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Undercover Caddie: Carrying The Rope - Australian Golf Digest Undercover Caddie: Carrying The Rope - Australian Golf Digest

Professional golf’s civil war has made us rich, but at a cost 

We don’t care – not anymore, at least. That’s probably not the answer fans expect to hear from caddies about the battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, but, like many of you, we are fatigued with the daily drama. Although it affects our livelihoods, it’s hard to get worked up over something we have no say in. 

Before coming off as ungrateful, let me say this: no one has benefited more from the recent cash infusion into golf than caddies. The players? Please. I hate the narrative of the haves and have nots when it comes to players; it’s the haves and have mores. Most of the players complaining are not superstars, which makes the noise even more deafening.

Caddies have seen the trickle-down benefits from the higher purses. On the PGA Tour last year, 26 guys made more than $US6 million, meaning caddies for those players (assuming they worked the entire year) made at least half a million. Sixty-two players made more than $US3 million, so a quarter-mil is a safe
assumption for their loops. Five years before, the number of players that reached those thresholds were five and 29. Hell, Ted Scott has made more money in the past two years working for Scottie Scheffler than many pro athletes. It’s not generational wealth, but it is wealth, and those who say money doesn’t buy happiness have never been poor. I’ve been with multiple guys who finished in the top 10 on the moneylist, and I’m in a much better position now with a player who, well, we’re not close to the top 10 in earnings. For the first time, being a caddie is a sound financial decision.

But with our newly padded bank accounts comes a cost: the job is not as fun as it once was. There’s too much talk about greed, power and control. The state of pro golf remains the top discussion, and you can’t escape it. (Note to all pro-am contestants: if you want to turn off your pro, ask him what he thinks of all this on the first hole, which I’ve now seen half a dozen times.) Also, caddies have been even more sidelined when it comes to what “matters” with the sport because for all the talk about re-imagining what pro golf should be, caddies are not part of the discussion. 

For example, earlier this year, my player and I were with two other player-caddie combos in a practice round, and one of the players has serious sway with the PGA Tour. This player-leader was going on and on about the tour’s new partner, the Strategic Sports Group, how players are finally going to have a say in how the tour is run, how forward-thinking the tour will be, blah, blah, blah. This blabbering went on for three holes. Eventually, this player turned to the third caddie in the group, who has been out here for decades, and asked what the caddie thought. “I’m just waiting for y’all to talk about someone besides yourselves,” the caddie said in a Southern drawl. Everyone laughed, but us caddies, well, we laughed for a different reason. After the round, the quick-draw caddie shook his head and told me, “They have no idea. They’re the CEO complaining about first-world problems to the mailroom clerk.”

I understand why some paint this as a war between good and evil. Given all the things Saudi Arabia has been accused of, I understand the hesitation towards LIV and the worry of that money coming into the tour, but caddies have a somewhat different view. It wasn’t long ago that caddies were in a lawsuit against the PGA Tour. We were forced to wear bibs that displayed tournament sponsors, and we didn’t get any cut of the money. If we protested, we were threatened with tour expulsion. We were also asking for simple health-care benefits. Not until Jay Monahan took over did the tour finally start to treat us like human beings, but we still don’t get a cut of those bibs. We have a ton of hurt feelings on our side towards tour leadership. Players are being forced to pledge allegiance to one tour or another, but we are loyal to our players, and that’s it. 

Heck, even that can be misplaced loyalty. One of my friends was let go by a big-name player. They had a good run together, but the relationship – as they tend to do in this business – had run its course. There was nothing acrimonious at first; my friend took a short sabbatical before the new season because his player promised a bonus that would get him through the unemployed months. Unfortunately, months went by, and the bonus never came. Fast forward to LIV, and my friend, still looking for a bag, got work on the other circuit. Later that summer, he found out his old player’s family had been telling other players not to pick my friend up and that the PGA Tour would strongly discourage it given the LIV ties. My friend ended up losing an opportunity to grab a job from a player who is consistently in the FedEx Cup Playoffs; he had been contacted by a player’s manager and had come to an agreement, but the final call never came. He attributes that drop to those whispers. 

As for LIV, one of my fellow caddies discussed in this column why working on LIV during its inaugural season was one of the best decisions he made. Two years later, most of those perks are gone, including having travel expenses covered. Some team captains, like Brooks Koepka, take good care of their caddies. Brooks is loyal to his looper, Ricky Elliott, and whatever you think about Brooks, he doesn’t treat Ricky like a butler. That grace extends to the rest of the caddies on his team. It’s not the standard, and though the guaranteed money remains a selling point, a lot of players are not paying out the 8 to 10-percent cuts like players often do on the PGA Tour.

While we’re here, many say the framework agreement between the Public Investment Fund and the PGA Tour took away some of the stigma that comes with defecting to LIV, yet I have plenty of friends on LIV who still feel like they’ve been excommunicated from the game. 

So, yeah, we really don’t care who wins golf’s tug of war. No matter who comes out on top, we know we’re the ones that will ultimately have to carry the rope away. 

Illustration by Klaus Kremmerz