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Undercover Caddie: A Breath Of Fresh Air - Australian Golf Digest Undercover Caddie: A Breath Of Fresh Air - Australian Golf Digest

Life as a looper on the LPGA Tour.

You won’t have job security, and you’re not going to make much money. That’s what a caddie told me when I started looping on the LPGA Tour a decade ago. I thought he was joking or perhaps trying to weed me out. Within a month I realised he was just telling it like it is. Well, mostly. You can build tenure and make a living as an LPGA Tour caddie. If you do it right, you can have a good time in the process. But, boy, you’d better be ready to hustle.

Let’s start with the dollars. In the 2023 season, 28 players made $US1 million or more. For context, 139 PGA Tour players earned more than a million in their 2022-2023 season. Forgive me for laughing at my fellow PGA Tour caddies anytime I hear them talk about financial hardships. 

You don’t have to work for one of those 28 LPGA Tour players to make a living, but it has to be a top-70 performer. That’s roughly the cutoff for players making more than $US400,000. By commission (assuming 8 percent of winnings), that translates to $32,000. We also have a weekly fee of $1,000 to $1,300, and we work 25 times a year. You won’t have a deep retirement fund, but if you’re rooming with other caddies and not having steak dinners every night, you can get by. 

As for job security, yes, caddies on the LPGA Tour get fired with greater frequency than the caddies on most men’s tours. Some say these firings have coincided with the influx of international players, that they are quicker to get rid of caddies when things go south. It does happen, but I don’t attribute this to cultural differences. It has to do with parenting. Many of these players are in their teens and early 20s. No matter what country you’re from, you’re going to lean heavily on your parents at this age. With fewer agents and managers in the women’s game, parents have a larger role. When players are struggling, managers aren’t as quick to blame us, but parents are; clearly their child has never failed until we were paired with them. It’s not unusual for some LPGA players to go through three to five caddies a year. 

However, I’ve noticed that when players get to a certain level, they tend to show the fledgling stars the ropes, and part of that education is how to treat caddies. Veterans, and especially league officials, know LPGA Tour players have a reputation of being caddie killers, and they’re doing their best to combat it. 

Aside from money and security, there’s also the socialisation aspect, or lack of it. Players and caddies on the PGA and European tours don’t hang out as much as you might think, but on the LPGA Tour, that socialisation is almost non-existent. I’ve been lucky to work for several women with whom I’ve had an off-the-course rapport, but I’m the exception. It makes sense when you think about it: most caddies are men, ranging in their late 20s to early 50s. The players are women in their late teens to early 30s. Look at your workplace; I’m guessing the cliques are more age-related than you might think. 

If you want socialisation, look to your fellow caddies. There are two groups – golf nerds and pub crawlers. Those are your two options after work: find a local course to get some swings in or find the nearest tap, preferably near a TV. Maybe because we’re all in the same situation more so than our PGA Tour colleagues, everyone gets along well. 

Another important point: you must be professional. I was told this unequivocally when I started, and I remember being offended. Did my fellow caddie think I wasn’t taking this seriously? I did my homework on the course, got my players’ numbers dialled in. But I quickly found out what he was talking about. The PGA Tour occasionally resembles what you see in your weekend game – dirty jokes, horseplay, “boys-will-be-boys” stuff – but the LPGA Tour is more like an office environment. You have to be on your best behaviour. The LPGA prides itself in being a family experience, and that includes us.

So why do I do it? Frankly, being on the LPGA Tour is more enjoyable. There’s pressure but no real spotlight. The women are easier to deal with than PGA Tour players. The egos aren’t there. We travel to as many cool and exotic places as the men, and the LPGA Tour really does its best to make everyone – players, caddies, officials, fans – feel like part of a family. 

The game is also purer. There’s more strategy than just bombing it 350 yards. Don’t get me wrong – these women hit it further than 98 percent of male amateur golfers. But if you’re drawn to finesse and strategy, this is where it’s at. 

Selfishly, caddies have a bigger role here. Because the players are younger, they’re more willing to listen, more eager to seek help. I’ve had wins on major tours with men and women, and I swear on my 7-iron, winning with my LPGA player was more fulfilling. You hear “we” a lot now in the professional game, and often that’s overblown. But on the LPGA Tour, it really is a team. Forget money and security; I want to feel like I’m part of something that matters. Isn’t that ultimately what everyone is chasing?   – with Joel Beall

Illustration by Juliette Toma