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Caddie Confidential: Sometimes Caddies Do Give A Shart

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 8:31 AM, under , ,

I was caddying for Mark Rhode at the Greater Milwaukee Open back in the early 1980's, and we had a very, very early tee time. The "luxury" hotel that I was staying in for about $18 a night did not have an alarm clock. I had no car and no ride to the golf course in the morning. But I had to show up to keep my job.

The Best Job Anyone Could Have: Caddying for Joe
Garagiola in the 1981 Greater Milwaukee Open
Pro-Am. I was so young (and much thinner) then.

So after I left a local watering hole after last call, I walked and hitchhiked my way to the golf course and for there about 3:00 AM. I found a golf cart, and went to sleep. I was awakened by the sound of the mowers and the smell of the morning dew. I was on time for our pre-round practice session.

It was definitely not the best sleeping accommodations, but it ranked right up there with the YMCA in White Plains for the Westchester Classic, the $5 a night (Canadian) dorm room at Sheridan Nurses College for the Canadian Open, and Bruce Edward's (Tom Watsons long-time caddie) van in a hotel parking lot. At least I never slept in a bunker at the golf course.

Such was the life of an aspiring, wet behind the ears caddie on the PGA Tour back before the creation of the all-exempt tour, Tiger Woods, and the huge purses we see on the tour today. Nowadays a caddie can earn a pretty nice living on the tour. The only problem is that it is much harder for caddies to get a long-time bag to work. As long-time caddie Butchie Vail told me at the Nationwide Tour's Athens Regional Foundation Classic last spring, it is really brutal out there.

My experiences were limited to three summers in college because I decided trying to make money as a caddie was a heck of a lot more fun than working as a dishwasher in a local hotel restaurant (that job lasted three days). During those summers, I met some of the most unforgettable characters I have ever known, and had the time of my life. I told myself that I should right a book about it someday. Of course I didn't.

But Greg "Piddler" Martin, longtime caddy of veteran tour player Dan Forsman, has taken the plunge. Caddie Confidential: Inside Stories from the Caddies of the PGA Tour (Triumph Books, 171 pages, ISBN-10: 160078190X, ISBN-13: 978-1600781902, April 10, 2009), released this past spring, is a collection of stories and anecdotes from a number of long-time tour caddies. For me, it was a very interesting read because I know many of the caddies offering stories for the book, or referred to in the book. Because I caddied alongside and against some of them, I am a perfect audience for the book.

People like me will know immediately who Woody Blackburn and David Thore are, and this gives context to the stories about them. But for today's mainstream golf fans, the book may be a disappointment. Despite the title and cover picture, you may not get the stories you want to read. For the stories that are told, there is no real point of reference for the reader. A whole chapter talks about caddie's nicknames. However, there are no photos of the caddies, so a golf fan could not distinguish them from any other caddie if they are at a tournament.

You are not going to read about how and why Mike "Fluff" Cowan got fired by Tiger Woods. You are not going to come across any really juicy tidbits about the big players (or even the not so big players) or the marquee caddies like Steve Williams. You are not going to get information on how much they get paid today.

The reason is simple: fear. Throughout the book, caddies talk about getting fired, how many times caddies get fired, and some of the silly reasons for getting fired. There is no way they can be as candid as people would want and still hope to get and keep a bag on today's tour. The money is too good to pass up. That is their very simple reality.

If you want to read stories from what many would call a bygone era of golf, i.e. before the PGA Tour created the all-exempt tour and the purses grew to obscene levels, when players actually had to grind out a living, then the book provides some, but limited, insight into the men (mostly men anyway) and the experiences they have lived.

There is one story in the book that, at least for this reader, is pee your pants funny. Without going into detail, it is about a caddie that really gave a shart (and then some) to make sure he was to work on time.

While the book hints at potential "greatness" for the casual golf reader, it falls short by not telling the full story (or as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story").

For example, there is a story of a Tour player (one who I have always liked and is a fan favorite) who's wife sent a letter out complaining that Tour caddies were making too much money. What the reader does not know is that this player's first wife was often his caddy in an effort to save money.

Another story tells about some caddies who perform valet services such as dropping off and picking up laundry for their player. It does not go on to tell of one particular player who not only requires that his caddy do those tasks, but to also cook his meals, clean the dishes, and so forth (caddies are much more forthcoming in casual conversations in the parking lot than they might be on the record).

Still another story tells of a caddie nick-named "Last Call" because he never failed to miss last call in a bar. It is hinted that he got this name as a caddie, when the reality is different. He earned that moniker as a player, and that behavior might be one of the reasons he never really made it as a player.

Even though as a whole I enjoyed the book, I am often drawn to little details and errors that others might not notice or even care about.

For example, long-time legendary CBS Sports Associate Director Chuck Will is referred to as "Chuck Wills" in a couple of places. It is not clear if this was intentional as a direct quote or just missed in the editing process.

In the chapter on caddie nicknames, there is a reference to Jeff "Squeaky" Medlin, saying he "HAS (emphasis added) a really high-pitched voice." The only problem here is syntax, as Squeaky died in 1997 of leukemia. If it is not Medlin he is referring to, then a distinction should be made.

Should you read this book? If you keep your expectations low and don't let the tile seduce you, it is a good but not great read. It worked for me because if my ties to many of the players mentioned (and I once caddied for Mark Calcavecchia, who wrote one of the forewords to the book). But this may not work for everybody.

There are better books out there for those who want deeper stories and insights. For me, the gold standard has always been Michael Bamberger's The Green Road Home. There is also the recently published Kaddy Korner - Life and Times on the PGA Tour , self-published by Mark Huber. It is this latter book that you really learn why Lynn Strickler is called the "Growler", an attitude that had not changed when I ran into him at a Tampa restaurant in 1999, 16 years after I left the greatest job someone could have.

For the record, I have been fired as a caddie. The only time it happened with the word "fired" (as opposed to not being on the same bag in consecutive weeks without explanation) was when Curt Byrum of The Golf Channel fired me before our practice round at the Quad Cities Open in Moline, Illinois. We had made the cut in Milwaukee the week before. Call it karma or fate, I picked up a Gary Trivisonno's bag for the Monday qualifier, we qualified for the tournament, and made the cut. Curt did not make the cut.

Posted August 19, 2009

Currently have 1 comments:

  1. Patrick M says:

    Indeed, it is a shame that you have to rely upon another reference to lend some color in describing Mr. Strickler's unique personality. For the very brief period in which I had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Martin, it is my understanding that the two were quite close, and hence Greg could have lent good insight if he were brave/persistent, or found his story compelling, enough.

    This was some time ago, however, and sympathies may surely have changed. In any case, Greg seems to have been a bit truer to his friends than the reading public.

    By the way, I believe that Mr. Strickler could write one hell of a book on his own if he (somehow) found the energy to do so.

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