It’s always intrigued me to observe the relationship between player and caddy. Undoubtedly, as with any successful partnership, there is a decent sprinkling of magic in there but just what is it exactly that makes it all work?
As a player I was always firmly in the professional caddy camp, believing that a good caddy was as necessary to a player as breathing if you wanted to achieve your potential. There was no way, surely, that a family member or buddy could possibly step up and deal with the hugely pressurised arena of competitive golf, an arena that nowadays has oodles of prize money on the line.
Well, take a look around you and let’s start with last weekend’s winners. Lee Westwood rediscovered that winning feeling in Sun City at the Nedbank Challenge, his first victory since finishing top of the pile in Asia in 2015. He had girlfriend and partner Helen Storey on the bag. The last time she caddied for him, at the Made in Denmark tournament earlier in the year, he lost in a play-off. That’s a pretty good strike rate – hope she’s on a decent percentage!Now, shift your eyes westwards to Mexico and the Mayakoba Golf Classic where Matt Kuchar broke his own lengthy winless streak. Local caddy David “El Tucan” Ortiz was shouldering the clubs. “I forgot how good winning felt,” was Kuchar’s response to that most irritating, “How do you feel?” sporting question asked of any victor moments after clinching top spot.
Perhaps the common denominator between these two men is they are both in their forties, both are prolific winners (although majorless) and both have accrued decades of nous and experience, knowing how to win, no matter who is on the bag.
However, when I consider one of my favourite players, Padraig Harrington, the matter becomes a little more complex and perplexing. (Isn’t that always the way with Padraig?) He partnered up with brother-in-law Ronan Flood amidst a storm of criticism and in fairly short order reeled off three major victories in twelve months. Ronan subsequently became one of the very best caddies out on tour but he wasn’t at that level when the really big prizes started rolling in for his boss.
And what about Georgia Hall, the young Englishwoman who is now ranked 7th in the world? Her Dad takes over caddying duties from her boyfriend at two tournaments – the Solheim Cup, arguably the biggest stage of them all – and at the Women’s British Open which she won in emphatic style this summer at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s. Her explanation for having her father on the bag is that he knows her inside out, knows her game so well and she feels entirely comfortable with him alongside her.And what of Tommy Fleetwood with best mate Ian Finnis on the bag? That certainly works.
Then, on the other side of the coin you have a player of the calibre of Adam Scott, who persuaded Tiger’s former bagman, Steve Williams, to come out of retirement to work for him at the majors. Scott wanted to win a major and felt having one of the world’s best with him was important. They subsequently won the Masters together, vindicating the Australian’s decision. After Williams totally and finally retired Scott sought out the expertise of Fanny Sunesson, erstwhile caddy of six-time major champion Nick Faldo. I walked a hole or two with Fanny as she made her final on-course preparations prior to a St Andrews Open one year. To say it was an eye-opener is an understatement. The level of detail in her work and her knowledge of the course was extraordinary and, although now no longer caddying, she is still working with current players, dispensing her knowledge and experience. Henrik Stenson considers her an invaluable member of his team, still believing he can learn from her.
Another who feels her learning curve is trending upwards thanks to her caddy is Carlota Ciganda, the passionate Spaniard who plays on the LPGA Tour. Her bagman is Terry McNamara, former looper to Annika Sorenstam and Ciganda unashamedly states she is learning so, so much from him.Then there is Justin Rose, currently bouncing around between 1st and 2nd in the world rankings. He is another with a superb career caddy on the bag. He and Mark Fulcher, are a well-known, tried-and-tested partnership, celebrating their tenth anniversary this year. That’s some achievement – they are in all likelihood spending more time together than they do with their wives/partners and families. And while I’m at it….why, oh why was Fooch, the winning caddy, not given a gold medal at the Rio Olympics? But I digress. Fooch used to caddy for former US Women’s Open champion Alison Nicholas and has diligently worked his way to the very top of his profession over many, many years. There is now none better.
It seems pretty obvious that one size does not fit all, as is proven by the dizzying array of partnerships on view in the winner’s circle of the world’s tours. One of the most important factors seems to be how comfortable the player is with the caddy and the extent to which the caddy knows and can read his or her player. Words are not always necessary between them and it seems to me that the importance of a caddy to each individual player depends on that player’s own point of view and requirement. Those who prefer to do things themselves will surely be more likely to turn to friends and family – perhaps they have an arrogance and self-belief that they do not need anyone’s help. This is not a criticism – these are qualities present in almost all winners and, as we have witnessed, sometimes these friends and family do become top class. On the other hand, some players believe they want the best there is on their team and will search out top men and women accordingly. To each their own, it would appear.
It’ll be interesting to see which path Rory takes as his buddy Harry Diamond, who has been on his bag for a year or so, is getting ready for married life. Will Rory go down the buddy route again or search out a top-class caddy to help him stride towards those majors he so craves? If Lee Westwood sticks with Helen Storey on the bag, perhaps Billy Foster, one of the world’s best, will become available.
Food for thought, Rory?