Introducing the worst player-caddie relationship of all time
One of the amateur game’s Holy Grails is the Brabazon Trophy which, put simply, is the strokeplay championship in England. Former winners include Sandy Lyle, who won it twice, Charl Schwartzel and, more recently, Jordan Smith.
It’s been going since 1947 and nearly as old is one of its competitors this year, NCG’s Tom Irwin, who was hoping to make it through the Northern Qualifier at Fairhaven.
To give himself every/no chance of making it through he employed a caddie: fellow NCG scribe Mark Townsend.
A total of 132 brave hombres teed it up in Lancashire with the top 30 making it through.
This is how ‘they’ got on…
Tom: I am thinking of pulling out. I played 10 times in five days last week. The first six rounds went swimmingly, then something broke and now my fragile confidence is shattered. There is no prospect of any practice. I am in pieces.
I need to stretch, I need to hit some balls, but for the first time in months I have neither the time nor desire to do either.
Why, as a middle-aged parent of two with responsibilities as a business owner, am I driving halfway across the country to be the worst and oldest player in a field of tour pro wannabes at a course I have never played. Why am I like this? I have never had ‘it’ and never will. Why do I persist on pretending?
Mark is caddying. Why is Mark caddying? I am always worried about playing golf in front of Mark. I hope he brings a towel. Mine is on the 9th tee at Moray Old.
Mark: I’m not really cut out for caddying. I struggle to say what I really mean at the best of times and my voice is bordering on inaudible.
Tom seems to perk up in the fact that I have played Fairhaven twice. I don’t have the heart to tell him that the first time was played in a two-hour blur, after an instruction shoot there in 2013, while the second was with a raging hangover and was interrupted by an interview with Chris Wood in Malaysia so I had to miss a couple of holes around the turn.
Tom: I don’t really know how to deal with Mark in the office so I don’t speak to him. He texts me to ask what my dos and don’ts are. I don’t reply.
My body aches and I am exhausted. I am going to go to see my osteopath, put the kids to bed and then go and see my coach for crisis talks.
My osteopath confirms that my body is in tatters. My coach confirms the same about my swing. I go home drink a bottle of wine and watch The Bourne Supremacy. My tee time is 11.40am and it is a two-hour drive so, for some reason, I set my alarm for 6am.
I remind Mark about the towel.
Mark: I’m sensing Tom is a bit flat after his time away. He likes to make out he’s some sort of modern-day career amateur, a la Jay Sigel, and says strange things like ‘why am I still doing this at my age?’ when the simple truth is that he obsesses, and drops in whenever possible, about his scratch handicap and he has these days mapped out six months in advance.
These days are his badge of honour and, to his great credit, he always gives it a go. Psychologically damaged by these types of occasion as an 18-year-old I couldn’t think of anything worse.
I drive over late to Liverpool with three toddlers and spend the journey trying to block out Peppa Pig and Baby Alexander with my new Miami Vice soundtrack.
The pre round
Tom: My alarm goes off and I am much more positive. I decide that I will not over prepare, spending ages sorting out my bag or packing spare clothes. I am much better when I am bit of a shambles. It lowers expectation levels. So I do not shower. This means I am ready to leave at 6.15.
I stop at a garage and buy coffee and two flapjacks. One for me and one for Mark. The traffic is bad in Ilkley so I eat Mark’s.
Mark messages to ask if I want anything from the garage. I suggest a flapjack.
I read the competitor notes in trap two of the locker room and top of the page is a paragraph on registration, which it turns out closed at 4pm the day before. If you haven’t registered you are disqualified.
I am off the hook!
Apart from they are not enforcing that rule and my 11.40 appointment with 0.1 is still on.
It is still only 9.45 so I spend 45 minutes stretching on the locker room floor. This feels like the right thing to do. I have a spiky ball, a foam roller and a thera band. These props give me comfort and I can sense my peers’ approval as they step over me in downward dog on their way to the toilet.
I take up the far right position on the range. I do some impressive Speed Stick swishing and flick a few 9-irons and all of a sudden start to feel bit of confidence returning.
Then Mark arrives. He looks like he has been caught in a rain shower and had to borrow his teenage nephew’s clothes.
We do some chatting. How was your trip? How was your week away? How are the kids? Can you hold this alignment stick near my temple to help with my head position? That kind of thing.
Mark mumbles something about putting and then I realise it is 15 minutes to go time and we are still on the range. So I eat my lunch and hit about six putts.
Mark tries to do some amateur psychology and says that no-one cares about the result. So I head to the 1st wondering that if no-one cares, then what is the point?
Mark: I knew he’d be far right on the range. He worries too much about a) the possibility of a shank and b) what he looks like so this was a given.
I think he’s quite pleased with his appearance, he talks a bit too much about his new trousers and he compliments me on my new caddie look. I’m slightly concerned that I look like a cross between Maurice Flitcroft and a ticket tout from the Etihad.
While everyone else is warming up neatly with a set of headphones and polished clubs my man’s area looks like the end of a car boot sale with clubs, his lunch, and some ridiculous swing aids littering up the space. He’s brought a pencil bag which I appreciate but, given his bag is full of four empty water bottles, a dozen Pinnacles and the rest of his lunch, this is absurd.
He appears to be happy popping up a few 9-irons so I try to encourage him to visit the putting green. He shambles off and I use the time productively, emptying his bag of last week’s drinks and find a comfortable seat on the verandah to clean his clubs with a towel that I was asked to bring several times. I remind myself of my grandma peeling potatoes in front of the fire and watch Tom miss a collection of short putts.
The tee time has arrived. How did Mark and Tom get on? The tale continues on the next page…