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Caddies: partners in victory, defeat

A caddie's role has changed so much that his judgment and advice could earn or cost his employer hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Published October 30, 2004

PALM HARBOR - They have all done it. All of them. And all of them have felt absolutely horrible about it. Absolutely horrible.

"We're human," said PGA Tour caddie Otis "Buck" Moore, eyes pointed to the ground. "We make mistakes."

Everyone makes mistakes at work, but when a caddie makes a mistake on the golf course, it can't be fixed with an eraser or the delete button. For most of us, a mistake at work - one momentary error in judgment, a split-second loss of concentration - doesn't cost the boss a few hundred thousand dollars.

But when a caddie hands his boss a 5-iron instead of a 6-iron or believes his golfer is 190 yards from the hole when he is actually 180, it's hard to slough it off with an "oops, sorry, my bad."

Really, though, that's all a caddie can do.

"If you give your man the wrong advice, you back it up with an apology and hand him the next club and you say, "Let's get through it,"' said John McLaren, who caddies for Duffy Waldorf. "You do your best. You're a team out there. You certainly don't want to give bad advice."

But it's bound to happen.

Once upon a time, caddies were second-class citizens, no more than servants to the golfer. They were there to carry the bag, clean the clubs and rake the bunkers. The old saying was caddies were meant to "show up, keep up and shut up."

Not anymore. Caddies now serve almost as teammates. Aside from doing the heavy lifting and still raking out the bunkers, caddies have become shoulders to cry on. And lean on.

Maybe 25 or 30 times a round, a golfer turns to his caddie looking for advice. Which club? How far? What kind of break? How's the wind?

And the caddie can't hem and haw. He is expected to have an answer right now. The right answer. He must know when to speak up. And when to shut up.

"There are times when a golfer comes to me and says he wants this club," said Don Robertson, caddie for Cliff Kresge. "I might think it's the wrong club, but he seems so sure about it. In that instance, I shut my mouth. The last thing I want to do is put a doubt in his mind."

On the flip side, McLaren, because he has such a good friendship with Waldorf, speaks his mind even if he disagrees with Waldorf.

The key is knowing your golfer.

Take Phil Mickelson and his caddie, Jim "Bones" MacKay. For 12 years, the two have been on the course together. MacKay never has missed a round. He knows when Mickelson needs a pat on the back or a kick in the rear. Often, he knows what Mickelson is thinking before Mickelson does.

Whenever the two are in Florida, MacKay's role increases. He becomes green reader. Mickelson, you see, is from Arizona, where there are no Bermuda greens. So whenever Mickelson plays in Florida, he relies on MacKay for one of the most important elements of the game. "The one hole I did not use my caddie for a read, I three-putted," Mickelson said after Thursday's round at Chrysler Championship. "My ability to read them is not all that great."

In fact, Mickelson hinted he might not return to Innisbrook because he can't read the greens. If it wasn't for MacKay, Mickelson would never show up in Florida.

Then there's Dave Renwick and his cantankerous relationship with several golfers. Renwick, a fast-talking Scot who doesn't waste extra words or smiles, might be the best caddie on the tour. He caddied for Steve Elkington when Elkington won the 1995 PGA Championship. He caddied for Jose Maria Olazabal when Olazabal won both of his Masters green jackets. And he caddied two of Vijay Singh's Grand Slam victories.

Once he had enough of Olazabal and dropped the bags on the 18th green of a tournament only to have Olazabal eventually plead for him to come back. He and Singh once parted ways only to have Singh ask him to return. With Renwick as his caddie, Singh has zoomed past Tiger Woods to become, clearly, the best player in the world.

"You have to know when to talk and when to keep your mouth shut," Renwick said. "If he asks for advice, you talk it over and come to a decision together."

When that opinion is wrong, though, a caddie feels like digging a hole in the bunker and burying himself alive. Consider, too, that a caddie's pay depends on how much money his golfer makes.

On the other hand, nothing feels better than giving out good advice.

"Really, though," Penwick said, "you're just doing your job."

McLaren remembers talking Waldorf out of a club at the British Open. Waldorff birdied the final hole Saturday.

"It was as good as it could feel," McLaren said. "His manager was standing right there and said, "How did you know that?' I said, "It just didn't feel right.' You respond, and then he responds by hitting a great shot. And now he trusts you even more."

The key is being decisive.

"If he asks you, "Are you sure?"' McLaren said, "you answer, "No doubt.' When he's sure, then everyone feels good about what you're doing."

Caddies don't recall all the times that happens. They do, though, remember every time they talked a golfer out of a club and the result was a turkey.

"At the end of the day, though, if your golfer doesn't play well, you can't help him," Renwick said. "But you pick up and move on. Your golfer knows you're trying to help. You're not trying to give out bad advice just like he's not trying to hit a bad shot. You move on."

You move on or you move out. If a caddie hands out too many bum pieces of advice, he loses his job. Even those caddie-golfer relationships that do work rarely last longer than five years. Eventually, a golfer wants a different face, a new voice, a fresh slant.

So the caddie moves on. Other than the rare cases, such as MacKay, caddies usually bounce from golfer to golfer, many times returning to a particular golfer two, three or even four times.

For the foreseeable future, Renwick will be side by side with Singh even though it means long work days. Singh is famous for putting in overtime, often hitting balls when the sun comes up and goes down. But you won't hear Renwick complaining. After all, the guy used to work oil rigs in the North Sea. Standing on a golf range all day and caddying for the best player in the world is not a bad gig.

It is even better when the best player asks for help and the advice is as true as a Singh drive down the middle of the fairway.

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