Sport Golf

Friday 24 May 2019

Paul Kimmage: 'Your heroes are chewing CBD but we'd rather you didn't know'

Paul Kimmage caddying for Nick Faldo at the Heineken Classic in 2005. ‘I probably learned more that week about sport than in 30 years of journalism’. Photo: Getty
Paul Kimmage caddying for Nick Faldo at the Heineken Classic in 2005. ‘I probably learned more that week about sport than in 30 years of journalism’. Photo: Getty
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

We didn't get where we are today by pandering to trends on Twitter but that 'five jobs I've had' thing does have a certain appeal so - just this once - we'll indulge you: paper boy (Evening Herald), labourer (Cement Roadstone), apprentice plumber (Dublin Airport), professional cyclist (RMO), caddie (Nick Faldo) . . .

"Whaaaaaaat?"

"Yeah, thought that might surprise you."

"You caddied for Faldo?"

"Indeed."

"The six-time Major champion?"

"Yes sir."

"What? At some Mickey Mouse celebrity thing?"

"No, for real, at the Heineken Classic in Melbourne."

"Interesting."

"It certainly was. I probably learned more that week about sport than in 30 years of journalism."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"Go on . . ."

"Well, the thing that made it special was that it was authentic. Real. Faldo didn't play the game for laughs. He played to win. Every time. Every shot mattered. And that was the bit I didn't see coming. He was 47 that year and hadn't won for almost a decade but was still playing with this almost crushing intensity that I'd witnessed from the outside but never from the inside and . . ."

"So you weren't expecting it?"

"No."

"What did you expect?"

"Well, we'd been pals for a while and I'd prepared for months and I guess I went there thinking: 'This is going to be great. We'll drink some nice wine and have a bit of fun.' And for three days it was fun. We played a couple of practice rounds and he was hitting the ball well and I was calm and confident and everything was fine. And then, on the morning of the first round, he just . . ."

"Changed?"

"Yeah. His manager had warned me: 'Don't mind what he does in practice. He's a different animal under the gun' but I wasn't expecting a fucking monster! But you could sense it in the car as we drove to the course."

"Sense what?"

"The change. The tension. A proper caddie would have shut his gob and allowed his man to thaw but I was curious and reverted to being a journalist. How exactly did he feel about the game, I wondered? Was it a job? Work? Another day at the office?"

"And that made it worse?"

"Well, it certainly didn't help. He seemed rushed and irritable when we got to the course and I got my first bollocking on the putting green for some minor misdemeanour. And it made me jumpy. 'Don't forget the pin placement sheets. Don't forget the umbrella and the towels and the water and the bars!' We took a buggy to the 10th tee and I was thrown a bib and a stats sheet. And now I'm shitting myself."

"That bad?"

"Yeah, and the start was just horrendous. He missed the fairway with a three-wood off the tee, hit a six-iron into the front left bunker, and three-putted the green for a double-bogey six. At the next, a short par-three, he flew the green with a nine-iron and couldn't get up-and-down. Bogey. Three over through two."

"Christ!"

"He must have hit it into every bunker on the front nine. Bogey on 5. Another double on 6. It's raining. I'm wrestling with the umbrella, trying to dry the grips and up to my neck in sand and raking like a lunatic. And it's all my fault. Everything is my fault."

"A nightmare?"

"Yeah, and not just for me. We're out with Trevor Immelman and Peter Senior, who are also playing shite, so the mood in the group is just wonderful. And then, just when I think it can't get much worse, I hand him a muesli bar."

"A muesli bar?"

"Yeah, one of those healthy things with nuts and apricots. We've reached the turn and I'm trying to raise his spirits and show some enthusiasm: 'Let's re-set and start again.' But I look across and he's studying the wrapper: 'There's too much sugar in this,' he says. And now I want to kill him. I'm thinking: 'Five-iron, full swing, to the back of the head'."

"That's unbelievable."

"Yeah, but it's also a lesson. And one I've never forgotten in my dealings with professional athletes ever since."

"What's the lesson?"

"They always know what they're putting into their mouth."

"This is not really about Faldo, is it?"

"No."

"You're leading me somewhere here?"

"Yeah."

"Go on."

"A kid sent me a message during the week about the Masters."

"A kid?"

"A top-class amateur with aspirations of going pro: 'Hi Paul. In the past few weeks there has been a marked increase in professionals chewing gum on the course during tournaments. I wanted to contact you and see if you were aware that the PGA Tour recently issued an update on the use of CBD products the week before the Masters and warning them to be careful'."

"What's CBD?"

"A non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis."

"What was the update?"

"It was sent to the pros in a newsletter that was obtained by a website called 'Marijuana Moment'. The kid sent a link: 'The PGA Tour is warning golfers to use CBD at their own risk. While the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) dropped the marijuana compound from its list of banned substances for athletes last year, the golf organisation wants its players to be advised that some CBD products may contain THC, which is still prohibited'."

"That's from the website?"

"Yeah."

"What about the newsletter? Can we get a copy? What do the Tour say?"

"Well, that's the curious bit. Here's their response: 'The newsletter was confidential and only shared with eligible PGA Tour players. Under PGA Tour rules, we are unable to share confidential information with third-party entities without the proper permissions. We apologise for the inconvenience'."

"Wow!"

"Yeah."

"Sorry kid. Your heroes are chewing CBD but we'd rather you didn't know."

"Yeah."

"What does it do?"

"The kid says it reduces anxiety and helps with pressure late in a tournament."

"I don't believe it."

"That's what I thought, but I blew it past someone, an insider, expecting to be laughed out of it."

"And?"

"He sent me a clip of a marquee player dropping stuff under his tongue at the Masters."

"You're joking?"

"No."

"CBD?"

"Yeah."

"How did he know?"

"He knew. He said the drops were horrible but the gum was bearable. He said the players wanted it banned or would start taking it soon to level the playing field."

"Christ! Isn't that what happened in cycling?"

"My very words."

"Any talk of this at the Masters?"

"No."

"Any dope tests there?"

"No."

"What's the kid's take on it?"

"His only agenda, he says, is fair play in the game he loves. And I've no doubt it is love. He sent me an email about watching sport as a boy and being overjoyed at the great plays, and great shots, and trying to emulate those moments in the garden and on the golf course. 'However,' he says, 'there have been times when I have witnessed sporting moments that have left me emotionless: Maradona and his hand of God didn't feel right or look right. Ben Johnson and his bloodshot eyes didn't feel right or look right. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, that didn't feel right or look right.'

"And golfers taking CBD doesn't feel right or look right."

"Yeah. He says integrity is the core value and heart of the game and that it should never be compromised. Then he quoted me some Grantland Rice: 'For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, he marks, not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.'

"Nice."

"Yeah. But who's listening?"

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