Looking at his ball sitting up in the rough, 190 yards over water from the last hole of the 1976 U.S. Open at the Atlanta Athletic Club, Jerry Pate told his caddie, John Considine, that he thought he needed a four-iron.
Considine -- known by other caddies as "a Cool-Hand Luke kind of guy" -- sized up the situation. "He said, 'No, it should come out as a flier,'" Pate recalls.
"And I said, 'Well, but still, I don't wanna be short, because if I'm short I'm in the water.'
"He said, 'No, five-iron's enough.'
Of course, a pumped-up Pate smashed the 5-iron three feet from the hole to convert a one-stroke lead into a two-stroke victory.
On the other hand, there's the guy who, forecaddying for Raymond Floyd at Jacksonville, walked into the woods -- seeking relief, shall we say -- and left the bag unattended. When Floyd's drive strayed into the rough, it rolled right into the bag. It cost Floyd two strokes -- and the caddie, one job.
Heir to golf's oldest profession, today's Tour caddie has perhaps the most peculiar job in pro sports. He's one part pack mule, one part thoroughbred jockey. He has to be a psychologist, but he's probably a head case himself. Add some Svengali, and a a dash of Sancho Panza, and voila: Jeeves in sweatsocks.
There will be a lot of forced marches before a caddie finds himself on a U.S. Open winner's bag, and until he does -- if he does -- a smile must be his umbrella. Meaning that as far as his boss goes, he can take it, but isn't allowed to dish it out.
Says Brian Sullivan, a friendly 36-year-old bearing Jeff Maggert: "Some guys, you hand them a club and they lay the sod over the ball with it and then give you hell for the rest of the day. They don't have the wife or kids or the dog to kick, so you get it."
Which is why it doesn't hurt to be a practice-range politician, either, glad-handing the golfers and the other caddies, since the odds aren't bad that after your boy misses the cut next Friday afternoon, he'll decide that your karma sucks -- but "let's think about something down the line."
"To a golfer you're only as good as the last putt you read for him," says Sullivan.
"You can work for a guy for years and all of a sudden one day he says, 'Oh, I don't think we're getting along, maybe we should split up for a while," says Russ Craver, who was separated from Larry Nelson for eight years. "Sometimes it's mutual agreement, sometimes it's just dirt."
And sometimes it looks like stealing. Veteran Andy Martinez, once Johnny Miller's portable friend, now caddieing for Tom Lehman: "I think certain guys start rumors, if they see that a player's having a little bit of trouble." Said Bruce Edwards, who except for a brief stint with Norman has enjoyed a career-long association with Tom Watson, "There are rumors amongst the caddie ranks of who's treading thin ice, who's going to quit or get fired. It can appear to be very cutthroat at times, but everybody's looking out for themselves."
The truth is, there's a lot of money to be made these days if you land a top player -- maybe even six figures a year -- so you can't blame the caddies for jockeying for position.
It all makes for a complicated square dance. Martinez caddied for John Cook in 1990-91, then switched to Tom Lehman. Martinez's friend and roommate, Pete Bender, is now working for Cook after going from Greg Norman to Ray Floyd in the late '80s to Ian Baker-Finch in '91 and to Chip Beck last year, when Beck answered charges of slow play by changing caddies.
You may remember seeing Bender at the Masters in 1993, standing next to Beck in the 15th fairway as his man deliberated whether to go for the par-five green in two while chasing leader Bernhard Langer.
Bender's recollection is probably even crueler than yours: "I gave him the yardage, and he kind of looked at me like, 'What should we do?' I was ready to pull the head cover off the 3-wood when he said, 'Not so fast, let's talk about this.'
"So I said, 'What's to talk about? You've got a perfect lie, 235 yards to the front.' I said, 'You know, Chip, in certain situations you're going to have to go for it, and this is one of them. You have a chance to win the Masters.'
"Then he started stalling. He walked up to about 10 yards past his ball and kept trying to wait for the breeze to pick up. Then he walked back and said, 'Well, there's a little breeze blowing in our face, you know.' And I said, 'Yeah, but it's not a strong breeze. Downhill makes up for it.' I told him I could give him more reasons he should go for it than he could to lay up.
"I asked him why he didn't want to go for it. He looked me straight in the face, and said, 'I don't want to mess my round up.'"
You know the rest of the story: Beck laid up, made par, and didn't catch Langer. Beck and Bender broke up three months later.
Sometimes a caddie can take things into his own hands -- but it isn't always easy. Edwards, who is Huck Finn to Watson's Tom Sawyer, remembers urging Watson to go for the green with his second shot on the par-five seventh at Spyglass Hill one year in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. When Watson demurred, Edwards blocked him from pulling an iron out of the bag. After surrendering the club, Edwards threw the 3-wood onto the fairway and stormed off. Finally, Watson picked up the wood.
"Nick Faldo was in our group, and he said to me as Tom was about to hit the 3-wood, 'Boy, you really put your job on the line there.' And I'm standing there thinking, 'Just don't hit it left.'" (He didn't, but only made par.)
There is an art to knowing what to say and when to say it. "Some guys you have to really talk to a lot, they want a cheerleader," according to Sullivan. "Some guys hate it, too, you'd better not say a word."
Handling something as brittle as a pro golfer's ego can be tricky. "Believe me, it's a lot of pressure when something you might say could cost a player a hundred thousand bucks," Martinez said, chuckling ruefully. "You have know when to stroke'em, and when to kick'em," says Edwards.
When it's time to "kick'em," the caddie knows he is treading a fine line. Says Bender of Norman, "Greg intimidates caddies, too. You're afraid to say stuff to him, even if you're right, because you don't want to be fired. A lot of caddies are afraid to be fired. I'm not." (Norman fired Bender in 1987.)
Of course, Bender is one of the caddies who likes to take a more active role. Some players aren't looking for input, but want a caddie who will "show up, stay up, and shut up." Bender once caddied for Jack Nicklaus, but lost interest because "there wasn't much you could do for Jack. I don't work for a player unless he depends on me," says Bender, who prefers to be in command. In the last round of the 1986 British Open, he watched Norman, holding a three-stroke lead, hit a snap-hook off the sixth tee.
"He was really nervous, and it was time for me to do something. So, walking down the fairway, I grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him back. I said, 'Look, Greg, you're playing too quick. You're talking and thinking too quick, and you've got to slow down. You're the best player in this field. You're going to win this tournament, if you take your time and enjoy it, and don't press the issue.'
"I said, 'Do me a favor. Just walk my speed and talk to me. Don't be running down the fairway.' He said, 'Okay.' So the very next hole we hit a driver and a four-iron about six feet for birdie and he kind of turned around and winked at me.
"On the 71st hole, when he hit to about three feet for birdie and a six-shot lead, he knew he was going to win. He turned around and said, 'Pete, I'm so damned nervous. I can't see that putt. You're gonna to have to tell me how hard to hit it and where to hit it.' I said, 'Greg, no problem, that's what you got me for.'
"I'm not saying he wouldn't have won that tournament [without me], but I helped him."
A caddie who is more than a bag-toter can be very well rewarded. Consider Martinez: while the average turf valet might earn six percent of a players' earnings (10 percent for a victory), atop a weekly salary of $3-400, Martinez earns at least seven percent of every purse, 10% for a top-five finish, and 12% for a win; he also gets a $100 a week raise for every hundred thousand Lehman earns, off a base of $500. "Andy's probably one of the best-ever," says one of his former charges.
Other top caddies include Edwards' roommate, Greg Rita (Curtis Strange and Gene Sauers); Mike Hicks (Payne Stewart), Mike Carrick, (Tom Kite), and Tony Navarro (Jeff Sluman and Norman), all nearing or just past 40, an age when a good caddy is experienced enough to get paid for it but still young enough to carry the bag.
As Tour purses -- and therefore caddie incomes (supplemented now by endorsement deals) -- have swelled, so have the ranks of the club-luggers. They come from Massachusetts, they come from California, they come from Alabama with a sand rake on their knee: well over 200 of them hanging around looking for work each week, five times the number twenty years ago. (Most are white, another big change from the past.)
You see them sitting by the caddieshack or the practice green, smiling at the pros, trying to look lucky, trying to get a bag -- any bag, even a player who just scraped into the field on a sponsor's exemption. "Just trying to make enough money to get out of town," rasps one old-timer. There are golfers' college buddies out for a few laughs; grizzled, sun-dried veterans who've spent a few nights too many sleeping in bunkers; regular guys fleeing a job or a marriage in "the real world."
There are too many of them, in fact. Says Joe "Gypsy" Grillo, who runs the Tour Caddies Association lunchstand-mobile home: "There's twenty guys that don't even get any work following the tour, guys that think they're going to make a living tailing Jim Benepe."
The older ones have nicknames, coined while making side bets over a six-pack, or while "watching divots" (at the practice range). There's Jeff "Squeeky" Medlin (Nick Price), Mike "Fluff" Cowan (Peter Jacobsen), Mike "Shitty" Boyce (Gil Morgan), and "Formerly Greasy" Tony Navarro (Greg Norman's latest, also a winner with five other players). Then there's "Penitentiary" Larry, a temperamental though lovable ex-con who prefers not to give out his last name and is said to avoid certain parts of New Jersey. "I call him 'In-the-cell-before-the-bell' because he eats so fast," said Sullivan.
They hang out in Gypsy's trailer, where the gossip, like the food, is good and cheap. Best tournament for caddies: Memorial ("Jack treats the caddies good"); worst golfer to work for: Mike Donald ("off the golf course, the greatest guy in the world, on it, he might be the biggest prick ever in life, and seventy percent of guys will tell you that, nobody works for him regular" -- Curtis Strange is "demanding, but Curtis pays pretty good -- you're going to have to put up with a little bit but he's going to make money.") Hal Sutton is praised for his generosity, while Seve Ballesteros is said to be somewhat tight -- and Lanny Wadkins is stingy with his praise: "I worked for Wadkins four years, and we won seven tournaments together. One time in four years he told me, 'Nice job.'"
You might hear a conversation about Nick Faldo's caddie, Fanny Sunnesson:
"She's a good caddie," says one.
"Sure she's good," says another. "With Faldo. But put her on Willie Wood's bag and let's see how she does."
As for poker-players, so for caddies: you don't have to be good to be lucky, but you sure have to be lucky to be good. Bruce Edwards was fresh out of high school with all of a month's experience when he approached a young Tom Watson in 1973, and, as he says, "the rest is history."
A 20-year-old Andy Martinez left the Tour in 1969 because his long hair and bushy moustache didn't go over too big in the South, and might not have come back if Johnny Miller hadn't given him a sympathetic ear on a practice green. "He told me, 'They might not like the way you look, but you should be able to caddie.'" The dark, furry critter ended up shadowing Miller eleven years, winning 19 tournaments with him.
"Miller's weakness was he didn't quite have the mental toughness some other guys did," says Martinez. "Not that he was a privileged kid, but I had played a lot of team sports. He was almost more of an artist than he was a tough competitor. Earlier in his career, I used to tell him how good he was, stroke him a little. Miller had a tendency to get down on himself and whine about bad luck."
After Martinez and Miller split, Martinez's own luck seemed to run out. In 1986, he separated from his wife of 11 years, and worked for 12 different golfers without a finish in the top 20. He turned down Miller's comeback offer of $40,000 guaranteed for 18 weeks' of work, opting instead to work for Hal Sutton. But after a promising start in 1987, he gave Sutton a bad club on the fifth hole at Augusta National in an early round of the Masters. "It's a ridiculous green. I had thought it would play uphill, but -- it should have been an eight-iron." Sutton hit the approach over the green, made a double bogey, and fired Martinez a few weeks later.
After that, Martinez took some time off, caddied on the LPGA Tour for a while, and embraced Christianity. Seeking a player who, as Martinez puts it, "can play, can pay, and above all, can pray," he cut a deal with Lehman.
Clean-shaven and close-cropped now, Martinez cuts a lonesome figure on the course: long and dark, intense, almost mournful, he could be one of El Greco's monks in a caddie's bib. Sincere to a fault, he says that Christianity is "the most important thing in my life," although it hasn't made his job easier. "Sometimes there's a lot of un-Christian-like activities out here."
Just ask his friend Pete Bender, whom Norman dismissed a year after winning the British Open. "The day before Thanksgiving, 1987 I got a phone call from his car phone in Australia. He just called and said, 'It's time to change'. . . . I said, 'Well, then give me a good reason why you're firing me, what's your excuse?' He said 'I don't have an excuse.'
Bender still wonders why Norman dropped him ("to this day I'm still curious"). Some feel Norman thought the cocky Bender, who is not shy about his ability, was calling too much attention to himself. After all, to a golfer, a boastful caddie is like a musical toupee: no matter how well the thing suits him, it defeats its own purpose.
Bruce Edwards: "I've seen a lot of guys handle success poorly, and I'm not going to name names, but I get a kick out of their attitude that they're the reason for the player's success, and that really isn't the case. . . . "
A few in the clique-ish world of caddies are riled by Martinez ("Show-Biz") and Bender ("The Million-Dollar Caddie"), including Sullivan: "If you're working for a Greg Norman, naturally everyone's going to think you're a better caddie.
"See, Pete thinks he's of the purebred breed. He's not one of us. And we're just as soon glad not to have him one of us."
Sullivan curses and his blue eyes narrow: "We don't hit any shots, we don't make any putts, you know. We advise them, and the biggest thing about our job is being there on time and knowing the yardages. But it's not you that's playing."
Bender, admitting that "you're only as good as your player -- if you're riding a flat horse, you can expect to finish last," dismisses the griping as envy. "We work harder, we take pride, and the players know it. How can you tell us we're not worth what we're paid? I've got 20 years' experience, and I've won well over 20 tournaments."
It's hard to be an old caddie, almost as hard as figuring out what to do instead. Retirement for most is a couple of majors away.
"I love my job, it puts a smile on my face," says Bender. Edwards admits "after nineteen years, this is more of a job than it was when I was 18. But being outside eight hours a day, it's hard to put a dollar figure on that." Of course the one that's on it isn't bad, but as he says, "I never pursued this because of the money, there wasn't much when I started. I loved the freedom, and the opportunity to walk three feet from -- well, in my case two of the better golfers in the last three decades, and to hopefully make a difference.
"It beats the real world. You can have that coat and tie and the same four walls."