The rise of the uber-caddie: How the bag men are changing golf
I think we are about to see a more clinical, more equal – possibly even superior – type of caddie develop.
Phil Mickelson and Bones talked of one veto, while Jordan Spieth and Michael Greller speak of two. Exceptions where the caddie can overrule the player. Once or twice, a season.
But what if we are about to see the rise of the uber-caddie? One who literally computes the route around the course, calls all the clubs, picks all the shots and literally presses ‘go’ on his player to execute?
A human Sat Nav where the pilot’s pesky monkey brain is permanently disabled, where his heart is never allowed to rule his head.
It is clinical and cold but surely this is the direction of travel.
Players are already surrounded by teams of expert psychologists, short-game coaches, swing gurus, dietitians and personal trainers.
In Golf 3.0, the role of the caddie is surely to be CEO of the organisation Player Inc.
It is no longer Jordan Spieth and his team, it is Spieth Incorporated. Spieth is merely the playing director, working alongside the head of fitness, the head of psychology et al and reporting in to the big boss bag man.
Spieth and Greller, Speller if you will, feels like it works like this already. Spieth said in his excellent Open victory speech that the victory was “at least as much Michael’s” and I don’t think this was lip service.
Rather, I think he is ahead of the game.
Of course, the motivation for this piece is Rory and JP parting company. Rory will get some grief and I think it has been caused by Speller. I think he looks at Spieth a lot – remember his comments on left-below-right putting? – and decided he was missing an edge.
On the few occasions I have been fortunate enough to have a caddie I have always felt it added to the experience and helped me score better. Which of course is the point.
And much has been made of this point this week.
Are they important and how much can they influence performance? Well, if earnings are indicative of value then, yes they are, and yes they do.
In June, Forbes surmised that the top-earning caddies on the PGA Tour were as follows:
- JP Fitzgerald (Rory McIlroy): $1.65 million
- Austin Johnson (Dustin Johnson): $1.6 million
- Daisuke Shindo (Hideki Matsuyama): $680,000:
- Michael Greller (Jordan Spieth): $665,000
- Kessler Karain (Patrick Reed): $610,000
- Gareth Lord (Henrik Stenson): $600,000
- Jimmy Johnson (Justin Thomas): $590,000
- Adam Hayes (Jon Rahm): $520,000
- John McLaren (Paul Casey): $515,000
- Colin Swatton (Jason Day): $500,000
But are bag carriers, regardless of how good they are, really worth this kind of money?
It is the player that hits the shots, after all, we are told.
Is sacking a caddie just a clearing of the decks, a conscious acknowledgement that a bad workman sometimes has to blame his tools?
I think these are increasingly outdated views and, despite what Twitter says, I think that we are seeing a genuine evolution in the role of caddies at the very top of the game.
To that end, it is the final name on that list that piques most interest for me.
Swatton doubles as Day’s lifetime swing coach. Day’s background is fascinating, as revealed by Shane Ryan in his excellent book, Chasing the Legends. Swatton’s influence in Day’s life is huge.
We have often heard that the top caddies have to wear a lot of hats. They have to chivvy and commiserate; they are psychologist and psychiatrist; they steward and offer stability, they need to motivate and calm; be a taskmaster and a yes man.
The idea that a caddie would also act as a kind of on-course swing coach, though, is relatively new.
Indeed, professional golfers caddying for amateurs was until recently outlawed in elite amateur events.
What a huge opportunity – and presumably advantage – to have your coach with you on course, tweaking things as you go, getting instant first-hand data to act on at the completion of the round.
Imagine that advantage in other sports. A batsman being told he needs to stay still, or get forward more, live at the crease, or footballers having earpieces helping them with positions and informing them as to the pattern of the game in real time.
It exists and then some in Formula 1 where driver skill is allied to cars and teams that have huge amounts of remote control. The same advantage is almost available to the world’s best golfers.
I am not saying this is the start of player-caddie relationships being important. Down the years there have been numerous examples of stellar partnerships: Tiger and Steve Williams, Arnie and Tip Anderson, Phil and Bones, Tom Watson and Bruce Edwards.
On your to-do list after reading this, next to ‘send angry tweet’, add ‘read John Feinstein’s Caddy for Life’. It is absolutely brilliant. These are storied player and bag man partnerships. They grew into bonds and friendships that in some cases lasted or will last a lifetime.
But these partnerships feel that they came together by chance, built on chemistry and charisma. It feels more scientific now.
We have come a long way since Seve’s infamous line explaining that a caddie should “turn up, keep up and shut up”.
Maybe not in my lifetime but I think they may yet have places on podiums alongside their players.