We’ve all fancied we could be a caddie at some point in our golfing lives, haven’t we? Living the high life on the professional tours and raking in the cash.
I mean, how hard can it be? It’s just carrying a bag – and getting paid handsomely for it.
The reality, though, is long days, lots of preparation and a lot of hard work.
Nick Dyson caddied for his brother Simon, a six-time European Tour winner, for three years as the North Yorkshire shotmaker established himself as one of the game’s leading young lights.
Ten years after he originally hung up the bag, Simon called and asked if Nick would come back for a one-off week – at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Here Nick lifts the lid on what it’s like to be a caddie during the tour’s flagship tournament and what’s required if you’ve got any ambitions to be a good bagman.
How did it come about?
Simon got someone to caddie for him when he got injured in China and he is looking for someone permanent. He had someone do two weeks previously in Portugal and Sicily.
He just rang me up and said ‘do you fancy doing Wentworth for me?’ It was a bit of a shock, really, but I said ‘yes, of course’.
How did your Wentworth week start?
I drove down on Sunday. Simon flew back in on Sunday afternoon from Sicily and he’s always one for getting things done early as it gets like a carnival in the afternoons at the PGA.
I met him at 6.30am on Monday morning at Wentworth. We got into the players’ lounge, had a bit of breakfast, and Simon met the guys from Puma Cobra.
We were on the range at 7.15am, they fiddled with a couple of things in his driver and 3-wood and he hit a few balls to warm up.
We bought the yardage booklet and you double-check that, because everyone is susceptible to making a mistake. You are also allowed to use a laser during practice rounds.
We went and played 18 holes. You are making notes on yardages as you go, what clubs he might play off the tee and where he wants to hit it. You might look at two different clubs off the tee to see what’s better.
You are also looking at targets – maybe it’s a TV tower in the background.
You are only allowed to use one ball. You might hit another if it’s a bad shot and you’ll struggle to find it.
You get up to a green and you’re looking to see if there is a good miss. You’ll check a couple of positions and look at bunker shots from other positions.
I am always thinking. They are human at the end of the day and this is where they need a bit of vindication.
They might think about going at the flag but that’s when you might think about playing to the middle of the green.
I know to say to him, ‘five yards right of the flag is good’. You don’t say ‘don’t go left or your dead’. You’re trying to give him something positive.
You get a rough idea of where the pins are going to be on the four days.
You are jotting it down yourself but I will say it to him as well. You don’t want to be writing something he doesn’t like.
A caddie doesn’t voice their opinion all the time. I’m a big believer that they’ve got to where they are because of how good they are. They didn’t have anyone with them as amateurs and they played their way into the rankings.
You check the weather forecast in the morning. You get your wind directions and rough speed. There’s a little compass on every hole in the yardage book and you see where it might be coming from today. Is it the south or the east?
It’s very difficult around Wentworth. It swirls a lot. Generally it comes off the left on the first. On the second, though, you are straight into it.
There’s a big gap on the left in the trees and it can swirl round. That’s where you have to be brave as a caddie and stay ‘it’s straight into you’.
It really all depends on the ball flight. If they hit it just below the trees it won’t be affected as much as if it’s above.
I don’t think it is that difficult a course from tee to green. But the wind makes it a lot tougher.
They sound like pretty long days…
They are 10-hours for the first three. He played on Monday, went for lunch and then went and hit some balls – chipping and putting pretty much until 6.30pm.
On Tuesday, we were up there early. We played 9 holes and then there was more practice and drills. Simon has played the course so many times that, even though there have been changes, he still knows it like the back of his hand.
So there’s a lot of putting, chipping and hitting balls.
Wednesday was the Wentworth pro-am and you’re not allowed to practice at certain times. We went off to play 9 holes at The Wisley. It was nice to get away from the bustle and it was a bit more relaxed. It’s always a bit of a jungle with the pro-am, the crowds and the celebrities.
After that, we headed back to Wentworth, practised again and didn’t leave until 6pm.
Everyone is after that week of perfection and they are always looking for that bit extra. Simon never gets bored of practising and the facilities are so good there.
They put the music up but they are long days, even though they don’t really feel like that. They go pretty quickly. For me, it didn’t really feel like a grind.
I just love watching him hitting balls.
How did you feel when tournament day came around?
I was a little bit nervous. Simon hasn’t been doing great recently and I felt a bit more pressure. I always play every shot for him when I’m watching as a spectator and, waking up that morning, I was a little bit nervous.
I was hoping I would do everything right and remember everything.
It’s not just carrying a bag. You have to have all the information ready.
Walking onto a green, there’s etiquette for other players – making sure you are not in their line. If they are missing a green, it’s making sure you are not leaving a bag where they might go. Who’s taking the flag out?
For example, Jamie Donaldson hit it in a bunker on Friday and Simon had put it to about 10 feet. When Jamie hits out, his caddie rakes the bunker. Because I am on the green, Jamie will mark his ball and it’s then tradition, and etiquette, that I will clean it for him.
His caddie hasn’t got time to rake the bunker and clean the ball so it is little things. It is easy to forget things like that when you haven’t caddied for a while.
What’s in the bag?
Simon will probably take three packs of balls onto the course and how long they last will depend on how scuffed they are. He will probably get through around half a dozen in a round. He can go four or five holes sometimes.
I will always have a couple of balls in my pocket and a marker pen, as well as the yardage books.
With gloves, it depends on the weather. If it’s pouring, he might go through two or three. That might be similar if it’s boiling and he’s sweating.
Generally, it’s just one each day but you will always carry three or four and a couple of others that might only have been used for six holes. He might like to break a couple in a little bit and will do that on a morning.
Just how heavy is it?
It was a lot heavier than I remembered. It was getting up to five stones, maybe more. And when you’ve got two to three bottles of water it can get up to six or seven. Simon had 17 or 18 clubs in the bag, and a couple of practice clubs, before the tournament began with a couple of drivers in there too. So it felt really heavy.
When I finally sat down, I had really stiffened up badly. On the competition days at Wentworth, it didn’t feel too bad at all. But someone who hasn’t done it before would get a right shock.
How did Simon get on?
You wouldn’t believe it with the scores (74, 79 and a missed cut) but he played twice as well on Friday as he did on Thursday. On the first day, he missed a chance at birdie on the second, fourth and sixth and, if you can get under par early, it makes such a difference.
Because he’s my brother, I play every shot and I just want him to do well. I think the draw was slightly against him. His early on Thursday was 10.20am. Considering the first tee time was 7.20am, that’s not early.
The greens were firm and the wind was up. He didn’t get the advantage that someone like Scott Jamieson – who teed off first and shot 67– had when the course was a bit soft.
On the Friday, he was off at 2.40pm and it was like trying to putt on a wooden table.
What was the biggest challenge and the biggest thrill?
The wind and the greens. It was getting the club right for those shots into the green. He might only have been hitting a 9 in but it was really difficult to club.
There were big bounces and greens that weren’t taking a pitchmark. They were taking the spin off and then going to the back of the green.
Being back with my brother was the greatest thrill – and watching him play like I have done for 20 years.