HUGGAN: Back on the bag at #VicOpen

Catriona Matthew
Catriona Matthew. Image: Getty

Let’s call it my version of multi-tasking. As well as providing hopefully interesting and illuminating copy for this website during the upcoming Vic Open, I am going to do a bit of caddying. Which is nothing new. Over the years, I’ve done a fair bit of bag-toting for a variety of friends and relatives. And, to be honest, my bib-wearing credentials far outweigh my relatively unimpressive prowess when carrying my own clubs. Before this week, I’ve “worked” the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the Walker Cup, the Open Championship, the Australian and British Senior Opens and the Tartan Tour in my native Scotland. 

After this week I’ll be able to add the LPGA Tour to that list. Well, assuming my latest “employer,” European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew (“Beany” to her pals) doesn’t fire me before we even get started for real on Thursday. Beany and I are old pals, both of us hailing from East Lothian in the south-east corner of Scotland. She is from North Berwick; my home village of West Barns is maybe 12 miles from there. 

So what kind of caddie can she expect me to be? The real truth about carrying a golf bag for another person lies somewhere between the delusional claim made by New Zealander Steve Williams - “I’ve ‘won’ x tournaments during my career” - and the old saying that all you really have to do is “show up, keep up and shut up.” In other words, while whispering sage advice into the ears of players does indeed have the potential to be game-changing, at the end of a round the man/woman carrying the bag hasn’t hit one ball or made one putt.

Anyway, the caddie Beany wants me to be this week remains unclear. But I would do well to listen to the advice of one who has seen pretty much everything while working for the likes of Thomas Bjorn, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Tiger Woods.

“Over the years we’ve seen plenty of girlfriends, wives and mates caddying for players who have won,” says Englishman Billy Foster, who has more than 40 worldwide wins on his caddying CV and currently works for Matt Fitzpatrick. “If a player is playing well, the caddie is maybe not as important as people might think. But over the course of a season, saying the right things at the right time, being reliable and trying your best do make a difference. It’s a bit like being the navigator sitting beside a rally driver. 

“Good caddying isn’t really about pulling the glory club. It’s about the elimination of mistakes. The fewer mistake you make, the better you will do for your man. But the biggest thing is getting on with the player. if you don’t, you get a divorce. If you’re out there together 30-weeks in a year it’s like being married. Players and caddies see more of each other than they do their spouses. So you have to get on.”

A sense of humour helps too. Especially on the European Senior Tour. How can you not love a circuit where the post-round scorer’s table is adorned by three pairs of reading glasses for the not-as-young-as-they-used-to-be competitors? A couple of years ago, in fact, Kiwi Greg Turner and Santiago Luna of Spain took the “senior moment” jokes to a new level. Marking their cards after the opening round of the WINSTONgolf Senior Open in Germany, the pair debated back and forth whether or not Luna had holed for a four at the 10th hole. It wasn’t an argument though. The problem was neither man could remember. Eventually, a caddie had to be summoned to confirm what actually happened.

Then there was the time I caddied for former European Tour player Mike Clayton, whose cogent words you will also be reading here this week. On the fifth hole at the Australian Senior Open at Royal Perth, I gave Mister Clayton the yardage for his second shot. He disagreed. I disagreed with his disagreement. But he went ahead with his choice of club and duly flew the green. Only when he discovered he was using the pin sheet from a tournament in Spain three weeks previously was I finally absolved of blame.

How things go this week remains to be seen, of course. Let’s hope my sometimes-dodgy lumbar region and my arithmetic is up to the task. And that Beany has this week’s yardage book in her back pocket. Stay tuned.