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Reading greens for the stars

Clearwater man reflects on 28 years of caddying on the PGA Tour.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 12, 2000


CLEARWATER -- The walls at Capogna's Dugout are filled with sports memorabilia, and it's tough to miss the Augusta National flags, the Tiger Woods caddie bib, the framed lithograph of the victorious 1999 U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Most of the items are compliments of Linn Strickler, a lifelong Clearwater resident, frequent Capogna's visitor and man who has seen the world as a caddie on the PGA Tour.

It takes Strickler, 50, quite a while to rattle off the names of all players he has worked for in 28 years as a caddie. He sums it up succinctly: "I've been fired by the absolute best of them." Strickler has been on the bag for 13 tournament victories with six players, including Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion and 1999 Ryder Cup team captain. Crenshaw has been Strickler's most steady source of employment since 1992, although both would admit that neither has made much money lately while Crenshaw, 48, awaits the Senior PGA Tour.

Over the years, Strickler has worked for Fred Couples, Payne Stewart, Curtis Strange, Greg Norman, Dan Pohl, Lanny Wadkins, Jay Haas, Tom Purtzer and Craig Stadler, among others. This year, in addition to Crenshaw, he has caddied for Brad Faxon and John Cook, for whom he will work at next week's Tampa Bay Classic at the Westin Innisbrook Resort.

Like the game itself, caddying has evolved considerably since Strickler first went on tour in 1972.

"Money has changed everything," Strickler said. "It was more fun-loving back then. You can imagine what it was like when (Walter) Hagen and (Gene) Sarazen started out playing on the tour. Every Sunday you would jump in the car and drive to the next tournament. That's how it was for caddies when I started.

"Now there are some caddies who have been out here who have never driven from one tournament to another, unless it's Dallas to Fort Worth. There used to be a camaraderie. It was like a Boy Scout field trip. It was fun being young.

"Now everybody is watching their back. They don't want to be seen having too much fun. You don't want to be closing any bars. It used to be more friendly."

Not that Strickler minds all the changes.

"With the purses going up every year, you don't need a raise," he said.

That's because typical player-caddie arrangements include a weekly salary and a percentage of prize money, with more paid for victories and top 10 finishes. It's not uncommon for a caddie to receive 5 percent of the prize money, with a bump to 7 or 8 percent for a top 10 and 10 percent for a victory.

With those kind of numbers, the profession can be quite lucrative if a caddie has the right player. Steve Williams, who caddies for Woods, is a good example. With Woods earning more than $8-million in prize money this year, Williams likely has been rewarded quite nicely.

"(Williams) probably made $700,000 last year, and that was with one major (championship)," Strickler said. "Tell me what he's worth this year (with three majors)? And the fact is, anybody could do it. Anybody could work for (Woods)."

Strickler played baseball in his younger days, attended Clearwater High and dabbled in golf. "I caddied a little bit at Dunedin," he said. "Somehow I got caddying for a priest, and it was straight out of "Caddyshack.' "

It wasn't until Strickler returned from a stint in Vietnam that he decided to make a career out of caddying.

"I probably wasn't fit for human consumption after getting back from there," he said. "There was no way I could go work 9 to 5."

So Strickler hooked up with Jimmy Barber, a Clearwater pro, to caddie in a few events. He has not stopped. By Strickler's estimate, he has caddied in some 600 tour events.

That's not bad for a profession that has so much turnover these days. Players switching caddies is an almost weekly occurrence.

Strickler has an explanation.

"A lot of time they try to raise the high jump bar," he said. "If you can't jump over it, you're gone. They want to see your tolerance to pain. They can make you look like an idiot out there if they want to. There's so much theatrical stuff. Guys are lining up putts for players, and players are not even asking the guy what he sees. A lot of theatrics going on. And the (player's) wife's got to like you. If the wife doesn't like you, you're done."

When he's not on tour, Strickler is either playing golf in Clearwater, caddying at Old Memorial in Tampa or hanging out at Capogna's, which puts the memorabilia to use to raise money for charities.

Because Crenshaw plays sporadically, Strickler works sporadically.

Just like the players, he can't wait for the senior tour.

"Yeah, I'm looking forward to it out there," he said. "It's tough waiting. I wish Ben was either 51 or 31."

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