Just last year a player fired me, and I can’t find another full-time bag on the PGA Tour. That’s why I’m here. It’s not where I want to be. Hell, it’s where I can’t be – not for very long, at least. The truth is this: I can’t make a living as a caddie on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Simple economics, really. Fifteen players on the KFT made $US200,000 or more in 2020. Worse ways to punch a timecard, right? But for us, well, what we take home varies depending on who we work with and what he does in a given week. Let’s say 8 percent of those winnings come to us. Scrolling through the top 15 money winners (Will Zalatoris led at $404,000; Curtis Luck was 15th at $203,000), that translates to a yearly pull of $US16,000 to $US32,000.
That’s why almost everyone out here is single – maybe a spouse or two but hardly anyone has children. Remember, we pay for our lodging, travel and food. We’re praying to break even – and that’s if the caddie has a
Why would an established caddie work on the Korn Ferry Tour? Same reason people take internships for free, man. It’s about the investment. You can live week to week for a few years, because that’s what you do when chasing a dream. If your guy makes it to the PGA Tour, well, not many professions can hand out weekly pay cheques like that.
Of course, sometimes the player loses his PGA Tour card. That can be the end of a player-caddie relationship. Or the break-up happens because things aren’t going well. But more often, we are the ones that call it off, especially if we know of another player looking for a new caddie. There’s not much money to go around, and players understand that we have to do what’s best for us. Sometimes the caddie decides to follow his guy down to the KFT, or perhaps he has been fired and can’t get another loop. When that happens, strap in.
‘“Amenity? That’s a foreign word on the Korn Ferry Tour.”’
We try to minimise the expenses, but they don’t disappear, and they are all on us. Online rentals like Airbnb have been game-changers, especially because caddies will share housing whenever possible. Still, accommodation is not cheap. If the next tournament is less than 12 hours away, we’re driving, not flying. Worse, most Korn Ferry events don’t have food spreads for us. Which, hey, I know most jobs don’t hand out free meals, but now we are spending an extra $25 to $30 a day to eat (and that’s sticking to fast food), and that adds up quickly. It’s a tough amenity to lose.
Ah, yes, amenity. That’s a foreign word on the KFT. The PGA Tour has done a nice job the past 15 years making sure caddies have a lounge at every event, even if it’s just a few couches and a fridge. Korn Ferry events often have a tent where we check in, and that’s it. It’s not that the KFT doesn’t care; it’s just that money is tight, and caddie treatment isn’t a priority. Same with volunteers: we don’t need a full-time concierge, but it’s nice to have someone you can go to when you have a question or need. Often there are no yardage or greens books, so we have to make our own. That includes double-checking yardage markers (which seem to be off half the time). We’re doing double the work for a fifth of the pay.
It’s not all bad. Most players are more approachable than they will be when they make it, so it’s a good working environment. You might think caddies would be more cut-throat in the minor leagues – and there are some with a reputation for poaching – but that’s rare. Most down here are good, honest and hard-working. What little we have is shared. The PGA Tour can be cliquey; on the KFT, everyone gets along.
Of course, none of us want to be here, but at least we see a path back to the show. As long as that path exists, we’ll do whatever we can to stick it out. – with Joel Beall
FEATURE IMAGE: Ben Jared/Getty Images • Photo illustration: Gluekit