Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)


Arnold Palmer once mistakenly paid his Masters caddie for a win more than he earned himself

March 05, 2019
Augusta National Archive

Augusta National

The topic of payment to local caddies has been a popular one in golf this season, for reasons that we probably don’t need to hash over again now (Refreshers here, here, and here).

Let’s just say there remains the question of what a victorious professional golfer should pay a caddie when it’s not someone actually traveling with him full-time. Is it still 10 percent of a win? Way less than that?

What about all the money you earned, plus a little extra?

Sounds crazy, but this sort of happened in the Masters more than a half-century ago, when Arnold Palmer captured his first of four green jackets in 1958. Palmer won $11,250 for that win, yet his check to Nathaniel “Iron Man” Avery for that week was . . . $14,000. Was Arnold Palmer the most generous man ever?

Well, he’s up there, but no, not in this instance. As part of a compelling profile of Avery, Palmer’s caddie for all four of his Masters titles, Ward Clayton in The Caddie Network describes how Palmer’s wife Winnie hastily dashed off a check to Avery in the immediate aftermath:

“In Palmer’s first Masters victory in 1958, it was the intention to pay a caddie fee of $1,400, but Arnie’s wife Winnie was overcome by the moment and hurriedly wrote a check for $14,000 — more than Palmer’s $11,250 first prize — and Iron Man’s check was later reissued.”

So Avery actually only got $1,400 for the win, but that was still good money back then—more than $12,100 in today’s money, and still more than 10 percent of Palmer’s first-place check. And it’s worth noting that Avery was not Palmer’s full-time looper since tour players then largely relied on local caddies and the Masters itself waited until 1983 to let players use their regular guys.

Meanwhile, the Avery story isn’t an entirely happy one, even if it did take a brighter turn in recent years. Although he enjoyed the spoils of victory in the immediate aftermath of Palmer’s wins, he died without any money and alienated from his family, buried in an unmarked grave in Augusta’s Southview Cemetery. Clayton, who is also one of the producers of the new caddie documentary, “Loopers,” recognized Avery deserved better, so he helped galvanize the effort to give Avery a proper grave marker that commemorated his Masters accomplishments.

“It’s . . . an appropriate memorial I’m proud to say we were able to make happen,” Clayton writes.