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Undercover Caddie: Mixing romance and work on tour can be a complicated affair

November 15, 2022
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Do caddies on the LPGA Tour hook up with players? I get this question a lot, and if it’s not a close friend, I’ll usually ignore it because if I say “yes,’’ salacious questions always follow. The truth is that it happens, and there’s nothing salacious about it.

It’s a tight group out here—without the flunkies and minions that you see on the PGA Tour. Coaches rarely make an appearance. Just a few national writers cover the sport. It’s more communal than on the PGA Tour or DP World Tour. I know because I have worked both. Here’s the deal: A large contingent of LPGA Tour players are younger than 30. The same goes for caddies. I don’t care what your profession is, if you get a bunch of 20-somethings working together and hanging out, relationships and flings are going to happen.

We love what we do, but when you have bad weeks or things aren’t going well, it can weigh on your mental health. Even with the camaraderie, the road can be lonely, and professional golf can be isolating. You’re going to need companionship. That’s tough to find when you’re in a new town every seven days and certainly hard to establish when you’re home three weeks every two months. Sometimes the easiest answer to this problem is the one right in front of you. So, yeah, players and caddies see each other, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, both casually and seriously.

I’ve rarely heard of caddies dating players younger than 21, but if someone crossed the line, we—and I mean the entire community—would take care of it. (We just believe that if you can’t have a drink in public together, you shouldn’t be doing anything in private together.) Two caddie friends of mine who I have mentored asked me about dating a player, and my only guidelines are (1) let her approach you, (2) make sure you’re about the same age, and it’s better if she’s older than you and (3) be careful if it’s your own player.

It’s not uncommon for players to have a spouse or significant other caddie for them. That’s common knowledge. However, starting a relationship while you’re working together can present issues. For one, you’re adding a physical and emotional layer to the player-caddie dynamic. If there’s a problem with the off-the-course relationship, it can bleed into on-the-course performance. Sometimes it changes the working relationship: Maybe as a caddie or player you’re holding back, afraid to hurt someone’s feelings because this extra element is in play. Also, we spend a ton of time together on the golf course. Now you’re adding time off the course. Even best friends need a break from each other now and then. That’s why I tell caddies it’s better to date someone you’re not working with. This represents the majority of relationships anyway. It’s just less complicated.

One thing that doesn’t come into play is the power imbalance that can exist in workplace relationships. Yes, on the hierarchy players are well above caddies. However, LPGA Tour caddies are already hired and fired at an exponential rate compared to other tours. There’s also not that much money involved. The caddies with the top 30 players make decent money; you have to be in the top 10 to make good money. As I mentioned, most of this is happening among 20-somethings. You’re not as jaded or Machiavellian at that age; you’re just looking for someone to share some intimacy. This might sound naive, but I’m speaking from experience: That boss-employee cloud isn’t there.

Yes, I have had romantic relationships with players. One was long-term and public, another was on-again, off-again and something we tried to keep secret, and yet another was somewhere between. As for the long-term one, we talked about me working for her. The player was dealing with trust issues with her caddie at the time, and she trusted me. Why not give it a shot? we thought. The player ultimately decided we shouldn’t work together. What would happen if we broke up (and we eventually did)? That would make the player-caddie relationship awkward. To the player’s credit, I had a really good bag, and—to where the player was at the time—I would be taking a pay cut. I am grateful the player thought it through. I was head-over-heels in love and was ready to take the chance.

There are obstacles. You definitely don’t want the reputation that you’re sleeping around with everyone because that can make it hard to find a bag. You also have to be respectful of other caddies, for they might think you could eventually replace them. Also, it’s not any secret that the parents have more involvement with the players than they do on the men’s tours. The fathers are never pleased when they find out. Then again, I don’t think most fathers are pleased when their daughters begin dating someone. You want to be respectful of them, but they can be so controlling—sometimes unreasonably so—you have to put their wishes to the side.

Why don’t I talk about the subject when most people ask? These women are already sexualized to a degree their male counterparts aren’t. I don’t want to contribute to that. Also, speaking of the men’s tours . . . it happens there, too, at least in the minors. I know because one of my old roommates was briefly in a relationship with a player. Love is love, after all. —With Joel Beall