The caddy is a mysterious figure in the world of golf. They are constantly hovering in the background of camera shots, just out of focus, helping the world’s greatest golfers make decisions that can ultimately lead to swings of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. But what do we really know about the pro jock? We know they carry the bag, clean the clubs and rake the bunkers. Sure, there are some recognizable caddies out there. Mike “Fluff” Cowan, Jim “Bones” Mackay, Steve Williams, Joe LaCava and Michael Greller all come to mind. But what about the ones we don’t hear about? The caddies who bounce from tour to tour, from bag to bag, just trying to stay afloat until they can find that player to lead them to making a good living.
But what else goes into the job? How are they compensated? What is it like out on the road?
These are the questions we had, and AVIDGOLFER recently sat down with a former Tour caddy for an anonymous Q&A, where we asked these questions and more.
AVIDGOLFER: How did you get into this?
Caddy X: Well, I played growing up and then in college.
AG: How many professional caddies played in college?
CX: Now? A lot. It’s trending in that direction. A lot of these guys now either played professionally or tried to play professionally. There are way more guys bringing their buddy from their college team to caddy. I think it starts with the player just knowing they actually like the guy that will be on the bag. The better players really started doing it. It scared a lot of the regular caddies. In fact, you heard a lot of them saying they hoped those players played like crap.
AG: What made you decide to do it?
CX: Well, I called a couple buddies that had been out there and both of them said “don’t.” They said it was a bad idea unless I thought he was a top 50 player in the world, but I did it anyway. He kept his Web.com Tour card, but I was wanting more. I had been introduced to Player-X at a dinner a few months before and I heard he was making a change. I reached out to him and we decided to move forward.
AG: What is it like when you first get out there?
CX: Caddying sucks you in. You get to where you just think about winning. You win, you’re going to make 100 grand.
AG: How far down do you have to go on the PGA Tour as a caddy to be making a living?
CX: Anyone looping for a player that keeps their card is making a living.
AG: A good living?
CX: An amazing living? No. But if you go off the kind of standard 10 percent, you’re doing okay. That’s a fair guess. Of course, the top guys are giving a little less, but if you take your average guy fighting to keep his card and then allocate 10 percent of his earnings to his caddy, that’s a pretty good standard for what the caddy made.
AG: What about when you were on the Web.com?
CX: I didn’t have a profitable year until I was caddying on tour.
AG: Why? Travel expenses?
CX: Mostly. I never did it the cheapest, but I tried to be as frugal as I could. Even with that I was still spending about $40,000 a year on travel and expenses.
AG: What’s the main difference between a caddy on the Korn Ferry and the PGA Tour?
CX: Willingness to live in their car.
AG: What’s the main difference between a Korn Ferry and a PGA Tour player?
CX: The simplest way to put it, is the PGA guys have the ability to understand what the correct shot to hit is. Also, they understand their strengths. And there is a difference in average execution. The misses are more predictable.
AG: On the range, are a Korn Ferry player and a PGA Tour player similar?
CX: Sure. Pretty much.
AG: What are the differences in the venues from the Korn Ferry to the PGA Tour?
CX: Korn Ferry is fun. The courses are more fun. You don’t have to worry that if you miss left, you’re going to make double. People don’t understand that if the Korn Ferry and the PGA Tour played the exact same venues, the PGA Tour tournament scores would be higher. The PGA Tour has the money to set these courses up to make them tougher. The Korn Ferry guys play country clubs. The PGA Tour guys play country clubs that have been shut down for weeks to prepare to host the PGA Tour guys. Big difference.
AG: What about the money as an LPGA caddy? Obviously, they don’t have the purses the PGA Tour has.
CX: I worked one event on the LPGA. If you work for one of the 20 best ladies out there, you’re doing okay. Beyond that, you’re broke.
AG: How often do the PGA Tour players upgrade their caddy once they step up from the Korn Ferry to the PGA Tour?
CX: More times than I think is appropriate. A lot of guys make a mistake doing that. The comfort level is what you need. It’s not necessarily the experience. Patton Kizzire had a great season on the Web.com. He made like all but two cuts one year. He moved up to the Tour and didn’t take his caddy with him. I never understood that.
AG: What is the difference in pay once you start carrying on the PGA Tour over the Korn Ferry?
CX: Your weekly base is going to basically double. Probably from like a grand to two grand. I was getting about $1,200 a week, plus 7 percent across the board and 10 percent for a win.
AG: That’s a pretty good deal then.
CX: It was at least assuring that I wasn’t losing money from week to week.
AG: Do the caddies talk among themselves about pay?
CX: It’s a lot of unwritten stuff, so because there aren’t any contracts or anything, you get a lot of high school gossip stuff.
AG: There are no contracts at all?
CX: I have never met anyone who has. Now, there could be a couple guys that are. Take LaCava for example. I think his is like a million. So, there may be something on paper there, but by and large that’s not the way it’s done.
AG: Do you ever hear caddies complaining about being shortchanged?
CX: Not shortchanged, but everyone thinks they should make more. Problem is that the percentages are so chopped up now. The player has the caddy, teachers, mental coaches, physio guys. So now the player wants to use that as an excuse for not being able to pay the caddy more.
AG: Are there other ways to earn money as a looper?
CX: Very few people get 10 percent across the board. But you can make an extra 10, 15, 20 grand for wearing a hat or what not.
AG: You can make money wearing apparel?
CX: Sure. But it depends. For example, there is a very prominent apparel company that was sponsoring my player when I first started on his bag. When your player is represented by this company, the caddy is obligated to wear this brand as well. I wasn’t sure if I would be full time with him yet, and this particular tournament paid caddies $50 a day to wear the tournament sponsor’s apparel. At the time I really needed the money. It was going to be $400. So, I blew it off and went with the tournament sponsor hat and shirt.
Well, after I was permanently on his bag, one of his apparel companies’ reps approached me and said that it was time to get me some of their stuff. He asked for my address. I told him that I was going to be on the road for six weeks. He explained that the address was for Uncle Sam. The next day I had a box of stuff from this company at my hotel. Problem is that this company will not pay you to wear their stuff. They expect your player to do it, and believe me, asking any boss for money is awkward. Then they tax me on the apparel at the end of the year. Needless to say, the caddies hate this company.
AG: How long did it take you to get to know your player and be plugged into his game?
CZ: Once you’ve been around them for a few practice rounds, you start to get to know them. After a bit you get to know them a bit more. I’ll give you an example. He used to play a little scared with water short of a green, so his club speed was always up. Even if it wasn’t great contact, his club speed was up. Those are the kinds of things that you start to notice.
AG: When you were on tour, did you ever consider leaving your pro?
CX: I always had supreme confidence in my player. Right up until the day I quit, I thought he should’ve and would be better than he was. But at some point, you have to realize that may not be the case. My credit card company doesn’t care about his potential.
AG: How hands on were you with your player?
CX: I was very hands on. I was always setting up drills and stuff for him. Some guys sit in the caddy tent or on the range while their player is working with their teacher. I love golf, so I always wanted to be around when he was getting instruction, so I knew his swing. Some players want that, and some players don’t want the caddy anywhere near them while they’re getting instruction. Great example, one time I was caddying for another player and he actually told me to “shut the f*ck up and carry the bag.” Some guys are like that.
AG: What did you do when your player seemed uncomfortable?
CX: That’s the hard part of being a caddy. You tip-toe the line of when do you crack down? When do you look at your player and say, “let’s go?” It can be hard to judge. I remember a tournament where he missed a 12-footer for birdie on the third hole and he got all mopey. I looked at him and said: “No wonder you’re exhausted after every round. It’s a 12-footer man. You’re going to miss another one. Let’s go.” At the beginning I never would’ve done that. It takes some experience.
AG: Have you ever considered walking off the course because of a disagreement?
CX: That’s a good example of when I was close. And I almost walked off when I was carrying one other time. I knew it was going to be the last hole I was with this player. I was planning on quitting and he knew I was. The tournament was pretty much over, and we had been in Asia for three weeks. We stepped up to the last hole. It runs out of room, and he steps up with a three-metal. He had been hitting his 2-iron bad, but there wasn’t enough room to hit a three-metal. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was going to hit three wood over this fairway bunker. I told him there wasn’t enough room beyond the trap and it would be wet. He hit the three anyway, and it ended up about a yard short of the water. When we were done, I packed up his bag and told him to call me when he started caring about his career. I didn’t hear from him for two weeks, so I called him up and quit.
AG: You have obviously been dressed down by a player before. Do you see that a lot? Does it happen with parents, agents or other members of the team?
CX: It happens a lot with the Asian players. It’s a totally different culture. The dynamic is different, and not necessarily in a bad way. They are great players, but the whole way they do things is different. Their work ethic, the way they do business. It’s just different.
AG: When you parted ways with your player, did you want another bag?
CX: I knew where I stood. I knew what job I could get right away, what job I should try to get and the jobs that were probably out of my league. For example, I went to Tony Finau when he needed a caddy. We played a lot of practice rounds together, but I know what he wanted. Tony is as down to earth as anyone on tour. But I think he wants a certain type of guy. I think he wanted a guy with kids, and I don’t have any. Let’s be honest, these guys spend more time with their caddy than almost anyone else, so you have to mesh personally. So, catching on with Tony probably wasn’t going to work.
AG: When you quit or get fired, it has to be awkward when you take another bag, right?
CX: One of the strangest things about being out there is the fact that if you quit or get fired, it’s the only job where you show up the next day and you’re still in the same office. Like, if you worked at AT&T and got fired, you may find another job in telecommunications, but you wouldn’t have to see the same people you worked with before. I remember after I quit, I picked up another bag and was right next to my former player on the range the next day. That’s frigging awkward.
AG: What kind of mistakes have you seen a caddy make? What’s the worst you’ve ever seen?
CX: We were at a Web.com tournament down in Mexico. Some guys bring their own caddies abroad, but some guys can’t afford to do that every week. We were in a group with Alex Aragon, who speaks fluent Spanish. He chose to just hire a local guy to loop for him that week. Alex is playing pretty well, and we’re headed to No. 7, which is this par-3 with a big pot-bunker up front. Long is dead, but you’re at altitude, so it’s not playing very long. The caddy pulls 8-iron and pitching wedge out of the bag. Alex grabs the 8-iron, sets up and then changes his mind. Alex thinks when he switches, he’s switched to a 9-iron, but it’s actually a wedge. Alex hits it and is posing, thinking it’s all over the flag. It comes up short and ends up plugged in the lip of the bunker.
AG: Have you made any mistakes?
CX: Sure. The only thing that really makes a bad caddy is being a yes man. If a yes man worked, then every player would have their mom on the bag and they would just say “okay sweetie, that’s the right club, let’s hit.” And I was victim to that a couple times when I was first starting. But you need to be assertive. And it bit me a bit. We were at a tournament and we were winning the event. It was crazy windy, and we were on the ninth hole. I had to guess a bit on the yardage because we were way right of the fairway. We hit gap wedge and it was probably more like an 8-iron. The ball came up short in the water and we ended up finishing third.
AG: Have you ever come close to missing a tee time?
CX: Not even close. Guys that do that usually don’t last very long. I can tell you on the road I have seen some guys in pretty rough shape, though. Vegas, for example. But they’re always there the next morning. I never drank on the road at all. You’re playing for so much money. There were a couple times I showed up hungover early on, but I learned it’s just not worth it.
AG: Here’s a good one. Is there cheating on Tour?
CX: There are plenty of guys that are well known to drop a little more aggressively, but I think they are brainwashed. I think they see things differently. They see what they want to. If they hook one out of bounds, they will walk a little farther up than I will to take their drop. I don’t think it’s malicious, I honestly think they see what they want to see.
AG: What about Patrick Reed?
CX: There isn’t a guy on tour that doesn’t think what he did in that sand trap isn’t cheating. It wasn’t even really talked about that much because everyone knows what kind of guy he is. But it’s funny, because most players on tour will still say that he’s a better player than they are. He doesn’t even need to cheat. You hear people saying: “but would he be as good if he didn’t bend the rules?” Yes. Yes he would.
AG: What about performance-enhancing drugs?
CX: I have never personally witnessed it and I have never heard anyone say they have done it. I will say that I think every player that is trying to be the best are utilizing everything to help. So, I think there is almost no doubt that there have been some players that have experimented. What people don’t understand is that PEDs don’t make you stronger. It’s about recovery. Some would argue that using PEDs wouldn’t benefit a golfer. I honestly think it would benefit them more, mainly because there is nothing natural about the golf swing. Take Tiger, for example. He shows that he can’t perform at his highest-level day in and day out. But for any six-day period, he can still be the best. Ask the guys what he looked like at the Ryder Cup after he won the Tour Championship. He was wrecked. So, they could definitely benefit someone like that. Do I think guys like Tiger or Bryson are using? No. But I think they are taking just about everything legal to stay ahead.
AG: Are they even testing right now with the pandemic?
AG: So theoretically someone could be taking them right now?
CX: Yes. Hell, guys can take six to eight weeks off for an “injury,” do a cycle, benefit from it and come back and won’t test positive. I just don’t know that it’s an issue. I don’t think anyone is dominating the sport because they are on PEDs.
AG: You mentioned Tiger. Think he has another major left in him?
CX: The likelihood becomes less and less each time. Each major means there is one left in his career. There are only four a year. Tiger used to be able to perform, maybe at not his best, and still win majors. I don’t think he can do that anymore. It’s possible, but each passing major makes it less likely.
AG: Is Tiger’s cuts-made streak the most impressive record in the history of the game?
CZ: Hands down. Without any question. I said that before I caddied, and now, I will sit and argue with you for hours, if I have to, that it’s the most ridiculous record in golf history.
AG: Ever caddy in a group with Tiger?
CX: Nope. Never. Missed him by one group once, but that’s as close as I got.
AG: What are the most difficult times to be a caddy?
CX: The cold. I hate the cold. Everyone is on edge when it gets cold. It’s hard to perform for the pro, for the caddy, for everyone. If you add rain into the equation, it sucks. When I first started caddying, I realized quickly that I needed to get stronger. It can be tough when you’re dealing with a bunch of extra equipment.
AG: What kind of extra stuff?
CX: When it’s cold or raining, you need extra layers, umbrella, and I would swipe some hand towels from the hotel. I don’t care who you are, at some point you have to get the player to hold the umbrella while you get situated.
AG: What’s the most challenging tournament, weather-wise, you’ve caddied in?
CX: Pebble Beach my first season. It rained all day the first three days. It’s a pro-am, so we were out there for five-hour rounds. It was hard work. When I got home, I was exhausted.
AG: How much worse is it when you have to carry more than 18 in a day?
CX: There were some long 27-hole days. We did 30 holes at Torrey Pines one day. I had to carry 36 at Oakmont one day. That wasn’t a bunch of fun.
AG: What is the biggest highlight of your career? Is it being on a winning bag? Being paired with a mega-star?
CX: Being on the bag for a win was awesome, but it was only cool after it was over. For me the best has to be Augusta. It is fantastic from the time we got on the plane Sunday until the following Sunday. I was at the course all day every day, at the gym afterwards … it was amazing. I probably walked about 140 holes that week. If you like golf and you’ve never been, you have to go, and if you get there and don’t understand what I’m talking about, then you aren’t as passionate about golf as you thought you were.
AG: How many times have you been amazed by a newcomer?
CX: I was blown away by Cameron Champ. When I was looping, my player was long, and Cam was covering it to the back end of the range. There have not been too many players that shocked me with distance.
AG: How much of a battle is it for caddies to jockey for a bag like that? One of the young guns. Say, a Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland or Matthew Wolff. How competitive is it?
CX: I think it’s important for people to understand that it’s important for caddies to stay relevant. They want to keep their exposure. They need to stay recognized, or they won’t get hired by the young guys. I’ll give you an example. I know a guy that used to work for Gary Woodland. They parted ways, and then he was working for Hunter Mahan, who, obviously is past his prime. After that he started looping for Smylie Kaufman. It was when Smylie was playing terrible. I asked him why he was wasting his time. He told me that he was planning to work for Smylie for about six months so he could be in the right groups. He didn’t want to be in practice rounds with Mahan and Justin Leonard and those guys. Even though Smylie wasn’t playing well, he needed to be in those practice rounds with Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and those guys. That’s how you get those marquee jobs.
AG: When you’re on the road, do you hang out more with other caddies? Or do you spend it with your player?
CX: I try to advise the newer caddies to steer clear of hanging out with their player too much. I think if you get too buddy-buddy with them, it won’t be good. When I was out there with Player-X we tried to hang out separately. Look, you just spend so much time with them, you don’t want to go to dinner with them after you spend all day on the course. It doesn’t matter whether the round was good or bad. It’s a lot like high school. You stick with your crew. Let’s call it 300 people I worked with. You’re not going to be friends with everyone. I wasn’t enemies with anyone either, but there are small groups within the group.
AG: Who has the most talent on Tour?
CX: Rory McIlroy. Been in practice and tournament rounds with him, and after every single one, when I would get back to the hotel I would have to tell someone what I just witnessed. I’ll be honest, I have a bit of a man crush on him because he’s as good of a dude as he is a player, but his golf is amazing. Dustin Johnson is right there with him. I’ll tell you this much, with both those guys, if you play six holes with them, they could make five doubles and a par, but sometime in those six holes they will hit a shot that makes your jaw drop.
AG: Which guy on Tour gets the most out of his talent?
CX: Peter Malnati. The idea that we even know who he is, is mind blowing. He does it because of his attitude. It’s annoyingly positive. One of the only guys I have ever met who asks how you are doing and legitimately wants you to answer. He’s on the range more than anyone. He’s maximized what he has.
AG: Most underrated player on Tour?
CX: Rickie Fowler. Some guys would say he’s overrated, but I think he’s really underappreciated. He’s won a bunch. He’s been on winning Ryder Cup teams. It would be like saying Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t great because he didn’t win six titles.
AG: Guy who everyone would be excited to play with?
AG: Guy nobody wants to play with.
CX: The other Rory.
AG: What about Bryson?
CX: Bryson is kind of annoying, but to be honest, it’s the slow play that gets people. There are a few guys that are just slow. It can get to the other guys. But they will fine you for slow play.
AG: Any other fines you’ve witnessed?
CX: Guy I caddied for got fined for peeing. He went in the woods and someone got a photo of him.
AG: What tournaments treat players and caddies the best?
CX: Hartford and Quail Hollow are known as the best.
AG: What was the worst?
AG: What about Jordan Spieth? How do you fix him?
CX: I would let him fix himself. If some way you could get everyone else to shut up, then he would be fine. But it’s tough in Dallas. It’s hard to get away from it here in Dallas. People are just constantly talking about it here. But at the same time, that’s why he gets to be worth what he’s worth.
AG: There have been rumors about him seeing Butch Harmon. You think there is any truth to that?
CX: He’s got to be picking other brains at this point. He needs to get someone else’s eyes on it. Cameron McCormick isn’t benefitting from Jordan playing poorly. They need to let someone else take a look. That would be my suggestion. Get another set of eyes and let someone else paint the picture. Look, Cam knows what Jordan needs to do, I know what Jordan needs to do, but it’s about the way it’s explained and absorbed.
AG: Do you have an all-time top three caddies?
CX: I don’t know. Not really.
AG: What about Steve Williams?
CX: I always heard he was a bit of an ass. But he’s made a ton of money. He was one of the first guys to be famous. Everyone knows who he is.
AG: How about Fluff Cowan?
CX: That man is a legend. His buddy Mike Hicks, who caddied for Payne Stewart, won’t let Fluff stay alone anymore. That happened last year. They couldn’t get in touch with him, so Hicksy decided he wasn’t going to stay alone anymore. He smokes like a chimney to the point where his beard is stained, but the dude is great, and he’s been doing it forever.
AG: What would you tell someone who wants to be a pro caddy?
CX: We have finally formed an association and it’s a career. Sure, we have a lot of fun, but it’s different now. It’s not just guys bellying up to the bar. It’s a profession now. Some of the old guys started doing this because they got fired from their job and picked up a bag because the tournament was in town. When they made $600 that week, they decided to keep doing it. Many of them don’t even play golf. Almost everyone on a bag now plays or has played.
It’s such a great time, but it’s work. They’re playing for such big money now that it’s important to be ready to go and ready to work.
AG: Would you ever go back to carrying a bag again?
CX: I don’t know. I doubt it. But I never say never. If the phone rang and it was the right opportunity, it’s possible … but not likely.
AG: Thanks, Caddy X.
CX: No problem.