Marriages made and broken inside the ropes: Ogilvy
EXCLUSIVE BY GOLF AUSTRALIA COLUMNIST GEOFF OGILVY
I have to be honest. There have been times during my career when my behaviour towards my caddie has been less than ideal. I’ve never been directly rude, but I’ve certainly let myself down occasionally. All close relationships have moments like that, of course. And the one between player and caddie is no different in that respect.
Almost every player has a different idea of why the caddie is there in the first place. Some guys think the guy on the bag just has to carry the clubs and keep them clean. Other players think the caddie is a psychologist, swing coach, club selector and yardage calculator in one. Then there are the majority of players, who sit in the middle of those two extremes.
For myself, I want a guy I’m at ease with walking down the 1st fairway every week. It helps if he knows the game too. And understands it. So that he can contribute when I’m struggling to make a decision on the course. Is this a driver or a lay-up hole? Should I hit a 5-iron or a 6-iron? Every now and then I’m going to ask questions like that and I want my caddie to come up with the answers.
The hardest part of the job is keeping the player happy. That means talking only at the right times, not talking at the right times – and saying the right things when you do say something. Yardages and club selections are relatively formulaic and not a problem. The player is the difficult thing to work out.
There are a lot of seemingly nice guys on Tour who are really tough on their caddies. And there are some you might not expect to be super-nice to caddies, but are. All players react differently to what happens on the course and all have a slightly different view of the role of the caddie.
For most Tour players, the number one priority on the course is ‘confidence preservation.’ So the caddie often gets the blame for bad shots. Invariably, that’s not because the player actually thought the caddie was to blame. Deep down, the player just needs someone else to blame. Which is logical. If he does blame himself, his confidence is going to dip. And that must be avoided at all costs.
On the other hand, it takes a really brave caddie to step up and recommend an alternative club or shot. The player/caddie deal is usually based on a handshake. There is no contract. So continued employment is tenuous – a caddie never really knows when he is going to be fired, which is why a lot of caddies spend a lot of time making sure they keep their jobs. There’s a lot of agreeing going on out there.
That’s mostly the right idea – and understandable – but every now and then a player needs to hear the unvarnished truth. They need to hear when they are talking out of their arses or not thinking straight.
My former caddie, “Squirrel” (Alistair Matheson), certainly had cause to speak to me like that on occasion. I have no idea how many times he turned to me on maybe the 5th fairway and asked me why I was in such a bad mood.
I’ve never tried to be nasty or mean to my caddie and, when I have, I’ve felt guilty for days. But I have many times been in a bad mood, which in turn is not a lot of fun for the people around me. My bad moods usually mean I go silent for six or seven holes, which makes things uncomfortable for all concerned. Being like that now and then is okay of course as we all have our ups and downs in life.
But when it becomes a pattern, the caddie is entitled to speak up. I could name a few tour players who cross that line, to the point where any bad shot or score is always the caddie’s fault. It’s incredible how guys talk to their caddies sometimes.
Most of that isn’t too obvious from outside the ropes. But inside it’s different. You hear all the little comments, which can be amusing, if it’s just a guy having a bad day. But when it’s a serial offender, a player who routinely makes his caddie feel pretty worthless, it gets awkward and uncomfortable.
Sometimes, things get so bad the caddie drops the bag and walks off. When you think about how much caddies are paid these days that only goes to show how bad the level of abuse must be. So when that happens it is safe to assume the bile emanating from the player must be pretty personal and nasty.
There are plenty of “angry” golfers on Tour. Good players too. They are forever kicking the bottom of the bag. Or slamming clubs into the turf. Or cursing themselves out. Ironically, they tend to be some of the nicer guys out there on Tour. They blame themselves, not the caddie.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about “caddie bashing” is the fact that the guy is 100 percent invested in his man playing well. He wants you to play well. The better you play, the more he gets paid. So it makes no sense for the players to not remember that. My caddie always wants me to play as well as I can. He wants me to make as much money as I can, because both impact directly on his income. So it pays to keep in mind that the caddie is doing is best. He wants his player to shoot the lowest score he can. Yet, so often, players lose sight of that.
It even gets to the completely illogical stage where players act like they think the caddie is trying to make them play bad. I’ve heard guys say, “You wanted me to hit that ball in the trees.” Or, “You wanted me to miss that green,” which is hilarious. But it happens all the time.
So you see tiffs all the time, even between players and caddies who are in long-term relationships. They can be really funny because the caddie is more comfortable giving it back to the player.
There’s a Scottish guy on the European Tour – ‘Edinburgh Jimmy’, who works for Paul McGinley – who will always let you know where you stand and how you are behaving.
The traditional, old school caddies like Jimmy are much more likely to say what they really think. “Squirrel” is like that too. He was always quick to tell me when he thought my latest swing thought was “rubbish.” But the modern caddie isn’t always like that. He is more likely to say the stuff that is most likely to keep him in his job.
Sometimes, I want a mix of those two. Sometimes I want and need complete honesty. But sometimes, I just need to hear the right thing. The worst thing a caddie can ever say is something that will put the player under unnecessary pressure. These guys have a great job. They get lots of weeks off. But the hours they do work are very intense. It’s an emotional environment. And an incredible relationship.