Loyalty among PGA Tour players and caddies has its limits

by | Oct 3, 2021 | PGA

As for job security, the PGA Tour caddies enjoy about as much of it as the inner circle of Kim Jong Un, and often alongside an equally moody man of absolute authority. Only in the way they are released do caddies have an advantage over those in Pyongyang.

The attributes Tour players look for in a wingman are as personal as fingerprints. Some just require punctuality and an accurate distance. Others need more – help reading putts or pulling sticks or talking from a ledge. There are gamblers who want a boyfriend, or a deputy psychologist, or just someone to blame. Good caddies know what the boss wants and shape accordingly. And if they’re successful, they’ll have a solid reputation for getting another bag if he fires it.

“Neither of us would ever want a 9-to-5 job. We’re not built like that, ”an experienced tour looper told me. “I think caddies are a pretty optimistic bunch. Our glass is always half full. Of course, that depends on the player. We see them from their best and worst. “

The ever-changing nature of player-caddy relationships came to the fore this week when two high-profile professionals split from their longtime pals: Justin Thomas with Jimmy Johnson and Bubba Watson with Ted Scott. Every divorce has its own particular motivational factors, from straightforward (scratchy personality differences) to complex (disputes over some of the many bonuses that are now being distributed to players). But regardless of whether a breakup is brewing or suddenly – like when Tim Tucker Bryson DeChambeau left at the altar on the eve of the Rocket Mortgage Classic – it usually speaks for the prevailing circumstances of the player in question.

Thomas pointed out that he hasn’t fired Johnson, who has been at his side since his rookie year 2015. But good caddies are wild and have an innate sense of when it’s time to move on. Despite winning the Players Championship, Thomas had a disappointing year. That is usually the case when a player thinks of a riot that puts three constituencies at risk: swing coach, caddy, and management.

Changing the latter is messy, while ditching instructors entails a fresh start elsewhere. So you can see why so many caddies are walking the plank. Thomas’ dad Mike is his swing coach and isn’t going anywhere. He’s got good management too. He also had a good caddy and still does. Thomas lured Jim “Bones” Mackay out of television, to whom he switched in 2017 after 25 years with Phil Mickelson. It’s not a surprising reputation: Mackay is highly regarded and one of the rare caddies who can be said to make players better.

Breaking up Watson and Scott may not be that easy to deal with with a new employee. Scott has been on Watson’s pocket for 15 years, 12 PGA Tour wins and two Masters. But Watson was often criticized for irritable outbursts directed against his caddy, who defended his boss every time. This farewell, which surprised most observers, says something about Watson, but in a positive way.

For most of his time as a tour star, Watson seemed uncomfortable in public, about the ball, and in his own skin. Scott was just as much a crutch as Caddy, someone who could help a quirky man cope with his idiosyncrasies.

Watson admitted this on a social media post announcing the news, writing, “Teddy deserves more credit for our success on the golf course than anyone can imagine, but I’m for his friendship and the way he how he helped me grow, just as grateful as a person. “

The Bubba we saw in 2021 appears changed. He showed up in Ohio to cheer on the US team at the Solheim Cup. He was the first player to endorse Matt Wolff when the young star revealed his battle for mental health and spoke openly about his own problems. He feels more comfortable with his idiosyncrasies, is more aware of his inadequacies, is aware of the power to do good that comes with being well known.

In short, Watson is better equipped to live without Scott than was recently thought possible. It’s still not an easy gamer to play with a caddy, but it’s a lot easier than it used to be.

With all of the Hallmark feelings peddled about friendships and “family” on Tour, the gamer-caddy dynamic is no less precarious than any other employment contract, a reality Johnson and Scott have long understood. In a sport where form is fleeting, any relationship is temporary. Loyalty has its limits on both sides.

A few years ago I was chatting with the caddy at TPC Sawgrass for a popular major champion. His player was still relevant, money was coming in, and they were solid friends. Life was good for this Sherpa who had been in the professional circle for more than 20 years. Even so, he happily shared news of an investment that, if carried out, would bring him a handsome profit.

“What happens when the ship arrives?” I asked him.

The caddy nodded in the direction of his employer. “Then he can carry his own bag,” he said with a laugh.