Some players were sharing beers the other week—it was a Tuesday night, and all of us either had late tee times in the Wednesday pro-am or weren't playing—when an interesting question came up: What would the World Ranking look like if we had to carry our bags? No caddies. Like going back to college golf.
Staff bags, obviously, would go away. It'd be ridiculous for anyone to compete while lugging one of those 40-pound leather behemoths. Companies would have to be content with getting their logos stitched on normal stand bags. A lot of players, especially those with nagging injuries, would opt for the extra-lightweight Sunday bag, even if the smaller real estate meant forfeiting sponsorship dollars. All but the fittest guys would be worried about getting worn out.
But a slightly ratcheted physical challenge is the least-intriguing aspect. What the premise really gets at is, who relies on his guy the most? Take away the support blanket, make us each go out there alone—like 98 percent of everyday golfers do—and who would crumble?
At the top of the rankings, Dustin Johnson wouldn't budge. Sure, he enjoys having his brother, AJ, on the bag for companionship, but AJ has never saved DJ a shot. Rory McIlroy would be fine alone. Steve Williams would tell you different, but Adam Scott would be the same player.
I'm not sure Jason Day would hold up. It's not like he listens to Col (Colin Swatton) that much for shot selection, but their relationship is deep, like father and son, that Col's absence might really affect him. I could see Jordan Spieth dropping. His guy, Michael Greller, has more input per shot than just about any caddie out here. Get paired with them, and it's a lot to listen to—though Greller knows how to say the right thing at just the right time to keep Jordan in a good frame of mind. Before their split, Phil Mickelson and Bones (Jim Mackay) talked through shots maybe too thoroughly, but I give Phil credit for being quick over the ball. When the conversation is done, he steps in and hits. As much as their relationship garnered attention, Phil didn’t need Bones. Phil will go on being Phil.
Pat Perez might not keep his card. Pat's a friend, and I love that he's been playing awesome, but I think he'd be quick to admit that he couldn't function without H (Michael Hartford). Those two have known each other for nearly three decades, and they have zero back and forth. If H says it's a three-quarter 6-iron, Pat hits the shot right away.
Never considers hitting a full 7.
Several really talented young players simply need a lot of reinforcement. If they're not told what they're doing is right, they can't pull the trigger. Keegan Bradley and Brendan Steele are two guys who would need to seriously readjust. Kevin Na relies on Kenny Harms a lot. Paul Casey needs Johnny Long Socks (John McLaren), and he knows it.
Without caddies, the more autonomous players would rise, but the overall caliber of golf would slip. Modern scoring is owed partly to the fact caddieing is a much more serious business than 15 years ago. It has become a six-figure job that attracts people who would otherwise be making that much in other fields. Good caddies are blending statistics, psychology, nutrition and managerial skills to give their man any edge in a ridiculously competitive arena.
I'm not sure I'd stay in the top 100. My caddie has been on the PGA Tour longer than I have, and I lean on him a ton. He saves me on reads, but more important, I can get irritated by the road's little problems. My 3-wood needs work at the equipment trailer or the keys to the car are lost—my guy handles stuff like this so I can focus on golf.
Then again, there are players who'd be better off solo. Their caddies try too hard. —With Max Adler