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The Bag Carrier is Back

Colin Byrne has had a colorful career as a Caddy and has tasted success again

Posted Oct 17, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

colin byrne

During the week of the World Cup of Golf at Gulf Harbour near Auckland back in 1998, I approached Colin Byrne about writing a column on his caddying experiences for "The Irish Times."  He seemed a fairly logical candidate, given that he was Irish, and as a graduate of Trinity College Dublin he couldn’t fob me off about not having the education to take on such a task.

Two aspects of our conversation remain with me.  The first was his apparent indifference as to how much he might be paid.  The other was that he seemed somewhat shocked when I warned he would be receiving no ghost-writing help from me: the column would be all his own work.  As it happens, he will have no shortage of material for this week’s effort on Tuesday morning, given his involvement last weekend as caddie to the shock winner, Tom Lewis, in the Portugal Masters.  

Back in Auckland, Byrne was working for New Zealander, Greg Turner, who was involved in writing for publications in his native country at that time.  So they formed an unlikely, literary couple.  And while Byrne has since had two books published, “Bagman” and “Bagman II”, Turner has written "The Pocket Guide to Golf Courses in Spain & Portugal", which is unquestionably one of the best publications of its type I've come across.

Byrne’s earlier bags included the Swede, Anders Forsbrand, but the Dubliner struck gold by teaming up with the gifted South African, Retief Goosen.  In fact he was on the bag when Goosen captured the US Open at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 and the pair of them completed a unique double in the same season when Goosen went on to capture the Smurfit European at The K Club two weeks later. That was when he swept to a five-stroke victory over his closest rivals, Richard Green, Peter O’Malley and Lee Westwood, in a share of second place.

There were other handsome cheques for Byrne that year, yet it is interesting to recall that when “Bagman” was published for the Christmas market, as a compilation of what had become incisive and highly entertaining weekly columns, money remained a secondary issue.  On this occasion, the royalties were donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland.
After completing a very successful spell with Goosen, he did what many successful caddies have done, and moved on.  And at this time two years ago, it appeared likely that after 15 years in the caddying craft, he would eventually make his Ryder Cup debut with Sweden's Alex Noren. By the time they worked together in the Wales Open the following June, however, an autumn assignment at Celtic Manor had virtually disappeared.

As things turned out, Byrne made it but Noren didn't.  The Dubliner's change of fortune stemmed from a change of employer to Edoardo Molinari in early August. So, after experiencing the President's Cup as caddie to Turner and then twice with Goosen, Byrne eventually discovered that week what the biennial Ryder Cup fuss was all about.

The first eye-opener was to be collected after the short flight from Dublin to Cardiff in a brand-new BMW which whisked him to Celtic Manor.  There, the caddie received VIP treatment, being taken directly to his room.  Byrne took up the story: "Once inside, I immediately thought I had got the wrong room because the bed was covered with neatly-arranged clothing. I looked in the wardrobe and six days' supply of shirts and trousers, both long and short, were hanging in colour co-ordinated order for each day from Tuesday to Sunday." His reaction? "The thing seemed bigger than Christmas and this was only Monday afternoon," he said.

After splitting from Molinari last summer, he gave 16-year-old Lisa Maguire the benefit of his wisdom when carrying her bag during the Irish Ladies Open at Killeen Castle in August.  Then, two weeks ago, he returned to serious business.  Having completed a golfing trip around the St Andrews area - Byrne is a member of Royal Dublin GC - he met up with his new, young employer for a practice round prior to the Dunhill Links Championship.  A new adventure was under way.  And as events at Vilarmoura were to prove, the caddie didn’t have long to wait in adding to his successes.               

- Dermot Gilleece

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