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For today's caddies ...

... it's not all that bad to be left Holding the Bag.

Published November 2, 2003

PALM HARBOR - Before we even get started here, before you quit your day job and start sniffing around country club parking lots, let's get one thing straight: This is not some cake job.

Oh, we know what you're thinking. I could be a golf caddie. What's the big deal? Off three days a week, tote a bag of clubs for a few hours on the weekend? Hang out with big shots like Tiger? Collect a fat paycheck? Shoot, I'd love to do that. What a great job.

You think? Well, would you love working five or six days a week, maybe 12 hours a day? Is a great job using your one off day a week living Planes, Trains and Automobiles as you scramble to get from one tournament to another?

Or how about a paycheck that solely depends on how well one golfer plays?

Think about it. He misses the cut and you might miss a house payment.

This is the life of a caddie. True, there are worse ways to make a living and everyone who does it truly does love it. But being a caddie is more than just walking around with a golf bag strapped to your back. These guys work for a living.

It didn't used to be that way. In the old days (and when we say old days, we mean maybe 15-20 years ago), being a caddie wasn't so much of a job as it was a Merle Haggard song: drunk, broke and wife run off. That's the lasting image of the stereotypical caddie.

They used to stay in some $20-a-night, flea-bag motel, maybe 10 to a room to save expenses. They'd spend their measly paychecks getting drunk all night then sleeping half the morning, showing up a few minutes before their golfer teed off.

Of course the stereotype of the unshaven, unshowered slob is an exaggeration, but it wasn't far from reality.

Today? Being a caddie has gone legitimate.

"The stakes are so much higher now," golfer Jeff Maggert said. "The prize money has gotten so high that you have to take this much more seriously. The caddies now, the young guys you've seen coming up the last 10 years or so, take this way more seriously. It isn't like the old days when it seemed like they were a band of gypsies."

Now, being a caddie is a career. Some people are lawyers, some are doctors, some are caddies.

Typically, a caddie earns about 61/2 to 9 percent of what a golfer earns. It depends on the golfer and the tournament. For example, some golfers give their caddies 10 percent for a victory, 8 percent for a top 10 finish. Maybe 6 percent for anything else.

So do the math. If your golfer earns $1-million on the tour (and about 70 will earn at least that this year) you would get about $90,000 in commission. Toss in a modest base salary and caddies of the better golfers can make six figures.

"But there are other considerations," said Brian Smith, who caddies for John Huston. "Things you don't have to worry about if you have a regular job."

Caddies, essentially, are self-employed. There is no health insurance when you're a caddie, no retirement fund. There's no sick pay. If you miss work, you miss a paycheck. And what if your golfer gets hurt and has to sit out for a month, or six months, or a year?

"It's not the most secure job in the world," Smith said. "What if your guy suddenly doesn't play that well and stops making money?"

There are plenty of those guys on the tour. The top dogs, players like Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, make upwards of $6-million, meaning their caddies could pull in $400,000. But think about the golfers making $300,000 or less and about to get bounced from the PGA Tour.

Smith, who supports his wife and two young children, is one of the lucky ones. Huston makes decent money on the tour, so Smith does okay. Huston flies from tournament to tournament in a private plane and Smith tags along. (Many caddies are forced to drive from place to place.) Plus, and this is important, he is friends with Huston.

"Sometimes, though, you'll see a golfer just change caddies every two, three years," Maggert said. "Sometimes they just want a different face and, suddenly, a caddie is out of work."

Talk about pressure.

And that doesn't include the stress of the job, which is a whole lot more than pulling the cover off of a driver.

The caddie is part air-traffic controller, giving his golfer distances and advice on club selection.

He's part mechanic, keeping the player's equipment in working condition.

He's part weatherman, updating his golfer on wind conditions.

He's part psychiatrist, talking his golfer off the ledge after a triple-bogey.

He's part bad cop, telling people in the crowd to shut up and stop moving because his golfer doesn't want to ruin his image of "good cop."

Add in cheerleader, scapegoat, sounding board and, yeah, the guy who does the heavy lifting and you have someone who deserves more than $30,000 a year.

"Ultimately, every decision out there is up to the golfer," Smith said. "But you certainly have to be able to offer advice. I've been with John so long that I know when to give him (heck) and when to back off. I'm fortunate because I have such a good relationship with him. But there is pressure to help him and give him the right (aid)."

The worst thing a caddie can do is hurt his golfer, like caddie Miles Byrne did to Ian Woosnam at the 2001 British Open. Byrne didn't notice that Woosnam had too many clubs in his bag and Woosnam was penalized two strokes. He lost the Open by three.

Woosnam took responsibility for the error, but Byrne was fired a couple of weeks later when he slept through Woosnam's 7:15 a.m. tee time.

So why do this job? Why put up with temperamental golfers and lousy hours, low pay and no guaranteed future?

"Because we love it," Smith said. "We love being a part of something special when our guy plays well. The golfer takes every shot, he's responsible for winning, but you would like to think you play a role in his success. That's gratifying when he does well. When you work with a great guy like I do, it's a lot of fun."

[Last modified November 2, 2003, 07:26:04]

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