because we're always alone with our amateur playing partners. But I'd wager that I'm more outgoing than a lot of players. That said, I'll take stretches to walk alone. Just go down the opposite side of a hole for what seems like no reason at all. Because if my playing partners are going to be talking golf nonstop, I'm going to need a break. My caddie, too.

with Max Adler


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