The Water Cooler - Caddies: Break-ups

The Water Cooler - Caddies: Break-ups

In the beginning there was the golfer and he or she carried their own clubs and golf was good.  But golf got bigger, courses longer, the golfer started carrying more and more clubs and thus the need for help.  The caddy was born.  Caddy is derived from the French word for “the boy”, le cadet.  The French used “le cadets” for numerous other chores before golf and as the French influence on the Scots during golf’s earlier years was pretty heavy handed it makes sense that a caddy would be used to lug clubs around the links.  (Golf bags weren’t a thing yet.)  According to, the first named caddy was Andrew Dickson.  He worked as a forecaddie for the Duke of York in 1681, making sure the Duke didn’t lose one of his cherished and very expensive featheries.  Apparently, Andrew did his job well, stayed in the “industry” and became one of Scotland’s first club makers.  There are no records available on whether the Duke and Andrew parted ways amicably.  My guess is they did.

Other caddies were not as lucky.  There have been some famous combinations and some high-profile splits.  Many were not as amiable as advertised.  Some of the details will forever be unattributable. Some are hard to figure out.  One is an outlier.  The relationship of Player-Caddie has come a long way, as has the qualifications of the caddie.  It has gone from “the boy”, usually youngest in the family, designated to lug the clubs 3 paces back and 2 to the side, don’t speak unless spoken to, and for pity’s sake stay out of the way, to athletes with high IQ’s, degrees in sports psychology, and personal golf skills good enough to qualify for the US Open.  The job has also gone from hang out in the caddy shack or parking lot trying to solicit a loop for the week, travel 4 to car, hang at the bar at night, sleep 4 to a hotel room, and eat at every Waffle House at every highway in the US to now where many caddies travel with their player in their private jets, stay in 4-star hotels rooms, and well-balanced meals are served by personal chefs of “the team”.  Who wouldn’t want a job like that?

Players have had different strategies when it comes to caddies and that helped determine how they were valued.  It might help to know how caddies are compensated.  In general, a caddy gets an individually negotiated flat fee of between $1,000 to $2,000 for their services if the player doesn’t make the cut.  If the player does cash, the caddy gets 5% of the purse, 7% for a top 10 finish.  On a winning bag?  It is customary to pay up to 10% to the caddy.  Unless you are Matt Kuchar. (Kuchar notoriously tried to pay his caddie $5,000 after winning almost $1.3 million at the Mayakoba Classic.) So, how much does your average caddy earn in a year?  Given that the #125 player on the Tour at the end of this year might earn $1 million, the average caddy is going to get close to $100,000 a year.  Many will earn substantially more. (You do have to pay your own taxes, insurances, and cover many of your own expenses.)  If you’re on the bag of the winner of a major you’ll earn about $200,000 for the week, just like Tim Michelson did this year at the PGA Championship.  Nice work Phil!  So, it goes to figure, if as a caddy you are on a successful “bag”, you are going to do well for yourself and you want to do everything you can to help your player continue to be successful.  You’ve skin in the game!

This was not always the case.  George Archer, a pretty successful player from the 60’s on into the 80’s never had a steady caddy.  He would always use a local caddy and negotiate a flat rate, not offering a percentage of the purse.  The concept of a “team” of player caddy wasn’t as prevalent in the past as it is today.  Former #1 in the world, 2-time U.S. Open Champion, Curtis Strange never had a regular caddy.  Until Tom Watson forced the issue Augusta required players to use local caddies at the Masters.  The same was the case for the Western Open where using a local caddy was part of the support of the scholarship fund. 

Caddies are an interesting lot, and the stories abound.  Curtis Strange once kicked his bag in anger while his caddy was carrying the bag, the caddy tripped and was hurt in the process.  The caddy sued and won.  In 1982 a young Jody Mudd was in the heat of a tournament when a rain delay halted the tournament.  When the gun sounded to restart the tournament, his caddy was nowhere to be found.  Apparently, the fellow had fallen asleep.  That might be a reason to lose a job. Tom Watson’s caddy, Tim”Smiley” Thalmuller, who was working the 2005 Doral Ryder Open for him was shot in a robbery attempt outside his hotel.  Shot in the abdomen, he recovered, but the doctors left the bullet because of how close it was to his spleen. “Smiley” is still hoofing it, working for Henrik Norlander these days even after surviving a tsunami, and multiple motorcycle accidents. (I’m not sure of the bullet’s status.)

There have been some pretty famous, or infamous, player caddie splits. 

Jack Nicklaus and Angelo Argea.  Nicklaus is quoted officially stating, “Angelo lost his enthusiasm”.  After 20 years he wasn’t scouting pins or doing yardage as thoroughly as Nicklaus required.  Angelo also had a few side businesses with the caddies that distracted him from his main job.  Jack may have made it easy for Angelo to lose his focus.  Nicklaus had incorporated a new strategy in scouting golf courses, since he had a private plane, he would have his pilot fly him over the course so they could chart it using an aerial view.  Not many pros in the 70’s or 80’s had that technology; Google Earth was still 20+ years away.

Jessica Korda fired Jason Gilroyed mid-round during the 2013 US Women’s Open.  She was just “not happy”.  They couldn’t agree on anything so after 9 holes of the third round she sacked the man and told her boyfriend to grab the bag.  (And she played better!)

Ian Woosnam and Miles Byrne.  Woosnam was testing drivers before the final round of the British Open in 2001 and Miles forgot to take the unnecessary driver out of the bag, a mistake discovered on the second tee.  Woosnam was penalized 2 shots and enshrined forever for a classic club toss, ridding his bag of the extra driver with an underhand whirlybird where they left the club for a lucky collector.  Ian eventually tied for 3rd in that Open at -6 winning 141,667 pounds.  Had he finished -8?  2nd place, 2 behind winner David Duval, he would have earned 360,000 pounds.  Expensive mistake… but Ian actually stood by his caddy for that mistake.  Two weeks later Byrne over-slept and missed an early tee time at the Scandinavian Masters.  He was summarily fired.

Jason Day and Colin Swatton, caddie and swing coach.  Jason let Colin go first as a caddy, then as a swing coach after a 20-year relationship.  Jason was struggling with his game and needed a change in hope of regaining his form.  It’s still not back.  I blame his back not the coach or the caddy.

Tiger Woods and Steve Williams, one of the more famous player-caddy break ups.  Turns out this one was about loyalty and a sort of PGA Tour love triangle with Williams caddying for Adam Scott in the 2011 US Open while Tiger was rehabbing.  Tiger told Steve he could caddy for Adam, then changed his mind.  But Steve had already told Adam “Yes”, so he stuck to his word and did the job.  Tiger made the choice about Steve’s “loyalty”.  Then fired Steve even though Tiger couldn’t play anyway.

Jim “Bones” McKay and Phil Michelson.  Most people considered this 25-year relationship the perfect player-caddy combination.  The team split after Phil skipped the US Open in 2017 to be at his daughter’s high school graduation.  Bones didn’t like that, thought it was a bad decision and made his feelings known.  During the “conversations” about the decision Bones said the wrong thing. (This is one of those unattributable situations.)  Nobody but Phil and Bones knows the exact conversation, but consider the timing, after the 2017 Open which traditionally comes to an end on Father’s Day, June 18th, two days later the team announces their split. Bones was fired.   

These are but a few of the most famous “firings”.  There are more.  Many, many more…firings.  You know what there aren’t a lot of?  Like hardly any?  Quitting’s.  Situations where caddies just said, “the heck with this” and walked.  Especially in the modern era.  Maybe when you were labeled “le cadet” or when you had to get up at 4 AM, walk the course, chart the pins, measure distances to bunkers, trees, and ponds with a measuring wheel, hang out in the parking lot and hope you got a loop.  Maybe during the 4 to a room days.  Maybe some of those guys quit, or just didn’t show up.  Maybe if you were Danny Noonan and Ty Webb asks you to be his partner in a $40K match (and you're caddying for Judge Smails).  But the modern guys?  The 4-year degree, +2 handicap, played on the same college team as my player caddy, the $100k+ a year guy?  How many of those guys walk?  It’s pretty rare and as the money gets bigger, more and more rare.

So, when Bryson DeChambeau and his caddy Tim Tucker split just before the Rocket Mortgage Classic it was big news.  Tim Tucker left a $350,000+ per year job!  He flew on private planes.  He stayed in wonderful hotels.  He ate great food.  He only worked 25 weeks a year.  How hard could it be?  It looked ridiculously hard.  Working for Bryson has its challenges.  First you need to learn a new language, “Bryson Speak”.  You have to know all the numbers, do higher math, make sure you know the temperature, the barometric pressure, the wind speed, the slope, the adjusted yardage for the slope, wind direction, ground moisture content, and probably 3 or four other factors that all enter the magic formula to determine the club choice (I may be exaggerating just a little bit, but who knows?).  Then watch as Bryson takes a wild whack at his ball, chase it down, and start doing higher math all over again.  If he misses his target, watch out!  High performing athletes rarely blame themselves for mistakes, it’s just part of their nature, and since you’re the closest thing, if there wasn’t a freak gust of wind (which you should have accounted for), or a bounce off a sprinkler head, (which you should have known about), you are going to bear the brunt of the blame for a missed shot.  350-yard toe hook be damned.

So, what does it take to push a man to his limits so far that he quits a job in which he could make a half million dollars for 25 weeks of work?  You must be awfully difficult to work for.  But!  Dig a little deeper and things become clearer.  Before Tim Tucker worked for Bryson DeChambeau Tim was a caddy at Bandon Dunes, a golf destination located right next to Far, Far Away.  Most golfers have heard of Bandon Dunes, most golfers would love to play Bandon Dunes, but Bandon Dunes is very difficult to get to.  Enter Tim Tucker and his next career move.  Tim is going to launch a luxury transportation company and provide transport to and from the out of the way Oregon destination.  Tim thinks this business will be very profitable.  And it’s normal.  He’ll be home, he’ll sleep in the same bed each night, and aside from miles per hour, and a few business calculations an Excel spreadsheet will do for him, the math might actually be easier than caddying for Bryson.

DeChambeau has certainly had his public gaffs, and he is definitely NOT the easiest guy to work for, but Tim Tucker had been working on this exit strategy for more than a year, he even helped train his replacement.  So, unlike another “semi-famous” caddy quitting, like when Johnathan Smart quit caddying for Danny Willet because Danny blamed John for his poor play after his Masters victory, the DeChambeau-Tucker split was planned, not a revolt, and Bryson doesn’t need another poor mark on his public relations score card for this one.  He’s got enough to deal with trying to get his club company not to fire him!