Why a tour caddie is always one round away from being fired
Grabbing a bag on a professional tour means you’re perpetually on the hot seat. I’ve been carrying for nearly two decades, so I’ve been charred good and proper by now. That doesn’t make getting consumed by the flames any easier.
I’ve been lucky to partner with 18 players on the PGA and developmental tours, four of which were longtime appointments. I’ve also been fired 17 times—and among my friends, that’s on the low end of the spectrum. Find me another profession, outside of working for the Cleveland Browns, with that type of turnover.
The majority of the time, the breakups are amicable and done in person. I consider myself friends with almost all the players I’ve worked for, and though there were some strong emotions from both sides when it came time to disband, I get it. This is a business, and they’re making a business decision. Plus, you don’t want to burn any bridges. I’ve had two guys toss me aside after a month’s work, only for them to circle back within the year, one of which ended up sticking for five seasons.
There have been callous splits. In the early 2000s, I was trying to get my guy to hit an 8-iron on an approach at the 71st hole. He was adamant that 9 was the play. I strongly, but respectfully, said he needed to club up. He went with the 9; his ball came up short of the green, and he couldn’t get up and down. That bogey dropped us out of the top 10. He fired me after signing his card, claiming he needed someone “who has faith in me.” Hey, I had faith—faith that his 9 was the wrong club.
Another player gave me the boot because he didn’t like me socializing with other players. He did that via text after we’d almost won the week before. He’s a noted caddie killer, so you tell yourself not to take it to heart. But man, it took all the reserve I had not to fire back with profanities.
Why does it happen so often? The simple answer is, we’re collateral damage when a player’s game is going bad. We’re easier to swap out than dealing with a swing modification. This is especially true when a player is younger and his agents or parents have control—too much, many times—in his decisions. Clearly I’m the reason Little Bobby is missing cuts, not the fact he’s got the temper of a 12-year-old.
In other instances, players just need to switch the scenery. We spend six, seven days a week with our players, often for seven hours a day. That’s not counting dinners, off-course functions or just hanging out. Again, I’ve been on good terms with most of my players, but sometimes you just get sick of each other, particularly when you’re not playing well.
When you do get fired, you immediately send out the word you’re available, through caddies, players, tournament officials. This is not the time for pride. The worst, and we’ve all done it, is going to a tournament without a bag, just hoping your services are needed. That’s a darkness you don’t know unless you’ve experienced it. You’ll take anything—anything—tossed your way. A player might have a reputation for cycling through caddies, but each week working is a chance to hit the lottery. You’re not throwing away that ticket.
And each new bag is a temporary gig. At least, you have to view it that way. You pray that you’ll find success, even the smallest slivers of it, while navigating every missed putt or poor shot with trepidation.
Of course, there are the rare times when caddies decide to call things off. We’re still humans, after all, and can take only so much abuse.
My favorite story involves a buddy who has since moved on from caddieing. He was with a hotshot out of college on the then-Web.com Tour, and the kid blamed every shortcoming on his caddie. In their third tournament together, my buddy had enough, told his player where he could shove his putter and walked off the course. He was feeling mighty proud. Finally, a win for the caddies.
That is, until he realized his car keys were still in the bag. Talk about the ultimate walk of shame.
—WITH JOEL BEALL