It’s not often that a player on the driving range gives his caddie the green light to give an interview, but Brian Gay let me steal Kip Henley on Monday at Pebble Beach.
Before he started caddying for Gay, Henley was a club pro in his native Tennessee and tried to make it to the big leagues. He spent about a dozen years playing on the mini-tour circuit and he won The Golf Channel's The Big Break II in 2004. Still a solid player, Henley, 50, entered in the Tennessee PGA Section championship last year and walked away with the title and a berth in the 2011 FedEx St. Jude Classic. He’s also one of golf’s most entertaining personalities on Twitter.
You’ve had a steady relationship with Brian for about six years, but at the end of last season, you guys took some time apart. Every relationship needs a break, but how did you come to that decision and then how did you work things out?
It's stressful. You just spend so much time together, and they're under stress and you're stressed for wanting to do the best job you can do, and you feel like you let them down and he feels like he lets me down when he doesn't play good. It takes special personalities to get along that much, for that long a time. That's why the caddie lifespan is short. Caddie years, I say that all the time.
There aren’t that many player-caddie relationships that have lasted for long periods of time. Off the top of my head, there’s Chad Campbell and Judd Burkett, Ryan Palmer and James Edmonson, and of course Phil and Bones.
But you tend to see the greatest of the great stay with their guy for long extended periods. I don't know which comes first—if there’s any connection, but great playing makes it easier, obviously. It’s just a stressful relationship because you're together all the time.
More than you are with your wife probably.
I know that's 100 percent for sure. Way more than I'm with my family. It ain't even close.
Can you explain “Kipbonics” to everyone? You refer to it as your way of talking/writing often on your legendary Twitter feed.
It's ghetto redneck. I was born and raised right in the middle of Chattanooga, Tennessee, next to the city and the country. I had friends from both ends of the street, so to speak. Me and my little brother both did. We had a lot of black kids that lived near us and we played a lot of basketball. So I hung out with a lot of the black kids. And then I was born and raised kind of redneck, so that's how Kipbonics came about. It's kind of Ebonics with a twist of Kip on it.
What's it like when you're paired with bombers like Dustin Johnson and he’s blowing it by Brian by 100 yards? It must be tough to stick with your game plan.
It is. I want to talk a little bit about Brian being such a mental giant and withstanding that, but him being a short hitter—this will hurt his feelings—but the guy had maybe six times a year that he could conceivably win the golf tournament. It was inconceivable for him to win three-fourths of the times. He could play great and get maybe in the top 10. But winning was practically impossible on the big, long golf courses. And for him one year to win two out of the five-to-seven opportunities that he has to win a golf tournament is pretty incredible.
Yeah, he deserves more recognition than he gets. I think people forget that he's at such a huge disadvantage most of the time.
But here's the deal. His mental strength is amazing. You ask about people pumping it past him, and he'll make comments about this guy is blasting it this far by me and everything, but Brian Gay is the ultimate turtle and the hare. He just keeps doing his thing. I'll preach that to him. No one sticks to their game plan like Brian Gay does, and that's the reason the guy has been out here 13 years on the PGA Tour, and he couldn't fly it 250 yards last year. Of course he can this year, but for 13 years he couldn't fly it 250 yards in the air.
What’s the benefit of having a caddie who is a good player?
I won't say that you can't be a great caddie if you were never a great player, but it makes it way more difficult, just to know the ins and outs of the game and to know what is going through your guy's head when he's standing on the 18th tee and his heart is beating through his chest. I mean, you can be a great caddie and not have been a great player. Obviously I was never a great player or I would have been out here.
You were a pretty good player, though.
I was decent. It just gives you a heads up on a lot of the other guys, like say Garrett Willis decided he wanted to caddie on the PGA Tour. He would instantly be one of the top five or 10 caddies on the Tour the first week, just because of his pure knowledge of the game and it gives you a little bit of an edge. Here's the deal with Brian Gay: Obviously the guy is more golf knowledgeable than I am about mapping a golf course. He reads about how to play a certain hole. He knows it, I know it, that he's more knowledgeable about course management. I don't know if he can read greens as good as I can. He probably can't. But he's smart enough to know that two heads are better than one, and he's amazing at pitching out the information that he doesn't want and taking in the information that he does want. And when he gets bad information, he is amazing at just letting it go. Whenever I make mistakes, he's unbelievable.
Can you give an example of that?
We made a quad at the Hope two years ago, and it was on Friday in the third round. I put him on the wrong club and left him short of the green, and then I misread his putt for a seven, so we made quad. I just completely killed him on the hole. I didn't do a good job. We were like 10-under, and it made us fall all the way back to 6 and we were in danger of missing the cut. He had just made an 8 and we go to the very next hole, we walk up to the tee, he pulled his yardage book out, and he goes, "139. Do you think I can hit a 9-iron 139 yards?" I look at him and go, "There's something wrong with you, man. How are you not going crazy right now?" You'd get killed for that by any other guy. Any other guy out here wouldn't talk to you for five holes. But Brian goes to the next tee and it's like he's standing on the first hole. His attitude on the golf course is the reason he's out here, period. He's one of the greatest putters on the planet for sure, but it's his attitude that's kept him out here on this game this long.
Speaking of good players and caddies, how much does Kyle Stanley’s caddie Brett Waldman factor in what transpired the last few weeks? How much credit does he deserve for Stanley’s comeback win at the Phoenix Open?
Obviously this Kyle Stanley kid is a special talent, but I don't think it's a coincidence that he's hanging around with a guy like Brett who really knows the game. I don't think it's coincidence. You see Paul Tesori on Webb Simpson’s bag, and Webb was a special talent when he was out here, but you can't tell me that having a guy like Paul Tesori doesn’t give a player a little bit of an edge. A small edge is huge on this tour because little things add up to huge amounts of dollars out here because they're all so close.
What is that extra edge?
I really believe it's the mental part of the game more than anything. Giving yardages, what everybody thinks a caddie does, is way down the list on my priorities as a caddie. How about that?
Most people just think you carry the bag and give yardages.
I think reading the greens is up there pretty high. If you've got a good player that understands how to read greens, that's a huge advantage. Giving yardages, I bet that's the fifth most important thing I do for Brian Gay.
What’s the difference between a good amateur, a good club pro and a good Tour pro?
If you talk about the absolute best club pro players, the absolute best, and the absolute best amateurs, there's very, very, very, very little difference in their games, truly. It's the mental edge more than anything that carries these guys [on Tour], their brain has allowed them to find a way to block it out or whatever, and most of these guys, this is not a compliment to these guys, but most of these guys out here playing, they don't care what you think of them at all, and that's a great quality to have. They could care less what your feelings about their game or their attitude is. I think that's what separates the great amateurs and the great club pros from these guys is the mental aspect of the game. Like Chad Campbell -- when he was playing on the Hooters Tour and trashing everybody, his game was just as great then as it was when he won on the PGA Tour, when he tried to win the Masters and almost won the PGA. His game was just as solid when he was on the Hooters, just as solid if not more solid. But finally he found a way to cross over in his head and get out here. That was the difference. His game didn't improve. He just figured it out mentally that he could do it.
It’s kind of amusing when pro athletes of other sports come out here on the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour and think they're good enough to compete, but then they get a reality check when they barely break 90.
You hear people that are backing these kids that win their club championship like two or three times, and that is just zero. It has nothing to do with what these guys can do out here. It's a huge separation. Now, once that guy wins his club championship and becomes one of the guys that contends in the state events every single week, that guy's game could conceivably be as sharp as a kid that's winning the state open or the state amateur a couple times. I've always said this: If you can win a solid mini-tour event these days, you can play on the PGA Tour and you can win on the PGA Tour, period.
You lost a bet on Twitter during last year’s U.S. Open and endured the consequences. It started when you heard John Feinstein say on Golf Channel that someone would shoot 8-under that week. Take us through it.
Brian and I had played a practice round on Monday at Congressional and the greens were brown. They were dying. They were so hard and so fast. Now, maybe Feinstein had a better weatherman than I did, but when he made that statement that someone would shoot 8-under, me and Brian laughed. I said that ain't happening. There ain't no way somebody is shooting 8-under on this golf course this week, and then the rains came and the greens got soft, and that made it a different golf course.
So you made a little wager on Twitter...
I said if somebody shoots 8-under this week, I'll mow my yard naked on Monday or when I go home.
Then when you lost after Rory McIlroy shot 16-under, you actually followed through and posted the evidence with pictures on Twitter!
I really wasn’t naked, but it appeared that I was. My wife took those pictures. I wore gym shorts into the backyard and pulled the thing out, and then I had a sock that was guarding my stuff so you can't see it. I was trying to get points. I like to have fun.
Last year as the Tennessee PGA Section champion, you earned an automatic spot in the FedEx St. Jude Classic. You gave it a go, but you didn’t play your best and missed the cut. You had a sense of humor about it, though, and you tweeted a picture of the note you posted in the locker room. Tell us about that.
I said, "Dear PGA Tour players: I, Kip Henley, vow to never said foot in your arena as a participant again." A bunch of guys really laughed hard at that.
It was a good one. That same week, your daughter Stormi, a former Miss Teen USA and contestant on “American Idol,” caddied for you. Obviously she’s gorgeous, and you’re probably pretty protective of her around a bunch of guys out here. Did you make it clear that if they came anywhere near her, they’d regret it?
Oh yeah, when I started out here five years ago and she was a cute little girl then. Somebody would say something about her and I would always say, “Look, she'll never date a Tour player or a Tour caddie.”
Just because they're all crazy. They're all crazy. And you can print that.
Do you have to be a little crazy to play this game at this level?
They're crazy. A couple of the guys made a couple comments just to get under my skin. Like Anthony Kim told me one time, "Kip, you would love it if I'd date one of your daughters." You can print this, too: I said, "You come around my yard, you'll have a new hole in there you didn't used to have." We just laugh about it.
Do you think caddies are generally underpaid, overpaid, or do you feel grateful to make the money you do?
I think that caddies are underpaid, and a lot of the Tour players would just go crazy to hear me say that. You know, if you look at it in one regard, I'm an educated redneck. I went to college like two and a half years, and I'm still like a sophomore. I'm an uneducated person, and I make so much more money than I should.
Whenever I was negotiating raises with my players, I'd go, “I understand that I'm a caddie, and I make a ridiculous amount of money already, but the only thing more ridiculous than that is you're getting paid 10 times whatever I'm making to play golf, or more than 10 times, to play golf.” I know it's ridiculous that we make this much money caddying, but we should still be making more. There's a lot of guys that pay their players like 1995 wages, and I think they should be ashamed. Now, a rookie, that's different, but an established veteran who's won millions out here, that’s not right.
Lots of people are curious about what percentage of earnings you guys make. Can you break it down for us?
5/7/10 is still pretty popular out here, 5 percent of any cut made, 7 percent of a top 10 and 10 percent on a win—that's still pretty common out here with a lot of guys. It shouldn't be. If you're an established veteran and you're still paying your guy 5/7/10, shame on you.