Over the last 20 years, the world of professional golf has seen purses escalate dramatically. Just about every week the winner receives a check for over $1 million. Most players (certainly those on the PGA TOUR) have “teams” and with that kind of money at stake, why not? Having a good professional caddie on the bag and on the team is simply a must. With that in mind, I decided to drill down and find out just what makes a Tour-quality caddie, how they go about their work, and the importance of relating to their player.
East Hampton native, Duane Bock, who is starting his 10th season on two-time Tour winner Kevin Kisner’s bag, was kind enough to fill me in on what it’s like to be a professional and successful caddie. A 1987 East Hampton High School graduate, Duane played college golf at Campbell University and was one of the best amateurs in the country. In fact, in 1992, Duane won the very prestigious North-South Amateur Championship played on Pinehurst #2 in North Carolina, By the end of that year, Duane was ranked ninth best amateur in the country and went to play 12 years on the Canadian Tour.
Many famous golfers have put their name on the “Putter Boy” trophy of the North-South Amateur Championship, established in 1900 — Hal Sutton, Corey Pavin, and Davis Love III, just to name just a few. Jack Nicklaus was the winner in 1959 and in 1985, Jack’s son, Jackie, added his name to that iconic trophy. Just one year later, in 1986, Jackie was the caddie on the Golden Bear’s bag as he won his final major championship, the 1986 Masters, at age 46.
But did you know that had the year been 1982, Jackie would never have had the thrill of being his father’s caddie in this memorable Masters victory? Back in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, most Tour players would use local caddies in the majors. In fact, at the Masters, until 1983, players were obligated to use “Masters Caddies.” Then, in 1983, when the powerful men of Augusta National decided to allow the players to bring their own caddie, the search by players to get a good one was on.
The modern-day professional bag-toter must wear many hats in order for his player to win. According to Bock, the typical week on Tour begins on Monday or no later than very early Tuesday morning. Caddies walk the course getting yardage to fairway bunkers and hazards and the distance to the greens. A good caddie will have all the numbers either in his book or in his mind. When a player asks how far to clear a bunker the caddie had better have the correct answer.
Pro-Am Day is Wednesday and more often than not that means a five or maybe a six-hour round. Bock said that every caddie will tell you that Wednesday is the toughest day of the week and the most important time comes late Sunday afternoon when a caddie has to perform under pressure when the championship is on the line.
Most Tour bags weigh 40 to 50 pounds, and it is the responsibility of the caddie to make sure everything is in the bag the player may want and to make absolutely sure some things are not in the bag . . . like too many clubs. I remember in 2003 at the Open Championship when Ian Woosnam was in great position to win the biggest event in golf and become the Champion Golfer of the Year. But when Woosnam stepped on to the second tee, he noticed an extra club in the bag. His caddie had neglected to count the clubs before they teed off on the first hole. Woosnam never recovered from the two-stroke penalty and that caddie was never on the bag again for him.
Golf fans see all the money the pros earn and often ask me how much a caddie earns. As it turns out, there is no set fee and little job security. Every player and caddie come to an agreement on compensation. One constant unwritten rule seems to be that a win will earn the caddie 10 percent of the winner’s check. Most first-place checks exceed $1 million, so that part is not hard to figure out, but what’s the deal when they don’t win? That’s all part of the negotiations.
One caddie told me about what happened at the bank after he received his check following his player’s victory. He said that when he presented his check for over $100,000 the bank teller said she would have to get her manager, and when the caddie told the manager that this check was last week’s work, the bank manager wanted to know how he could become a caddie.
So, just how does one become a professional PGA Tour caddie? The most popular methods appear to be three-fold: either be a really good player with strong connections, a former college golf teammate, or maybe just an unemployed family member.
By the way, with his victory this past week, Brooks Keopka, who won the U.S. Open Championship at Shinnecock, became the #1 ranked player in the world.