A day in the life of a professional caddie
“A good caddie,” Henry Longhurst once wrote, “is more than a mere assistant. He is guide, philosopher, and friend.” This relationship between a golfer and his caddie is one of the most unique in sports, and it can have a direct impact on a player’s success. How, though, does someone become a caddie? And more importantly, what’s it like working as one?
To find out, we spoke to professional caddie David Stone, who works on the PGA Tour for Mark Anderson.
Workopolis: How did you get started? Have you always worked in golf?
DS: In a way, yes. As a teenager I was a back shop attendant at the Thornhill Country Club, working the range and assisting members. I also worked at Golf Town before taking an Assistant Pro Shop job at Meadowbrook Country Club.
At 17, I wanted to become a local CPGA club professional. The reality, though, was that I was not good enough to do that for a living. So I went to the University of Victoria, and it was there that I heard this quote, which I still have posted on my desk at home: “If you find a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
For me, that involved golf, and right there and then I decided I wanted to caddie. I packed up my car and drove 16 hours to Mobile, Alabama, to join the tour. I was fortunate to meet a rookie on the LPGA Tour, Katie Kempter, who let me work for her that week. We made the cut and 5 years later, here I am. I’ve been blessed to work with top men and women, and have travelled to over 30 countries.
How does one go about becoming a caddie?
We’re independent contractors, and a player can hire anyone to caddie for him. Some are wives, friends, college roommates, and guys like me who just loved golf and don’t want to work a 9-5 job. So, there’s no formal training because there’s no “correct” way to caddie. All that’s required is common golf course etiquette.
It’s a hard business to break into, though, because there are so few players with full status on either tour. I was very lucky to get opportunities with Katie Kempter and Ha Na Jang. I then networked and built up a good reputation over time.
What would you say makes a great caddie?
Being a great caddie is all about understanding what your player needs and expects. Some players need a hands-on caddie that can read putts, feel out lies, and how the ball reacts; others just want a buddy that can distract them from the pressure of a 5-hour round.
What separates the elite caddies from the rest is that they can read a player, to know how to communicate, or understand what the pressure of a situation can do to the decision process, or how adrenaline can affect ball flight. A good caddie can’t make a bad player good, but he can make a good player a little better, and sometimes that’s the difference between lifting a trophy or finishing 12th.
Strategy is also very important. I know my current player Mark Anderson is 37% more likely to make an 18-foot putt straight uphill then a 10-foot putt downhill, with some left-to-right slope. It’s my job to use this data to tell him where we can get a straight uphill putt.
What is a typical day like for a caddie?
A lot busier than most people would imagine. And unlike many jobs in Canada, working Sunday is the goal; you want to be in contention Sunday afternoon, and to get there, a lot of preparation is required.
Here is a sample of a typical work week. It’s the model I use to prepare for a tournament with my player.
I typically walk the golf course by myself with a range finder and a level to chart the greens. I use my yardage book to make sure all the yardages are correct, and figure out where we want to land the ball, what the carry and “run out” yardages are for hazards, and where the roughs are. I then survey the greens for good places to be and where the harder shots might be. Then the time consuming part: I spend roughly 20 minutes per green using a level to determine the percentage of slope. This is the information I use to tell Mark that if we are just below that pin to the left it will be a straight uphill putt.
Typically, we like to get out early (around 6:30 am) and play a practice round. A lot of the information I gather on Monday is used during this practice round to build a game plan for the week. Once we have a plan, we’ll usually finish the day with some practice on the driving range and putting green.
Almost every professional golf tournament has a pro-am event on the Wednesday before competition begins. This is an 18-hole round where three tournament sponsors can play with a professional golfer. Wednesday is all about making sure the sponsors are enjoying their round so preparation needs to be completed on Monday and Tuesday.
- Thursday to Sunday
This is when all the hard work you put in during the week is tested. A typical day here is meeting a player around 1 hour before their tee time to warm up and then 18 holes of golf. During tournament rounds if we have a late afternoon, I’ll get to the golf course 4 to 5 hours before my player does. This allows me to “spectate.” What I’m looking for is if the course has changed – did it become firmer? Softer? I’ll look at the locations of pins and watch to see how the ball is reacting on the green.
What are some of the things you love about your job? What do you dislike?
I love the cultures you experience. Last year I rented a home at the Australian Open in Melbourne with three other caddies; we had a Canadian, South African, Norwegian, and American caddie staying together and it was a lot of fun. And with all the travel, you get to see different golf course architecture, which I enjoy.
I also enjoy helping someone live out their dream. There’s a lot of sweat and tears, but the feeling you get after a great week as a team is something that keeps me going.
The tough part is missing your home, family, and friends. Working 35 weeks a year means not being with your family during a holiday, or missing a good friend’s birthday or wedding.
What advice would you give job seekers looking to get a career in golf?
Understand that the “traditional way” might not be the best way for you. Know what you really want and build a plan. The most successful people I have met in golf pushed for everything they wanted and found a way to get it done. Lastly, never burn bridges; every person you meet can potentially help you at a later stage in life.