KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, October 31 – They are often seen hovering in the background, a weighty golf bag slung over one shoulder and wearing an unflattering white bib with a name on it — but it is never their name.
To outsiders the life of a professional caddie, who wear the player’s name not his own, is not a glamorous one — but the unheralded bagmen play a crucial part in the success of any player.
Typically these faithful but faceless folk make the news only when they are sacked.
Perhaps the most famous bagman of them all is New Zealander Steve Williams, who was given the boot this year by fallen world number one Tiger Woods.
The pair had been together for 12 years — covering the period when Woods won 13 of his 14 Majors and also his spectacular fall from grace.
No official reason for the parting was given, but there were suggestions that perhaps Woods felt Williams had become too outspoken, too big for the role.
Troy Denton, caddie for US PGA player and good friend Ryan Moore at last week’s $6.1-million CIMB Asia Pacific Classic in Malaysia, said a major part of his role was giving his opinion on which club to use for a particular shot.
Texan Denton, 28, who is Moore’s swing coach and was filling in as caddie while Moore searches for a full-time replacement, said it was only right the players get all the glory.
“In the end it’s got to be his decision. I can give him my opinions, but they get the credit in the end because they are the ones doing everything and they are the ones taking the shots,” said Denton.
“You can tell them what you think, but they are the ones doing the real part — it’s easy just to tell someone what to do.”
There is a psychological aspect to the job as well, he said. “When the player is down (mentally) you need to help them up and assure them and tell them that they are the number one.”
One big draw to being an unsung bagman is that it can — at the top echelons of the sport at least — be hugely rewarding financially, with caddies attached to the best golfers earning more than mid-ranking players.
Caddies typically get a flat rate plus up to 10 percent of a player’s winnings, so when Bo Van Pelt of the United States triumphed on Sunday in Malaysia to pocket $1.3 million, his sidekick did rather nicely out of it as well.
But that’s the high end. The percentage owed to the caddie tends to dwindle the lower down the leaderboard the player finishes, though there is no fixed rule.
S.S.P Chowrasia knows both sides of the coin — he was a caddie before becoming one of Asia’s top players.
“Of course it’s a very different life and I much prefer being a player. It’s tough being a caddie,” the Indian said in Kuala Lumpur.
“Me and my caddie get on really well. We talk a lot on the golf course and we have a lot of jokes. He also gives me club judgement and sometimes putting advice.”
Other duties for the caddie include important tasks like checking out a new course before the player goes out to the more mundane — providing water or the odd banana to keep their man going while he’s out on the greens.
“A class-one caddie is a big part of the golfer’s success,” said Saad Hashim, editor of Golf Malaysia magazine, which has been an institution in that country’s golfing scene for 30 years.
“He is reading the lines of putts, reading the wind, he’s reliable and a good caddie will tell his boss which club to use. He can tell his player about the trajectory and how to play the ball,” said Hashim.
“Some players will just ignore their caddie and tell them to carry the bag, but like with Tiger Woods and Steve Williams, Steve Williams must have made quite a lot of good decisions for Woods to win 14 majors.
“A caddie can be 50 percent of a player’s success. Going back even to the 1950s and 60s, caddies played a big part in a golfer’s success.”