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How to Caddy Augusta

Rookies who break with the tradition of working with a local Caddy do so at their own peril, writes Dermot Gilleece

Posted Mar 29, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

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Looking towards Augusta National next week reminds us of names which are an indelible part of Masters lore.  First to be noted on the caddies’ roll of honour was Thor “Stovepipe” Nordwall who was on the bag when 1935 champion, Gene Sarazen, hit the shot that “was heard around the world.”  Arnold Palmer had Nathaniel “Iron Man” as caddie for all of his four Masters triumphs in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964.

There is a way of negotiating Augusta National and from a playing perspective, old hands store it in the memory-bank waiting for the day when some magical mood will roll back the years.  Meanwhile, no bagman gained as much approval among Masters contenders as Willie “Pappy” Stokes who caddied for Claude Harmon in the victory march of 1948, then for Ben Hogan on the occasion of his victories in 1951 and 1953 and for Jackie Burke Jnr when he captured the green jacket in 1956.

Hogan had a different bagman when some magic was reawakened on his Masters swansong in 1967.  At 54, the Hawk electrified the galleries with a third-round 66 in which he covered the back nine in 30 strokes.  And after "finding something on the practice range", Jack Nicklaus also re-discovered some Masters magic with an opening 67 in 1995, more than two months past his 55th birthday.   
Sadly, the mood becomes cruelly transient when a player reaches a certain age and it would be fanciful to think of European veterans like Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle as serious contenders when they head for Augusta next weekend.  But their vast experience of golf’s most demanding theatre emphasises the priceless asset which all the old resident caddies were to Masters aspirants, especially if those players happened to be young and inexperienced.  It explains why Fuzzy Zoeller, the last rookie to win the Masters, recommends that every first-time challenger should employ a local caddie.

As it happened, none of the rookies has taken Zoeller’s advice in recent years.  They apparently have seen no value in the words of a player who, en route to victory in 1979, claimed to have been led through the challenge "like I was a blind man" by Augusta caddie, Jariah Beard. "That seeing-eye dog told me where not to hit it," Zoeller recalled. "He told me when to go for the par-fives in two shots and when to lay up.  Those guys know."

He added: "I think all first-time guys should use a local caddie.  Players may feel they owe it to their own caddie, but he should step aside this week and become a spectator."

For all their knowledge, however, Augusta's caddies don't fit the needs of the modern professional, who has been free to employ his own caddie in the Masters since 1983.  Only one graduate from their ranks, Carl Jackson, regularly finds a bag in the employ of Ben Crenshaw with whom he shared Masters triumphs in 1984 and 1995.         

As one experienced tour caddie put it to me: "Though we probably don't know as much as they do about the greens, the arrangement between ourselves and the players is now more professional than it's ever been. And while a local caddie may have a greater knowledge of the course, he won't know the player's game."

There is also the matter of sharing in a green-jacket triumph. So, most rookies settle for a compromise.  According to leading golf psychologist, Dr Bob Rotella: "They come here during the weeks prior to the Masters and use a local caddie in practice.  Then, armed with all the information they can gather, they revert to their own man in the event itself."

Which, in the context of course knowledge, is no more than scratching the surface.  Because the most crucial element of the challenge, Augusta’s notorious greens, will be very different over the practice rounds next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday than they are this week.  And they will change once more, this time to a treacherously serious degree, when the tournament eventually gets under way.

The old black caddies know this better than anyone.  But times change and rookies continue to handicap themselves by overlooking the local bagmen.  Which has become an enduring curiosity of Masters week.

- Dermot Gilleece

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