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Life on the bag

Undercover Caddie: Looping for LIV Golf has been the best experience of my career

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October 04, 2022

How is it workling at LIV Golf? I get asked this every day now, usually by other caddies and typically by text. I respond the same way: It’s f***ing great. For the first time in my career, caddies are treated like people. Does that sound melodramatic? Not if you’re a caddie on the PGA Tour.

You might recall that caddies had to sue the PGA Tour a few years back. Officially, it was about not being compensated for serving as walking billboards for tournament sponsors, but really it was about being treated with respect. That lawsuit, which we lost, did lead to a few improvements, including health care. But tour officials still looked at us as disposable, that we should be lucky a player has taken us along for the ride. LIV Golf clearly understands that plight and history because everyone I’ve met since we’ve joined has gone out of the way to do the opposite.

LIV Golf arranges and pays for our flights. People are waiting for us at the airport. If we have a non-LIV event after our LIV commitment, they arrange for our transportation there, too. Hotels are paid for. The dining area and caddie locker rooms are better than what is made available to players at some PGA Tour events. Everywhere I go someone is asking, “How can we help you?” or “What can we do better?”

At Trump Bedminster I had three top LIV officials stop by on Wednesday at the range, asking personal questions about me and getting to know me better. One clearly did some research and was asking about my hometown and where to go to eat on a visit. CEO Greg Norman has something personal to say to everyone, not just “Hey there,” or “Have a good day, boys.” To be seen means a hell of a lot. You know how many times a PGA Tour executive did that in all my years on tour? Twice, and both times it was because someone needed a hook-up for football tickets.

Is part of this treatment because LIV has pockets that have no bottom? Of course. How LIV treats players goes a long way toward recruiting more guys, but they don’t need to pamper us. No player is coming to LIV because of what he has heard about caddie treatment, and given the payouts involved, any open bag would have dozens of candidates trying to pick it up. By the way, speaking of business, the PGA Tour somehow found more than $100 million for its Player Impact Program, bonuses and bigger purses, yet they can’t find $1 million or so in travel per diems to be spread out among caddies? Spare me your “it’s not economical from a business standpoint” cries.

The other questions I get are about the financials and competition. My player and I have an agreement, and it’s not the standard 8 to 10 percent of winnings in professional golf. I got nothing of his signing bonus to join LIV, either, but I’m still taking home life-changing money and will get a cut of all the team and season-ending bonuses. If things continue to go the way they’ve been going, I’m going to make more in this shortened LIV season than I have in the past three years combined on the PGA Tour.

The competition right now is not great. The atmosphere is dead. Even during final rounds there are crowds, but they don’t know what they’re watching. I’m not trying to justify it, but I will say two things: One, this year is a trial year. I think it will improve in 2023. Better players will be here, and they will have a better understanding of how the team aspect works. Two, unless you’re a top-20 player or a fan favorite, most PGA Tour events aren’t that rowdy, either, at least on Thursday and Fridays. Let’s not act like it’s that much different from what we’ve seen on tour. However, as much as we’ve enjoyed it, even my player admitted to me during one event, “This is strange, isn’t it?” He’s a guy who doesn’t need an atmosphere to play well (and some guys need an atmosphere to play well, and I think you know who they are), but he does enjoy it. For his sake, I hope that atmosphere comes.

I’m aware of the human-rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and the country’s regime, which is funding LIV Golf. The media asks more questions about that than about the golf. I asked myself the same questions when my player signed up and asked me to join, and I came to this conclusion: I’m a globetrotter, and I’ve seen the best and the worst of people across the world. If I didn’t work an event because of what country it was in or what club it was played at or who was sponsoring it, well, I wouldn’t have a schedule.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt a backlash—just not how I expected. My sister let me know she’s disappointed in me for joining LIV. Back home I belong to men’s clubs at two courses, one public and one private. I thought the public guys would be more understanding. Turns out the private guys get it: All money is dirty, and you do what you can to get it. The more this battle has dragged on, though, the more the public-course guys see me as a sellout. I’ve been taken off a text thread with some of the fellas, and at a cookout two weeks back I felt like I was frozen out of some conversations. My player said there would be sacrifices.

I respect the opinions of those who want to stay away from LIV because of its complicated and controversial ties. That said, out of my dozen or so closest caddie friends on tour, half of them are doing everything they can to find a way to LIV. To a lot of us, it’s an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up. —With Joel Beall