Caddie Secrets: What it's like to be a caddie on the European Tour

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If you really want to get inside the world of professional golf, there’s no one better to talk to than the long-serving caddies

Confidante. Travel agent. Psychologist. Fixer. Bouncer. Strategist. Green reader. Sounding board. Proverbial punchbag… the role of the modern Tour caddie is so much more than bag carrier.

The perks are big – seven figures big if you get the right player. But then the pressures are big, too, especially when that player’s every move, every shot, every decision coming down the stretch is analysed on TV and social media, often after a big-headed microphone has caught their shot-making conversations.

As the pressure – and prize money – has got bigger, so has what’s expected from a caddie. When they’re earning 10 percent of a winner’s cheque of a million-plus, the expectation to perform comes with the territory. If they, or more importantly their player, feels they need to change things up, the caddie is often the first casualty.

As one caddie famously quipped: “If your man’s going bad, he’s going to fire someone. It can be his wife or his caddie... but firing his caddie is a lot cheaper.” 

Over the past two years, many high-profile player-caddie relationships have ended – Phil Mickelson and Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay split after 25 years; Rory McIlroy fired JP Fitzgerald and Jason Day split from mentor, coach and caddie, Colin Swatton. Only recently, Lee Westwood – a winner again with his girlfriend on the bag – parted company with Billy Foster, one of Europe’s most well respected bagmen.

To get a glimpse into the highs and lows that come with being one of today’s top Tour caddies, we sat down with five men who are currently carrying a European Tour bag. Together, they have more than 130 years’ experience on Tour and have celebrated 63 victories in total, including a Major (Jose Maria Olazabal’s second Masters nearly 20 years ago). They talk freely and candidly about the highs, the lows, Majors, the Ryder Cup, their hopes and dreams and coming down the stretch as a winner… and a loser.

From left to right: Dave McNeilly, Brendan McCartain, Ian 'Stretch' More, Dermot Byrne and Damian Moore

The Caddies 

Name: Dave McNeilly 
Current player: Matt Wallace
Caddied for: Sir Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Padraig Harrington, Niclas Fasth, Chris Wood, Alvaro Quiros, Matteo Manassero.
Years on Tour: 36
Career highlights: 34 wins, including BMW PGA with Manassero in 2013.

Name: Brendan McCartain
Current player: Romain Wattel
Caddied for: Jose Maria Olazabal, Thomas Bjorn, Charles Howell, Darren Clarke, Chris Wood.
Years on Tour: 25
Career highlights: 14 wins, including 1999 US Masters.

Name: Ian "Stretch" More
Current player: Bradley Dredge
Caddied for: Nick Dougherty, David Frost, Peter Hanson, Tobias Dier, Thongchai Jaidee. How many years on Tour: 17
Career highlights: Three wins, including 2007 Dunhill Links.

Name: Dermot Byrne
Current player: Julian Suri
Caddied for: Shane Lowry for nine years, Peter Lawrie, Stephen Gallacher, Sven Struver. Years on Tour: 23
Career highlights: Three wins, including a WGC Bridgestone

Name: Damian Moore
Current player: Marc Warren
Caddied for: Mark James, Robert Karlsson, Stephen Gallacher, Jose Maria Olazabal, Christy O'Connor Jnr, Richard Finch, Matthew Southgate.
Years on Tour: 31
Career highlights: Nine wins, plus 28 seconds

What’s the best thing about being on Tour?

DMO: The camaraderie with the lads – it’s like a travelling family circus who I’ve grown up with man and boy. It gets harder when you get older, though, especially as I’ve got a four-year-old boy. It was more fun when I was single and just had to look after myself.

DB: The excitement of being involved at the highest level of the game. I wasn’t good enough to play on Tour myself so it’s the next best thing watching on a day-to-day basis, players performing at the very highest level. It’s nice to have input.

IM: I like the travelling and being in a different place each week along with the camaraderie plus, of course, winning. BM: The freedom of the job. It’s the great outdoors and there’s a lot of downtime; when you’re back home you can do the school run which normal dads can’t do.

DMC: It’s not often that you can be involved in sport side-byside with the performer and actually influence that performance. It’s a pretty unique job.

And the worst?

DMO: Being away from the family, boy and wife – boy first!

DB: Like any job, it’s being unsuccessful, missing cuts etc. You’re part of the team – you win together, you lose together.

IM: The travelling. Even though it’s also the best thing, you’re away from home for long periods. Airports can be an annoyance as well.

BM: Yeah, the travelling can become a grind.

DMC: Probably the travelling; these days the European Tour spans from Morocco to China, which can be pretty demanding.

What about the best shot you’ve seen in the flesh?

DMO: At the 9th hole in Dubai: Stephen Gallacher was in the right trees with no shot at all, but somehow hit it through the narrowest of gaps to within an inch to make birdie and went on to shoot 62.

DB: I’m going to go for the 17th at this year’s US PGA when Julian hit a 3-wood and bent it around a tree from 300 yards to within 3ft for eagle!

BM: Probably Olazabal’s tee shot on 16 in the last round of the 1999 Masters, a 6-iron to about 3ft when he had a one-shot lead. He was under so much pressure with everything on the line.

DMC: One of the best shots I’ve seen – and unfortunately there was only one spectator who witnessed it – was Alvaro Quiros’ second shot into the first at Qatar. He’d pulled his tee shot into the dunes, leaving a really awkward lie and he had 275 yards to go. He said ‘I think I can get a 5-wood on this’ and I responded with ‘are you kidding me?’ He hit it to 20ft!

What about the best round you’ve ever seen?

DMO: The above is my best round as well, especially as Gallacher went on to win the tournament in 2013 – he actually went on to win back to-back titles in Dubai.

DB: A few years back I was in the group at the PGA Championship at Wentworth when Robert Karlsson – after finding out while boarding his flight that he’d made the cut – came back the next day and shot a 63 in a 40mph wind. That’s the best round of golf I’ve ever seen.

IM: Tobias Dier’s 60 in the first round when he won the 2002 Dutch Open; he had a putt for a 59. But for the best round tee to green and positioning the ball, it would have to be Tiger Woods in the third round at the 2007 US Open at Oakmont. He shot a 68 and didn’t hole a putt all day...

BM: Olazabal’s 63 at Valhalla in the 2000 US PGA, third round. He had two chances at the last two holes to shoot a 62 (which would have been the first 62 ever in a Major).

DMC: Nick Price’s last round at the 1988 Open at Lytham. I know he shot a 63 at Augusta, which was very exciting, but he played flawless golf with moments of sheer genius. In the end only Seve could keep him at bay.

What’s the best Major from a caddie’s perspective?

DMO: The Open because of all the history, with the Masters hot on its heels. Royal Birkdale, for me, is the best course and venue for The Open.

DB: It has to be The Open followed by the Masters, US Open and PGA – in that order.

IM: Caddie-wise, I like the US Open: the crowds are really noisy and are pretty close to you and while The Open is the home favourite, the galleries generally tend to be further away.

BM: It’s a tie between The Open and the Masters and, being a Brit, The Open is the holy grail.

DMC: I’m biased, it’s The Open for me. Augusta is very exciting, but The Open just seems to have that magical atmosphere.

Majors or the Ryder Cup?

DMO: Majors. It’s all about the bunce – you only get paid a little bit in the Ryder Cup. Majors are hard work, but they’re Majors…

DB: For sure, Majors. They’re what golf is all about.

IM: I would rather be in the Ryder Cup because I’ve been in a Major, but I’d rather win a Major than win a Ryder Cup. It would be great to be involved in a Ryder Cup, though.

BM: Caddieing in the Ryder Cup is special as I discovered at Brookline in 1999. Even though we lost it was a great experience because you see people in a different way, everyone helping and pulling for one another.

DMC: I’ve done four Ryder Cups, but I’ve got to say the Majors – even though the Ryder Cup probably generates more excitement than anything else. I’ve never been as nervous as I was caddieing for Padraig Harrington against Mark O’Meara at Brookline. Walking from green to tee is like the start of a round in a boxing match!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given?

DM: It’s all about giving him the right club at the right time. There are a lot of things to consider – wind strength, wind direction, what’s behind the pin, especially if your player is all pumped up. You come into your own on the back nine when the heat is on.

DB: The first time I met Rory was as a 14-year-old and I remember telling him “keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be World No.1.”

IM: Most of it is psychology, snapping the player either in or out of a way of thinking. I remember Nick Dougherty moaning all the way round – I think it was his last tournament when he had a chance to get into the Masters. But it wasn’t going very well and he was saying it was a waste of time coming here. Halfway through the round I said ‘come on, let’s pick up the ball and walk in then as we’re wasting our time out here’. That made him realise he’d been an idiot and we should make the most of it while we’re out there. By the middle of the final round, he was leading though he didn’t go on to win it.

DMC: I was with Padraig at Augusta and it was one of those ones where you get a sudden ‘this is wrong’ instinct. He was about to hit his second and I said ‘let’s reconsider this.’ He was poised to pull the trigger, but I pulled him off it, we regrouped, changed club and it was right. 

Any dodgy calls you would prefer to forget?

DMO: Anyone can make a mistake with the yardage and I’ve done that a few times. You’ve just got to make sure it doesn’t happen very often.

DB: I wouldn’t ask for many days back, but I would the day Shane Lowry had a four-shot lead in the 2016 US Open at Oakmont. If I’d had the experience I have in general now, things could have turned out differently…

IM: Again with Nick Dougherty we were leading the Italian Open with four holes to play and it was a par 5 and we could have got there in three with a 3-wood off the tee. But we hit  driver, which brought water into play. We found it, ended up with a six and lost the tournament. I believed there was still room for the driver and thought it was the right play, though people reckoned afterwards, in hindsight, it wasn’t...

BM: Giving advice for the wrong club – we’ve all done that. Not very often, but it’s happened and you feel as bad as you can feel. It’s like a goalkeeper letting the ball in through his legs. You can call everything well for two or three hours, then you make one mistake and all the good work counts for nothing.

DMC: If I’m doing my job well, I’m giving my player a picture, giving him the conditions, so he can clearly see the shot. These guys are so good that if they can see the shot, 10 times out of 10 they’ll execute it.

What’s it really like coming down the stretch on the Sunday?

DMO: That’s why we do it. It’s like a drug and is so different from any other time – you’ve got the adrenaline flowing, the cameras are on you, the big crowds… that’s why we put up with all the mundane stuff. That’s when the juices are really flowing, when you think that the right call could be the difference between hundreds of thousands of pounds!

IM: Yeah, the adrenaline is going but personally I felt after the first couple of times of being in contention, I did a better job. It’s a great feeling coming down the stretch and though some people might hate it, I feel pretty calm and able to get in the zone.

BM: Brilliant, the best feeling in the world if you embrace it. That’s what you caddie for, to have those chances to feel a bit of heat and that you can make a difference to help someone win a golf tournament.

DMC: You’re very focused. People think you should be nervous, but it’s likely any nerves will be absorbed into what you’re trying to do and consequently there are no nerves at all.

What’s the banter like among rival caddies?

DMO: Brilliant. A lot of us have grown up together, though we do work with the young guys (caddies) as well. It keeps you going and when you go through tough times in life, everyone helps out by lifting your spirits.

DB: I’m very fortunate because I consider every one of the caddies as friends and am happy to go out to dinner with them, including the new caddies – most of them are good lads and good company.

BM: Most of the guys get on great. You always get one person you don’t particularly get on with but, by and large, the helpfulness and the camaraderie is excellent.

Who would you like to caddie for?

DMO: Freddie Couples. He’s the coolest golfer ever, the only golfer I’d pay to watch. I don’t wear a glove because Freddie doesn’t wear one!

DB: My seven-year-old son Alexander… assuming, of course, he was good enough.

BM: If I had a chance, Tiger or Rory.

DMC: Yeah, Tiger or Rory. Either of those two would be great. Rory is phenomenal but, for my money, Tiger is the best player ever to have played the game.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen on Tour?

DMO: I was caddieing for Richard Finch at the last hole at the Irish Open when he hit a wedge shot and then fell into the river! I had to pull him out with a club. He then wedged on to the green, two putted and won the title by two.

DB: At the 2017 British Masters, Richard Sterne and Richie Ramsay were playing the ninth hole when the former lost his ball right of the green. He got a lift on a buggy back to the tee and his provisional hit Ramsay on the backside and went into the hazard!

IM: It’s got to be Finch falling into the water on the 18th at the Irish Open.

BM: Mark James, after realising he was going to miss the cut at the English Open a while back at Hanbury Manor… he just started chipping balls back and forth across a green.

Sum up the caddie’s role?

DMO: Nowadays, which I’m not a fan of, it’s a bit like being a butler. Also, you’ve got to get on with your player as you spend more time with them than you do with your wife.

DB: You’ve just got to be very good at reading situations and be switched on at all times.

BM: To be a consistent and reliable source of help.

DMC: Keeping your player relaxed and focused.

What’s the trickiest part of the job?

DMO: Trying to get golfers to keep trying at times when they know they’ve missed the cut, their heads are down and they are just going through the motions. You’ve got to get them to enjoy it and ideally find something positive for the next week.

DB: It’s got to be the travelling.

IM: Picking the players who are going to get to the top. You’ve usually got a choice who you are going to work for or want to work for and obviously you want to pick somebody who is going to be successful.

BM: Saying the right thing in the best interest of the golfer is the hardest thing to do.

DMC: It’s a lot more demanding than it used to be. It’s a lot more professional now. There’s so much travelling involved and it’s not easy to keep yourself fresh. Nowadays it’s kind of ‘all work and no play.’

Who’s tipped for success among caddies?

DM: I’ve been really impressed with the Australian kid, Lucas Herbert. He’s got a great attitude, good all round game and he’s very confident.

DB: Cameron Champ; he’s got a great name, too!

IM: I’m not good at picking these. In the past, I’ve said watch for this guy and you never hear of him again, and vice-versa! A couple of years ago I thought Brandon Stone, who won this year’s Scottish Open, would win a Major in a couple of years and, though it’s taken him a little bit longer than that, I still think he’s got a chance.

BM: I predict more big things from Lucas Bjerregaard and Matt Wallace; both have had great years.

Did you know...

Vastly experienced bagmen Damian Moore and Brendan McCartain are both part of the Tour Caddy Experience and when they're not on Tour are available to pass on their vast golfing knowledge along with behindthe- scenes Tour insight and stories to ordinary club golfers. For more info visit www.tourcaddy experience.co.uk