Life on the Bag

Undercover Caddie: My player wouldn’t stop cheating, so I quit

March 12, 2024

A few times each year a story will emerge about a cheating scandal in pro golf. That is not a lot when you consider how many shots are televised and that fans have cameras on their phones waiting to catch the slightest bit of impropriety. When I was caddieing on tour more than 30 years ago, there weren’t many cameras, and no one had a phone in his or her pocket. Unless it was egregious, whatever happened usually went unpublished. I know because I saw cheating regularly, and it made me quit my job.

I spent close to a decade on the PGA and European tours during the 1980s and ’90s. In those days, it wasn’t that hard to pick up a loose bag. I was a good amateur and had a few college friends turn pro, so I bounced around with them. I tagged along with one guy to Europe, but he eventually flamed out after a few years. I jumped on an up-and-comer’s bag, and within a year we won our first event. Because he was good—and more importantly, because the money was so much better—we decided to head to the PGA Tour the next season.

I’m naive and certainly not the most observant, but I still know the game, and I thought I knew people. Yet one time, after a good finish in Europe, I was on a train to the next tournament eight hours away. As caddies do, we shared a cabin, and as we were loading up, someone noticed a bodega in the station. “You’re buying,” one of the caddies said to me, “since you guys took money from us.” During the ride, the caddie accused my player of cheating when he got around the green, saying he would bend over his ball in the rough like he was reading the break, only to use the heels of his shoes to pat down the grass and make for an easier chip.

I brushed it off; neither I nor my player was European, so I thought it could be a bit of xenophobia. My player could also be a bit theatrical after good shots and bad, which didn’t help, either. I wasn’t worried, especially because none of the other caddies had heard or seen anything like that, but that’s not something you forget. Though it took a while to prove, I ultimately discovered the caddie was telling the truth: My player was a cheater.

A few years later, we were playing in the old Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic in Virginia. We were short-sided and in a brutal lie—the exact situation the caddie from the train had described. If you gave us a bogey, I would have gladly said yes and moved to the next tee. Yet my player squatted over the ball, acting like he was examining a scuffed-up area on the green (this was back in the day when you couldn’t repair spike marks, kids) as he dug his heels behind the ball, improving his lie. When he rose from the position, suddenly I could see the number on his ball, which I couldn’t before. He nearly holed the shot and made par. This was on a Saturday; that shot kept us in contention, and we had a solid finish.

There was no doubt in my mind what I had witnessed, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a one-off. During the next two months, I noticed he had other tricks. Everyone knows the move where a player takes a practice backswing behind the ball to clear a path in the rough. My guy had an interesting spin on this stunt. He would stand behind his ball and perpendicular to it while he was swinging. It was a move that, while exponentially riskier because of possible contact with the ball, seemed more inconspicuous to his competitors. I also noticed he was liberal when marking his ball on the green, often moving the ball to the side of his marker to avoid any imperfections on the green that were in his line. It only made a slight difference, but at that level, a slight difference can be worth thousands of dollars.

I confronted him about it at a hit-and-giggle a few months later in his home country. I thought we had a good relationship and that he would take my word not as condemnation but as concern. I genuinely think he is a decent person, which is why I was shocked at what I saw. I could tell by how flustered he was that he knew he was caught. At one point he even said I didn’t know the Rules of Golf. I told him I didn’t tell anyone, but if I sensed he was cheating again, I would walk away mid-round. I felt like we both left that conversation with an understanding. Clearly, he didn’t; three months later, he was doing the heel-behind-the-ball crap again during a Florida event. I didn’t walk away mid-round, but I quit after the tournament. I couldn’t stand by and watch someone cheat. I know what you’re thinking: Why didn’t I speak up? It’s not a caddie’s place to call rules infractions, even on his own player.

However, I overvalued my worth. I thought I’d be able to get another full-time bag. Instead, I spent most of the season on part-time or fill-in duty, all with guys well below the caliber of the player I had left. Part of me wondered if my old player had put the word out on me or if his management spread false rumors about the split. Looking back, I think it was just bad luck, and maybe hubris on my part. The next year I got a regular bag, but he lasted only two seasons on tour before losing his card. I spent one more year hopping from bag to bag before I quit and got a normal 9-to-5 job running a golf-training program in the United States. I recently retired and now work at a club looping when they get low on caddies. Hey, it’s what I know, and I’m good at it.

That guy I left had a very good career. No major victories, and I’m guessing most fans under 40 don’t know his name, but he had a bunch of wins and is doing just fine in retirement. I have no idea if he kept cheating when I left; I never was paired with him in another round, and I never heard any rumblings that he was doing the things I witnessed.

Does the decision weigh on me? I didn’t leave life-changing money, but I missed out on quite a bit of it. I know I passed on that financial security for a clear conscience, and I’m sure I could have retired a lot earlier, which is tough to take. At least my integrity is intact.