Funny how words evolve over a lifetime. In college a “land mine” was a class that was going to detonate your GPA. When I first started caddieing, that label was reserved for players whose rounds would explode over the smallest mistake. Now, after years in this business, “land mine” means something else: anyone who could potentially blow up my career.
Listen, we get fired. That’s a part of the job. Usually it’s the player’s call. However, as the inner circles of players continue to grow and evolve, there are more voices in all decisions, including who will be on the bag. So who do we have to worry about? Not to sound paranoid but darn near everybody.
Let’s start with the manager because he’s the most misunderstood of the bunch. Sure, he can be our executioner, and when it happens, it’s usually because of performance, or he doesn’t think we’re the right personality fit. Sometimes it can be self-preservation (a player is restless and is looking to clean house) or even retaliatory (a friend swears a manager tried to have him fired after this friend made fun of his pants at a US Open). But I’ve found managers, more often than not, to be caddie advocates. They don’t get enough credit for facilitating a fair share of player-caddie relationships. Many in this game minimise our roles, but managers view us as assets. It’s crucial to keep them as allies.
Parents are a booby trap, no doubt. There’s a stigma that this is more ingrained on the LPGA Tour and, historically, that’s true. A bit of it is cultural, no denying that. But it’s more age-related than societal. A not insignificant chunk of LPGA Tour players are under 25, some under 21. I don’t care what your profession is, you’re going to lean hard on your parents at that age. (We’re seeing it more and more on the PGA Tour as the players get younger.) When things aren’t going great, the parents are far more likely to view us as a problem.
A growing segment of land mines are players’ friends or former college teammates. Players hire them as caddies because they want that sense of comfort that is built in. But it’s maddening; these friends/teammates, even those with golf backgrounds, are totally lost. They don’t know how to rake, don’t know how to keep up – a lot of them don’t do their homework. Then you’ll hear complaints that the standards of caddies are dropping (including from the tour, giving us memos about bunker condition, etc.), and it’s like, Yeah, no kidding.
Coaches? Depends. If an instructor has a group of players, I don’t give him a second thought. But if he teaches only my guy, then I need to watch out. This type of coach tends to be controlling, and if my player hits a rough patch, the coach is going to look for a scapegoat. As in, Hey, I got you here. Clearly, I’m not the problem. There can be friction, but you can’t make it personal. You have to understand that his player – rightfully or wrongly – is his career, and he’ll do anything to keep it.
‘“As inner circles grow, there are more voices in all decisions.” ‘
Here’s one you probably weren’t expecting: the media. If media members (and as an extension, fans) know who we are, that means we’re saddled to a pretty strong horse. But along with that spotlight comes extra scrutiny. It can be warranted, although there are a lot of hacks who don’t know what they’re writing about. Remember when some were saying Austin Johnson was holding Dustin back? A.J. will be the first to tell you he experienced growing pains, and believe me, he was raw those first years inside the ropes. But this is a job, and in any job, you have to give people time to grow into it. Austin’s been instrumental in getting Dustin to the top of the world by keeping him loose and does a lot of the hard work of reading the greens. Haven’t seen many columnists apologising to Austin, though.
Other caddies? Yes. When you’re new on tour, a handful of sharks will circle. Not much nuance to it, either. You’ll miss a few cuts, and a veteran will get in touch with a player’s team, Just letting you know I’m available in case you need somebody. There aren’t many caddies like this, but they exist.
As for significant others, it’s RARE, all capital letters, that a wife’s disapproval leads to an exit. Come to think about it, I can think of only one instance, years ago. This caddie wasn’t a troublemaker, but he liked to have a good time. Unfortunately for him, his player just got married and, well, let’s just say married life was an adjustment. The player and caddie didn’t hang out much off the course, yet the caddie’s reputation preceded him, and the wife deemed him a bad influence. They had just had a good year, too. But that’s the thing about land mines: you don’t see them coming. – with Joel Beall
Illustration by Michael Waraksa