From sleeping in motorway bushes to a rousing rendition of happy birthday from a packed major championship crowd, a caddie’s life is never dull.
After Open champion Collin Morikawa hoisted the Claret Jug, he touchingly asked the swarms of sunbaked fans to help celebrate his caddie’s – JJ Jakovac – 39th birthday, the Kent golfing faithful duly responding with a merry song.
Caddies are never far from the spotlight and have a unique perspective into the world of professional, high-level sport.
Whether it’s 10-year-old Eddie Lowery at the 1913 US Open – who helped amateur Francis Ouimet to a famous victory against giants of the game Harry Vardon and Ted Ray and then went on to become a multi-millionaire – or Fanny Sunesson as the first female caddie to win a men’s major while on Nick Faldo’s bag at the 1990 Masters, it’s a job like no other.
“My little caddie, Eddie Lowery … not much bigger than a peanut, was a veritable inspiration all around; and a brighter or headier chap it would be hard to find,” Ouimet wrote for The American Golfer.
“(Eddie’s) influence on my game, I cannot overestimate.”
There’s a treasure trove of caddie stories out there, like the hapless fellow who is responsible for the name of the 10th hole – called South America – at the Women’s British Open host course, Carnoustie.
Legend has it he drunkenly boasted he was emigrating to the distant continent the following day, only to be found in the morning asleep on the green.
And so the hole acquired its unique name.
Veteran caddie Billy Foster – the Englishman who has worked with Gordon Brand Jr., Seve Ballesteros, Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods at the 2005 Presidents Cup and currently Matt Fitzpatrick, has seen it all in nearly 40 years of caddying.
He recalled what the profession was like in the 1980s – sleeping in tents, buses and even a bush on a French motorway one night, living without a mobile phone or credit card, no yardage books and even standing in the middle of a driving range catching other players’ balls trying not to get hit.
“The goalposts have slightly changed,” he told CNN Sport.
“There were no yardages back then, so you had to get there on the Monday and draw your own yardage book with the trundle wheel. That took seven to eight hours alone.”
Sunesson, like Foster, told CNN in 2018 that she took up caddying as a means to travel and see places.
“There was no thought then of making any money in the game whatsoever,” added Foster, who said nowadays ex-pros consider the career choice.
Even three-time grand slam tennis champion Andy Murray is keen on the idea of caddying – although as a perfectionist, there might be one aspect to the job that could keep him up at night.
Fifteen clubs nightmare
Caddying for Clarke as he finished tied for third at the 2001 Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes, Foster remembers final-round joint leader Ian Woosnam being penalized two shots for having two drivers in his bag, the “saddest” moment he can recall in all his time in the job.
To this day, Foster even wakes up several times a year in a cold sweat panicking about 15 clubs, one more than the legal amount introduced in the 1930s.
“You try and get the club out, then another three appear, then there’s 18 clubs in the bag, you get rid of them and another five appear! It’s the caddie’s worst nightmare.”
Former Masters champion Woosnam’s caddie Miles Byrne delivered the news to his boss as he sat top of the leaderboard.
“I felt for Miles straight away. It’s the cardinal error, and it’s happened quite a few times. It might have been at the French Open or Spanish Open, but to be in the last group, leading the Open Championship … it’s a horrible, horrible thought.”
Foster recounted how fate worked against Woosnam and Byrne that Sunday, from the Welshman bringing a spare driver to the range beforehand to fine tune his game to rumors about being rushed to the tee – the par-three first.
“Woosie played that whole week with just one driver in the bag, one head cover. You’d think it might have been a bit of a giveaway there were two head covers.
“But Woosie was flushing it on the range, and his coach Pete Cowen said to Woosie to hit a few six irons before he teed off because unusually Lytham starts with a par three.”
As they went to the first hole, the last words apparently uttered from Cowen to Byrne were “Don’t forget to put the spare driver in the locker” before it all unraveled.
“What’s the first thing you do on the first tee? You take the head cover off,” said Foster.
“But the first at Lytham is a par three. So Miles has got the pin sheet, gives Woosie the yardage, he hits a six iron again, stone dead, birdie.
“He’s now leading the Open, at 43 years old, his last chance really, and I know Miles took two steps off the first tee and saw the two drivers. And wanted to be sick. He got about 10 yards short of the first green and said ‘Woosie, you’re going to go ballistic.’”
Images of Woosnam angrily discarding the club in the bushes followed, while Foster says he’d have hopped the fence onto the nearby railway line.
“I’d have been lying on there waiting for the three o’clock from Lytham to come past and take my head off.
“It must have been the most horrendous feeling, you’d never get over it, and to this day I bet Miles never has and nor has Woosie.”
‘I was thinking that but I didn’t say it’
It’s not always a bumpy path. Long-term partnerships like Jim “Bones” Mackay and Phil Mickelson thrived for 25 years, winning five majors between 2004 and 2013.
Or the unlikely pair of Andy Sutton and Ben Curtis at the 2003 Open – the duo met a week before American Curtis became the first man since Ouimet to win a major in his first try.
Three-time major winner and 2021 European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington and Ronan Flood are another partnership that have stood the test of time, while American Chad Lamsback was credited for local knowledge, his Japanese language skills and a cool head by 2021 Augusta National Women’s Amateur winner Tsubasa Kajitani.
“Today’s caddie’s name is Chad, and Chad has caddied for a few Japanese before,” said the 17-year-old. “That’s why we just trust him.”
A number of players have employed family members or friends as caddies since the coronavirus pandemic, and even before that, Rory McIlroy brought his friend Harry Diamond onto his bag. Dustin Johnson’s brother Austin has caddied for both of the 37-year-old’s major titles.
Mickelson’s brother Tim was alongside the American as the 51-year-old became the oldest major champion in May, and Brooke Henderson’s sister Brittany has walked the fairways with the Canadian major winner.
One year ago, Sophia Popov’s professional golfer boyfriend Max Mehles carried the German’s bag for her memorable AIG Women’s Open triumph at Troon, a favor which Popov returned in March as Mehles played in the PGA Tour Canada Qualifying Tournament.
Former European Tour Caddies Association chairman and The Tour Caddies owner Sean Russell, who has caddied for multiple winner Kenneth Ferrie and Diana Luna on the Ladies’ European Tour as well as in the 2009 Solheim Cup, said Covid rules had been a clear factor in the changing of the guard.
“If you’re going to spend a lot of time with someone, you’re better off being with a friend,” he told CNN Sport.
“I think Covid has accelerated what was a trend before this: to have a friend, husband, wife on the bag. Rory gets a lot of criticism in the ‘Twittersphere’ but you won’t hear a single caddie say Harry is a bad caddie – he’s really good. Lee Westwood and Helen as well, I defy anybody to say that they don’t look a good combination.
“I always say you can teach somebody to be a caddie but you can’t teach them to be your mate.”
Russell has four key principles he always stuck to as a caddie: do the basics well, be adaptable, be able to get on with anyone and have the ability to get over things.
“I think caddies have got fairly thick skin, some more than others,” he said.
“When I used to caddie, the first question I’d ask the player would be, ‘What do you hate about caddies or what do you hate caddies doing?’
“The answer always varied from things like caddies saying, ‘I was thinking that but I didn’t say it,’ or another player said he didn’t want caddies being too defensive. For example: ‘If it’s six feet from the right of the green, we’re going at the pin. Don’t get me to play left of it.’”
Foster has one main bit of advice: choose your golfing spouse carefully.
“It’s 30 weeks a year, that’s more of a relationship than a marriage, so you need to be able to get on.
“The art of caddying is to be positive and commit to your answers. When the player asks a question, be ready for it. I pretty much know the answer before they ask the question.”