Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lay Off the Caddies

By Kevin Beane

On Sunday, former Masters champion Bubba Watson held a 2-stroke lead going to the par 3 16th hole of the final round of the Travelers Championship. He left the 16th with a triple-bogey 6 on his card, and at every stage of the debacle, he laid the blame at the feet of his caddie, Ted Scott.

After his tee shot found the drink:

"Water. It's in the water. That club. Yes, the water."

He took a drop and took his penalty stroke, which bounded well past the hole:

"So you're telling me that's ... that's the right yardage." I can't really convey the incredulity in his voice here, but you can see and hear for yourself.

But Watson still wasn't done teeing off (ha!) on his hapless bagman. After he left his double bogey putt well short: "There's just no reason for you to show up!" To be fair to Watson, he might be saying "for me to show up," the audio is not clear to me and there's a bit of a debate as to what he actually said. Ken Duke would go on to win the tournament.

Afterwards, Scott took the blame and the high road. Indeed, "high road" doesn't seem to cut it, it was somewhere in the jet stream or the Van Allen Belt, and not, in my opinion, altogether necessary.

"I convinced him to hit the wrong club, 100 percent take responsibility for it. It's totally my fault. I got in the way of the painter on that one."

First of all, "the painter." I enjoy and employ hyperbole as much as the next guy, but, barf. Watson is probably one of the best 20 or so golfers in the world, but the links' answer to Michelangelo he is not. Second, if it was the wrong club and not just a mishit or a gust of wind (a possibility put forth by Watson in a non-apology apology he made), there can really be no doubt that Scott advised Watson to the best of his judgment and ability.

On one hand, this incident may be understandable for a couple of reasons. Scott and Watson have been together for years and years and years. If you get to that level of rapport with somebody, both your affections and derisions are more frankly stated.

Secondly, Watson is known as a hot-head with a bad temper, and indeed, Scott threatened to quit Watson if he didn't change his on-course attitude, a change implored by Watson's wife as well. They say he's made that change, but if Sunday taught us anything, Watson is a recidivist.

At any rate, undeniably, Watson berated Scott on national television, and that's absolutely unacceptable. This is one of those incidents that reminds me of a scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Jack Nicholson's character is dealing a round of blackjack to his fellow inmates an an insane asylum. Danny Devito's character, also an inmate, continually tries to go out of turn. "Hit me! Hit me! Hit me!" he says over and over again. Finally, Nicholson grabs Devito by the shoulder and says, "You see these guys?" pointing to the other players, "They're the real ones. They're real people!"

I'm a little depressed at how often in life I'm reminded of that scene. Ted Scott is a real person with real feelings who deserves better than to be dumped on national television as he tries his best.

But players treating caddies like dirt is nothing new. I'm hard-pressed to come up with another sporting example where the employer publicly berates the employee with the fair amount of frequency as occurs with pro golfers and caddies. It seems to happen about as often as a coach lays into one of his players on the sidelines in the major pro sports leagues — but even then, the coach isn't the players' employer, strictly speaking. The golfer is absolutely the caddie's employer.

One of the worst offenders is the now-Senior Tour golfer Fulton Allem. In a Golf Digest poll of caddies, he "won" the question, "Whose bag would you never take?" with 18%. Although the original article does not seem to online, I had the print edition of the copy that survey came in, and one anonymous caddie said something along the lines of, "Just once, I wish Allem would somehow be made to caddie. I wish he would truly understand what it's like and how it feels to be on the receiving end of his treatment."

Doesn't it just warm the cockles of your heart to hear of a guy who grew up in the family that owned the largest corn farm in the Southern Hemisphere leave his more humbly-rooted employees feeling that way?

Then there's Seve Ballesteros. He fired one caddie just four weeks after winning a tournament, after missing the cut at the U.S. Open. The same article tells us he told one caddie, "Make sure you get the yardage right on this one because it will be the first you've got right all day." He complained to another that the apple he was given was too soft. Ballesteros's treatment of caddies has driven one caddy to throw his clubs against a wall after a round, and another one to quit in the middle of the round.

There are other notorious ones. Garrett Willis. K.J. Choi. Mac O'Grady.

So to all the zero professional golfers reading this: if you treat your caddie anywhere near like this, no matter what happens, no matter how "heat of the moment" things get or hyper-competitive you are, stop it. Caddies on the PGA tour are of such a caliber that they do you a great deal more good than harm, lest you would not have hired them. If you do feel they are not serving you optimally, then either take your complaints, or your job back, in private, not in public.

Because these guys, they're the real ones. They're real people.

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