ANOTHER day on tour, another caddie gets the “don’t come Monday” call.

Rory McIlroy’s decision to part ways with long-time caddie J.P. Fitzgerald at the end of July followed Phil Mickelson’s shock announcement that he and loyal bagman of 25 years, Jim “Bones” MacKay, were calling it a day after amassing five Major titles and more than $US83 million in prizemoney together.

Throw in Lydia Ko’s revolving door of loopers and it seems the days of simply “showing up, keeping up and shutting up” have left the world of caddieing for good.

Now, it seems, caddies must research every course like its architect, say what their employer wants – not necessarily needs – to hear, and know more about the golf swing than the player does. They also must unwittingly shoulder the role of amateur psychologist and crowd control officer on the course and are generally held to account for any misreads on the greens. In a nutshell, today’s caddies have to do everything bar swing the club for the player. As a consequence they have created a new position on tour: the ultimate scapegoat for poor player performance.

Of course not all caddies have fallen victim to over-achievement. Not yet, anyway. Take Jordan Spieth’s bagman Michael Greller for example. The former maths teacher is still being praised for helping Spieth make “the greatest bogey ever” at this year’s British Open. When the eventual champion hit the worst tee shot of his life on Royal Birkdale’s 13th hole, taking a tour of some equipment trucks, and finally taking a drop on the driving range, Spieth faced a long, blind recovery shot. But there was another problem: he had no clue how far he was from the hole. Enter Greller, who convinced Spieth he was some 40 yards closer to the pin than Spieth originally thought. Greller took the time to compose Spieth until he had the confidence to execute the shot, which he did, before going five-under over his closing five holes to lift the claret jug. But it wasn’t the only time Greller helped his boss during his rollercoaster round. He was constantly there to instill confidence. He demanded Spieth “Get over it” after an opening bogey, he refused to take Spieth’s club back on the fifth hole until the player gave him a fist bump, and on No.7, he reminded Spieth of a recent trip on which he hung out with a crew of sports legends that included Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps.

“He goes, ‘You belong in that group,’” Spieth recalled after his victory.

And Spieth, who famously refers to rounds of golf as how “we” played, reminded everyone of Greller’s greatness as a caddie, both in his post-round interviews and during his victory speech, when he said, “This is as much his as it is mine.” Minutes after that wrapped up, he saw his caddie and said, “Hey, Mike, here you go,” handing over golf’s oldest trophy to his grinning ‘partner’.

That, of course, is the rosy picture of the modern day player-caddie dynamic. The same can’t be seen on the LPGA Tour, where five of the world’s top-20 players sacked their caddies at the recent HSBC event in Singapore. FIVE! It’s a merry-go-round that shows no signs of stopping with comments like this from world No.5 Ko: “I don’t know exactly what I want and what I need in a caddie. People just think caddies give you a number, but I think it’s more than that.”

How much more is the question that will ultimately define the role of the caddie moving forward. But perhaps the real question is: why aren’t decisions like this being made before the season begins? Furthermore, why aren’t the players’ coaches having more influence on such appointments? The truth of the matter is caddies have become too qualified for their own good – and it could all be in vain anyway. Why? Artificial intelligence.

Turn to page 100 and you’ll learn all about the bagman of the future – a machine called Arccos Caddie that can live inside your smartphone. And, having processed millions of shots and geo-tagged data points on your course, it not only knows your tendencies, it also has the potential to know everything there is to know about every golfer and every shot that could ever be hit in every situation on any golf course from any lie and in any weather event there could be!

This is golf coming face to face with Big Data, a meeting that could change the game’s future and, in the case above, restoring the bond between player and trusted caddie, even if the caddie is artificially intelligent instead of over-qualified.

Greller, you’ve been warned!


Brad Clifton
Editor-in-Chief @bradcliffo