When people hear what I do, they ask how I got started. I happily reply, but I can tell they are waiting for me to stop talking so they can ask what they really want to know: how do I get your job?
It’s easier than you think – and much harder. We’re well beyond the era of caddies showing up to PGA Tour carparks hoping someone needs a loop. Professional caddieing never had an organisational growth chart, but there used to be a loose system of working your way from the minor leagues to here. However, during the past decade the trend has been for players to choose guys they played with on the mini-tours who have no caddieing experience. That’s fine; even if they’re not purebred caddies, they know the game and figure out the job quickly. Mistakes are made, but they’re typically minor ones.
More problematic are the players, especially the young guys, who hire their college buddies or family members. You’d be surprised how poor the golf acumen is. The mindset of these players is: I don’t need help; I just need someone who I enjoy hanging with to carry the bag. I get it. But often these inexperienced caddies become such a hassle that they cause additional stress to the player and hurt his game. Worse, they can affect the rest of the group. For example, at an event two years ago, a player’s friend/caddie was so busy talking to a group of friends following them that a TV cameraman had to tell him to shut up. These are not isolated incidents, and they are becoming prevalent.
Me? I’ll admit I got a bit lucky, but I also put in the work. A caddiemaster at a course I grew up at was working a then-Nationwide Tour event. I had stopped trying to play professionally the year before and was doing odd jobs while applying to graduate schools. The caddiemaster called me and said to come to the event because several players were looking for a caddie. The guy I looped for ended up with his best finish as a pro. This was early in the season, and we lasted only two months together, but I ended up filling in for someone else who had a good end to his season. He brought me back the next year, and that year we earned a promotion to the PGA Tour. We had a good run before splitting up a few seasons ago, but I’ve been on tour ever since. Sometimes it’s that simple.
If you want to be a tour caddie and have no connections, you still have a good chance if you put in the time. It starts on the Korn Ferry Tour. There’s not much security and no credential requirements at these events. Often you can set up in the carpark and ask players, “Hey, do you know of anyone who needs help this week?” You’re going to be told “no” a lot. Sometimes it’s awkward; the player’s caddie could be right there. You might have to travel for a few weeks, even a month, before someone says “yes”. But if you have half a personality and show you know the sport, I promise you will get an opportunity.
Another good route is the Symetra Tour. No need to worry about travelling for weeks without work. More than half the women don’t have caddies. Instead, they use a pushcart or carry their bag. They want a caddie, but the money is so tight that few caddies bother with it. However, if you look at the year as an investment, even if your player doesn’t make the next level, your name will be out there, and you could be on the LPGA Tour by the next season, and you can earn a living there.
Because there aren’t many regular caddies at these levels, it’s a good way to introduce yourself to player managers. Relationships with players continue to be the best and most dependable way to get a gig. But it doesn’t hurt to have the phone number of a gatekeeper or two. You must be great at networking and present yourself as someone who is easy to be around. That sounds easy, but think of all the personality types. You also must read the player. If he’s a low-energy guy, you can’t be all fired up, and feel players won’t be impressed with the data you’ve collected. You’re essentially applying for 20 different jobs at once.
“Out of sight, out of mind” really applies to the tour and not just to caddies. I’ve seen tour players ask other tour players how it’s going, not realising that player has missed the past year with injury. If you catch on as a caddie, odds are you’re going to lose that bag eventually. When that happens, don’t take time off. Even caddies with the best reputations must put themselves back out there. It could be as simple as a couple of texts; it might be pleading with other caddies to keep you in mind if they hear of openings. If you’re sitting at home waiting for a call to come, it’s not happening. Because the truth is, it might be harder to stay on than it is to break in. – with Joel Beall
Featured Illustration by ink bad company