Introducing the worst player-caddie relationship of all timeMay 17, 2018 The Scoop
Tom Irwin has a dream to play in the Brabazon Trophy, so he entered qualifying at Fairhaven. One problem: He asked Mark Townsend to caddie for him
The front nine
Tom: I try to reassure Mark, who is clearly nervous. He is saying something about just making a normal swing, bleeding it off the bunker, try not to worry. I think he is also doing some nasal breathing. He is standing way too close to everyone.
I neck it into the bunker at about 240 and we are off. On the green Mark offers his towel to wipe the ball. We both silently acknowledge that this practice is pathetic, affected and unnecessary and continue with the messy business of failing to clear up from three feet.
The front nine goes surprisingly well. There has been nothing close to a shank, at least one shot of moderate competence and no outright howlers save for a straightforward 50-yard pitch that I hit at least 70. I overrule Mark correctly on a clubbing decision to make birdie at the 2nd, and go with Mark’s incorrect opinion and make bogey on the 4th.
I am trying to stay hydrated but every time I try and get some water out of the bag, Mark’s peppered ham and egg sandwich falls out. By the 8th I have had to ask him to eat it. He forgot the flapjack.
We are right in it at one over.
Mark: Tom keeps eating. He goes through the entire starter chat still forking his way through some sort of pasta dish and residues of food are missing his mouth.
I put this down to nerves so try to console him that nobody, even me, could care less how he plays. This seems to both relax and crush him in equal measure.
In among all of Tom’s detritus on the practice ground the most horrifying sight was that of a new putter. We have played a lot of golf together over the past decade and I’ve only known him to use two putters, both of which with some aplomb.
Now he has got some strange shaped thing which he is too timid with. He misses a short one at the 1st and, two holes later, just reaches the hole from three feet.
I try to get an insight into his green work by asking what he does before striking a putt. In my simple world I pick a spot 80 per cent of the way to the hole and see the ball going over that speck at a decent pace. It’s quite a spiritual process. Tom starts chuntering on about low side, grip pressures, not having a line on the ball any more and something to do with a retinal glow.
I drop little hints about trying to roll the ball a bit more and things improve.
We both know that we are talking about different chunks of the green when discussing landing spots for any chip, and there are a lot of chips, but he makes a brilliant par at the 9th and turns in 1 over. I don’t say anything but I’m quite proud of him.
The back nine
Tom: There is a small delay on the 10th tee as Mark fails to be able to zap the yardage with either rangefinder. Our partner eventually confirms that it is, as I had feared, 220.
We drop shots on 10 and 11. Mark tries some more psychology by saying that we are due some assistance from the wind on the next few. A quick toss of some grass proves this to be nonsense.
I am very confused by Mark’s reading of greens. He seems to make a habit of saying ‘yeah a bit off the right’ and then pointing to a spot a bit off the left. I decide not to mention it.
Before too long I become convinced that Mark either does not know left from right or is cross-eyed. On the 12th we agree the line is a cup right and Mark points at a spot a cup left. No matter I leave it three feet short from 15.
The 13th and 14th both present us with differing shots from light rough. We call one as a flyer and one as heavy. The opposite is true. We are now 4 over.
No matter, we are in the centre of a par-5 fairway. We can get it home in 2 under from here and get the job done. Mark talks me out of hitting driver off the deck but agrees that we can’t reach with 3-wood.
Still baffled, I smother it underneath a tree.
As we amble down the 16th Mark commences a premature post mortem. Why is he doing this when we have three holes to go? We conclude that my chipping has been a positive. I knife my next one from just off the green and we go to +5.
Another failed up and down at 17 courtesy of Mark’s jinx and we are 6 over. I hit my two best shots of the day onto the fringe of the par-5 18th and Mark hands me the putter. I don’t want to putt it but can’t get Mark’s attention as he is checking his phone. My first putt gets stuck in the fringe and we end the day 6 over.
Mark With five holes to go there’s still a chance. He’s missed the fairway at 14 and has a straightforward enough pitch from 122 yards. My memory of this hole, like the rest of the course, is crumbly but I seem to recall the green sloping quite severely from front to back.
The wind is ‘helping and off the right’ and he pulls the wedge out.
In my head I tell myself maybe a dozen times in the next two seconds to hit less club but say nothing. On top of that it flies out and finishes at the back. I knew this would happen and I’ve said nothing and I feel like I’ve let him down.
I try to make up for it on the green but the damage is done and he dribbles another short putt on the low side.
I will be more assertive from here on in. Despite having never seen him hit the chief off the deck, and the shot requiring a 265-yard draw, Tom says, ever so casually, ‘Driver?’ from the middle of the 15th fairway.
I hear myself talking him out of it, give a very precise landing spot short of the green and he hits it straight left.
I want to suggest hitting a provisional but have now lost even more confidence in myself.
His chipping has gone south a bit – he’s hit one green in the last nine holes – and it’s all getting a bit ragged.
After a birdie on the 2nd we agree that we’ll share a little knuckle rap to celebrate picking up a shot. I hope that we’ll close with second rap at 18 but, while trying to look up the scores on my phone, Tom has putted from off the green. And then lipped out from 20 feet.
We never did touch knuckles again.
Tom: I am genuinely buoyant. I had turned up extremely worried that I would embarrass myself but leave thinking that this is about as bad as I can play and it adds up to 78 and that has to be an alright thing. I drive back over the Pennines listening to Aerosmith delighted to have finished 75th.
Mark is an awful caddie, indecisive, inconsistent, unclear and mostly unhelpful. He is though exceptionally good company and it is loads better not having to carry your own bag. I wonder what he is doing for Open Qualifying.
Mark: I have caddied a few times and it never fails to surprise me as to how mentally tiring it is. On every shot I would have to present at least three yardages and pin positions – which are in a different pocket – while trying to gauge the wind, Tom’s frame of mind, where two other people are standing and a hole that I have very little memory of.
My work is done though, I point the car south to Liverpool, stick on some more Miami Vice and wonder how best to bring up that Tom should go back to his old putter.