Kenny Harms has been a professional caddie for 26 years on the LPGA Tour, Champions Tour and now the PGA Tour. He’s also one of the lead plaintiffs on the multi-million dollar class action lawsuit filed by a group of more than 150 pro caddies against the PGA Tour.
My No. 1 priority isn’t me. It’s Kevin Na. I’m a PGA Tour caddie, and I’ve been on Kevin’s bag since 2008. I love my job. There’s no better feeling than coming down the home stretch on a tough course when your player has a shot at the lead and I know I helped him get there.
I’ve always been a hands-on guy -- I read greens, I pull clubs -- but what separates a great caddie from a good caddie is something deeper. You have to know when to talk to your player, when to leave him alone, and when to get in his face if he’s unraveling. Kevin is a tremendous talent, and it’s my job to get Kevin to believe that he is one of the best players in the world every time he tees it up.
I’m proud to be a caddie, and so are my colleagues, so we asked the PGA Tour to take our profession as seriously as we do. I’ve been lucky enough to caddy for some great players -- Hubert Green, Hale Irwin and now Kevin -- so I’ve made a decent living, but some of my colleagues are struggling. There’s more money in the sport now, it’s true, but our expenses are larger than ever. The players might be flying in private jets and staying in free hotel suites, but we’re hitching rides and sharing rooms. Most of us can’t afford health care or retirement accounts. Meanwhile, the PGA Tour is making millions splashing advertisements for its sponsors on our caddie bibs.
At last year’s Tour Championship in September, myself and a few other board members from the Association of Professional Tour Caddies sat down with the Tour’s Chief of Operations Andy Pazder and made an offer: The bib is ours -- it’s on our bodies, and that’s our real estate, but we are willing to allow you to keep the bib and advertise for your sponsors if you put aside $10,000 per year for each caddie’s healthcare and $10,000 per year for each caddie’s retirement. For 200 caddies, that would have been $4 million per year. We gave them the deal of a lifetime and they didn’t take it. Now the courts will decide what the bib is worth, and we just want what’s fair, not a dollar more, and not a dollar less. [Editor’s note: PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw declined to comment on these negotiations, citing the Tour’s policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation.]
No one wanted to file a lawsuit against the Tour, but after a year of failed compromises and broken promises, we had no choice. It’s amazing what’s happened since. So many more caddies have joined, including Steve Williams. The pros -- like Greg Norman, Luke Donald and Pat Perez -- are starting to be more vocal. And after several caddies were denied access to the clubhouse at the Honda Classic and forced to wait out a violent storm in a metal tent, I started getting phone calls from all kinds of people expressing their support. People aren’t going to stand for this anymore.
I’m grateful that no one got hurt in that storm, but I’m still pissed. It doesn’t feel good to be treated like a second-class citizen. I don’t even know if you could call it second class; it is more like fifth class when you leave caddies out in a storm to die. That’s sad. Does the Tour not value human life? PGA National is a very big place. There’s no reason in the world why the caddies didn’t have a safe place to go to. I guess we’re just outside dogs. We’re not allowed in the clubhouse. We’re not allowed to sit and eat with our players. We’re not even allowed in the locker room unless we’re carrying the bags in on Monday or out on Sunday. This isn’t 1915. It’s 2015, and the Tour needs to step it up.
When I first started caddying, it was a traveling circus. Guys would go out, chase women and wake up with a hangover. That’s all changed. You’re not going to see caddies out at the bar today. They’re back in their hotel rooms preparing for tomorrow and getting a good night’s sleep and saving money to send home to their families. Caddying is more than a job now; it’s a profession. My father taught me that whatever you decide to do, you try to be the best at it. I’d like to add something to that. If you love your job, you should work hard to change it for the better. This is my family, and our bond is stronger than ever. We’ve been treated this way for long enough, and we’re not going to stand for it anymore.