GEELONG, Australia — Apart from the moment on the first fairway (we started on the 10th) when the golf bag fell over and my employer had to jump out of the way to avoid being crushed, I had thought my first day as a caddie at the Vic Open had gone rather well actually. That player—European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew—got herself around the Creek Course at the 13th Beach Golf Club on the picturesque Ballerine Peninsula in one-under-par 72.
OK, she should have scored better given how beautifully she struck the ball between tee and green, but that had nothing to do with me. I wasn’t reading the putts. Nor was I figuring out the distances to fairway or bunker or green before each shot, a matter of some controversy within this one-week, one-off partnership between fellow Scots who have been friendly for decades.
“When I have a real caddie, I always let him do the yardages,” said the soon-to-be 50-year-old Matthew with that “butter wouldn’t melt” smile on her face. “It’s such a shame you can’t count very well.”
“I really just look for someone I can chat to, who can help me with the odd clubbing decision,” she continued. “It always comes down to one club or another, so it is nice to have some reassurance in situations like that. I like to be over the ball thinking I have the right club in my hand.”
Alright, alright. Anything else?
“I thought you did very well, apart from the bag falling over thing. You were very calm. But not doing the yardages was a big letdown. Forcing me to constantly look at my little book was frustrating, although it was helping my mental arithmetic. I feel like I’ve gone 36 holes rather than 18. Still, I must admit we didn’t get any of the clubs wrong. Probably because I picked them all.”
Geez. Let it go, will you? That’s the last time I get her another banana from that little tent behind the first tee.
In the face of such brutal and totally unwarranted criticism, I looked elsewhere for encouragement and solace. Tom Watson (no, not that one) was working for Teresa Lu of Taipei in our threesome, one that also included Australia’s Katherine Kirk.
“Dropping the golf bag is high on the list of ‘don’ts’ for any caddie,” he said, not bothering to conceal his glee. “So you failed miserably on that score. When I caddied for [former Aussie tour pro] Terry Gale years ago, the first thing he said to me was, ‘Never let go of the golf bag.’ That has always stuck in my mind. But it clearly slipped yours.”
This is getting demoralizing.
“Don’t get too upset,” Watson continued. “At least you passed the ‘turn-up, keep-up, shut-up’ basics. Your only small slip was in not cleaning my player’s ball on the 14th green when I was in a bunker. But that is a minor breach of caddie etiquette. Not a major drama.
“It is amazing how much you have to concentrate. You can’t let your mind wander. You have to be aware of the other players. You have to be in the right place. You have to tell the crowd to be quiet. You have to make sure they have their phones turned off. There are a lot of ‘one-percenters,’ lot of little things.”
OK, enough of this slaughter. Any advice going forward, mister expert? I’m hoping to be around for three more days.
“A good caddie always pays attention to the details,” said Watson, warming to his task. “Remember that you are there to be good company, first of all. Keep the information as simple as you can, especially when the player is stressing. That only creates more trust. Be confident in your decision-making. Don’t try to do or say too much. And always at the end of what you do say on a positive note.”
To that end, here are some other things Matthew’s caddie did not do in the opening round of this ground-breaking event that features men and women in alternate groups and offers equal prize money.
A) I did not stand in the wrong place, not even once.
B) I did not carry the bag like I was Robin Hood, with it pointing in the wrong direction.
C) I did not talk at the wrong time, especially to Catriona (or Beany as she is known to all).
D) I did not impart too much information (an understatement really).
E) I did not try to coach my player.
F) I did not over-complicate the job in an effort to appear “professional.”
All in all, I really didn’t do very much. The lasting lesson: A really good player (and friend) can get round in a pretty good score, even with a not-very-good caddie.