Sport Golf

Saturday 24 June 2017

There's plenty of respect in the bond of the bagman and the boss

'When successful, the bond between player and caddie is arguably the closest in the world of sport.' Stock photo: PA
'When successful, the bond between player and caddie is arguably the closest in the world of sport.' Stock photo: PA

Dermot Gilleece

Whenever I think of the great movie line - "Give me 10 men like Clouseau and I could destroy the world" - the resourcefulness of golf caddies springs to mind. They're the ultimate backs-to-the-wall brigade, who seem capable of prompting tears, cheers and recrimination in equal measure.

They've been in my thoughts of late because of the untimely death of Dave Musgrove, who contributed handsomely to his craft, notably in the company of Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Lee Janzen and Christy O'Connor Jnr. And the words of Chief Inspector Dreyfus from A Shot in the Dark regarding the destructive ingenuity of his great nemesis are intended as entirely complimentary.

Ian Poulter's misplaced pride in never having read a book contrasted sharply with Musgrove's love of literature, especially about golf. Indeed the former Rolls-Royce draughtsman enjoyed misquoting Kipling in saying: "If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same - you'll be a caddie, my son."

His Major successes began with Ballesteros in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham in 1979. That was when the Spaniard, from just short of the 72nd green, turned to Musgrove and said: "I can take four putts from here and still win." To which the Englishman replied: "No, you can't, because I've got a bet on with one of the caddies that the winning score will be under par. So you need to make four." Which Ballesteros duly did.

When successful, the bond between player and caddie is arguably the closest in the world of sport. It can't be any other way, given that they spend longer in each other's company than most married couples. In which context, the ongoing 25-year relationship of Phil Mickelson and Jim 'Bones' Mackay is truly remarkable.

It also goes some way towards explaining the high emotion I witnessed at Augusta National on the opening day of the 2004 US Masters, when it was learned that Tom Watson's long-time caddie Bruce Edwards had died that morning from Motor Neurone Disease.

"DAMN THIS DISEASE," Watson shouted in anger in the media centre. "DAMN IT!" And it was only when his tears began to irritate his mouth that he thought of wiping them away with a tissue. This was a different side to golf; a deeply caring side that seemed a world away from blinkered battling for a Major trophy.

Then there were the tears of imminent triumph which the late Willie Aitchison recalled from the Open at Hoylake 50 years ago, when he caddied for Roberto de Vicenzo. "When he parred the 17th, I could see the emotion beginning to get the better of Roberto," the late bagman recalled. "He succeeded in hitting a fine three-wood down the 18th fairway but, by the time he got to his ball, his face was covered with tears.

"'He said, 'Willie, I can't see the green. Give me a club that will get me there for two putts.' Which I did. An eight-iron. And we walked the rest of the way to the green where everybody in the stands rose to acclaim the new champion."

But of course there is also the lighter side, which few could recount more effectively than Lee Trevino. "He was like family," Trevino said of his well-nourished black caddie Herman Mitchell. "We bickered a lot on the course and people thought we were serious, but it was just a show.

"I'd look at him and say, 'If you don't shape up, I'm going to fire your ass tomorrow. I'm sick and tired of the bad yardages you're giving me. I can always get the yardage off the sprinkler-heads. And I've won tournaments carrying my own bag.'

"He'd stand there with his head down and mumble something. You could hear a pin drop. Then we'd get in the car and laugh all the way back to the hotel. I love this guy like a brother." Later, the player ensured the best of care for the ailing Mitchell, until his death in 2004.

In a notoriously self-centred game, the survival rate of relationships is all the more remarkable from a caddie's perspective. As employees, they present a soft target for a disgruntled player: someone to vent one's spleen on. All of which reflects considerable credit on enduring partnerships such as Padraig Harrington/Ronan Flood, Rory McIlroy/JP Fitzgerald and Shane Lowry/Dermot Byrne. Another successful Irish caddie, Colin Byrne, has built a productive career on careful management of spells with such leading practitioners as Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.

Meanwhile, the process of parting company under the strain of battle has become a two-way street, though players are understandably reluctant to admit such occurrences. Former world number one Luke Donald did, however, after being ditched in 2015 by fellow Englishman John McLaren, who earned €2.3m during their six years together. "I was a little surprised - it was more his decision than mine," admitted Donald. For his part, the caddie said: "No, I don't have another bag to go to. I just felt we'd run our course. I've nothing bad to say about Luke."

There can have been no more resourceful a caddie than Tallaght's John O'Reilly, Harrington's first bagman on tour, who died in 2008. Pre-Harrington, when working for Des Smyth, he made an outrageous trip to the German Open in Berlin, the first instalment of which went like this.

"My journey began on the overnight ferry from Dublin to Liverpool," he later recalled. "I stayed up all night playing blackjack and lost all my money." It didn't stop O'Reilly boarding the train to Southampton, on which he had a brainwave when the ticket collector approached. Seeing a passenger going into a nearby toilet, he knocked on the door and in a passable Liverpool accent shouted: "Tickets!"

"The poor guy put his ticket under the door and I ran off with it," said O'Reilly. "That got me to Southampton."

The only time I'd ever known his resourcefulness to fail him was in 1998, when he caddied for Harrington in the Sarazen World Open in Atlanta. His next assignment was the World Cup in Auckland, New Zealand, but with time on his hands, he travelled first to see his son in San Francisco. In his pocket were two airline tickets, bought before leaving London. One was the second half of a return flight from Atlanta and the other a ticket from Gatwick to Los Angeles and onwards to Auckland for the World Cup. Now that he was in San Francisco, however, he thought why not travel on to New Zealand from there?

But there was a hitch. His airline informed him that if he didn't commence his flight in London, as booked, he would incur a $2,000 penalty. So, a man who took considerable pride in operating by the seat of his pants found those pants planted on aircraft seats from San Francisco to Atlanta, then to Heathrow from where he took the train to Gatwick.

After a wait of several hours, he flew to Atlanta, then on to Los Angeles and finally to Auckland. Which amounted to 44 hours of air travel across more time zones than even his agile brain could comprehend.

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