Carrying On

I detest golf carts. I love to walk with the wind at my back and a faithful bag carrier plodding behind. That way, I have more time to notice the sights, sounds, and smells of the countryside.

The only wildlife you can see from a speeding vehicle is the roadkill that's been flattened by the cart in front of you. It's true that carts won't show up late, give you the wrong yardage, talk too much, or demand a tip. I'll still take caddies. I used to be one.

Growing up, I was the pro shop kid, always hanging around the workshop, learning how to replace the now-obsolete whipping around the neck of a wooden club. Or, I was changing grips, my hands sticky and smelly with double-sided tape and gasoline.

Come to think of it, I probably unwittingly lost billions of brain cells due to solvent abuse. No wonder I couldn't do my homework.

For the tidy sum of about a buck a round, I would pack the sack for the members. Sometimes, the club pro would take me to one of the local pro-ams to caddie for him.

During school holidays, I even got to go on road trips, thus gaining limited membership to the magical underworld of the Irish professional caddie. I say limited membership, because to them I was a snot-nosed little whelp who was doing one of them out of a living. I would have to wait some three or four years until I turned pro myself before I got any respect from this bunch.

There was one old bag-rat who used to terrify me. An obvious hedge-dweller, with one eye looking at me and the other looking for me, he was fond of a pint of cleaning products if nothing else was available. He looked like he'd had a fire on his face that someone had put out with a spiked golf shoe.

I later learned this was pretty close to the truth. He had burped while lighting a cigarette, igniting his beard like a bonfire. Apparently a Drano burp is highly flammable.

"Keep those bloody clubs quiet," he would growl at me as I clanked along, the bag bouncing on my hip with every footfall. He, on the other hand, shuffled along in slippery leather-soled shoes, the bag hanging from his bony shoulder like a baby in a hammock. Not one club touched another.

Good players and good caddies have a lot in common. A caddie needs a good grip (on reality because his player often doesn't have one). And, he needs a good stance (as in knowing where to take it).

This is why a great player never asks a "friend" to carry the bag during an important week. Give the average Joe the bag and, even if he is a scratch handicap, he looks like Edward Scissorhands at his first bagpipe lesson compared to a good Tour caddie.

To name but four: Mike Cowan (Tiger Woods), Jim McKay (Phil Mickelson), Tony Navarro (Greg Norman), and Greg Rita (Scott Hoch) are captains of their industry. They have an intimate knowledge of the game and, more importantly, they have an intimate knowledge of their players.

It's an art to be able to tell whether your boss wants your opinion or confirmation that his own is correct. You have to be half caddie and half therapist. These men and others are going a long way toward dignifying a longtime maligned profession. I say maligned, largely due to the kind of lunatics who used to work for me.

I always hired caddies for their amusement value rather than their golf expertise and boy, did I have a few beauties. Every Tour caddie has a nickname and one of my early loopers on the European Tour was "Yorkie Bill." His best pal was "Jungle Jim," a Neanderthal with one tooth and a facial twitch that made his upper lip intermittently almost make contact with his right eyebrow.

These two derelicts traveled around Britain by rail, buying but one ticket between them. They would sit down close to the nearest toilet and wait for the first woman to go in. Then Yorkie would rap loudly on the door and shout, "Tickets, please."

"But I'm on the toilet," would come the mournful reply.

"Just shove it under the door," Yorkie would bellow.

It never failed. They would be sitting in the next compartment like cherubs while the unfortunate woman was emptied off at the next stop. I once asked him why he always picked a woman.

"Because the last thing I need is someone who stands to go to the toilet," he said. "They might open the door."

The man was a genius. Once, after losing sight of my wayward tee shot into a driving rain, I asked him as he sheltered behind my umbrella, "Where did that go?"

"Where did what go?" he replied.

When Bernhard Langer burst onto the European scene in the late 1970s, he had working for him a Scot by the name of Davey "Captain" Kirk. The Cap'n had an unintelligible Glasgow accent, which made him a perfect match for Langer. They both spoke little English.

Then, there was "Rhino," so called because he was thick-skinned and charged a lot. One of my personal favorites was "Tiny," who was only 4-foot-10 and weighed about 80 pounds.

Tiny didn't care who he worked for; he treated everyone with equal disdain. Routine questions like, "Can I get home from here, Tiny?" were answered with, "I don't know; where do you live?"

"Can I carry that bunker?" a player would ask.

"Not a chance, there's a ton of sand in it," Tiny would reply. He had more chance of reading a Chinese newspaper correctly than a six-footer, but he was worth a shot a round in entertainment.

In a strange way, I rely on caddies now more than I ever did. As a television foot soldier, my direct link to the player is the caddie. He provides me with much of the information I need to relay to the viewer -- the yardage his player has left to the flag and the club he is about to hit. I could not do my job properly without them.

Alas, Yorkie, Cap'n Kirk, and Jungle Jim are dead and gone, but I often think of them as I receive a sly wink or stealthy hand signal from their modern-day counterparts. I grew up fascinated by caddies and I love their company still.

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