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Behind the Bag: Caddying

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Golf season is in full swing, and each week is packed with artistic shot-making, or as I like to call it, poetry in motion. (Seriously, did anybody catch Dylan Frittelli karate chop his ball out of a tree during the RBC?) While the pros are in the spotlight for pulling off these feats, there’s credit owed to the people who give them advice, reassurance, and support every round: their caddies. To get more insight on the job, I spoke with Ian Snider, a resident caddy at Harbour Town Golf Links who aspires to work on Tour.

The Grind

Caddies are more than just their calves. Whether a summer gig or a full-time profession, the job is both physically and mentally demanding. On top of providing expert advice, caddies haul their players’ bags upwards of five miles every round (Bryson DeChambeau’s Tour bag weighs in at 55 pounds!). Caddies are responsible for raking the messy bunkers left in the wake of sand shots, tending the pin, and giving accurate yardages and keeping all stats. You can check out our best golf stat books here.

Doing the Homework

Ian, now in his seventh season, explains his process for scoping out a course. “Notes, notes and more notes,” he begins. “In my yardage book, I’ll mark everything from the pin locations [for each day of the tournament], to the lies, targets, and slopes. I like to draw arrows on the green to indicate the different breaks” (I. Snider, personal communication, Apr 24th, 2022). His prep is thorough because caddies are expected to know a course like the back of their hand, even if it’s only their first time seeing it.

Since budget golf rangefinders are not allowed on the PGA or Korn Ferry Tours (the LPGA and Epson Tours reversed this ruling last year), caddies rely on physical landmarks such as trees and bunkers to pace yardages off manually to obtain accurate distances with which to provide their players.

If the above doesn’t sound that difficult, let me add that there’s math involved. These mathematical calculations are heavily relied on, especially with approach shots. After pacing off the previous shot, caddies use a pin sheet to factor in where the flag is located and how much green there is to work with (is there a ‘sucker pin’ on the edge? Is there a penalty area if you go long?); then, factoring in the wind direction, its intensity, and per Tiger, maybe even the earth’s rotation, they’ll compute the distance and prime landing zone.

Pin sheet
A pin sheet. The number in red indicates the pin’s proximity, in yards, from the center of the green (for example, ‘-4’ is 4 yards forward). ‘D:31’ shows the depth of the green (31 yards). The numbers underneath the green further detail the pin’s location (‘11, 9R’ means 11 yards on, 9 yards from the right)

RBC Pro-Am

For professional events, players get a few practice rounds beforehand to see the course layout and conditions. Ian had the opportunity to caddy for two groups during this year’s RBC Heritage Pro-Am. He was on the bag for both K.H. Lee and Morgan Deneen, who played alongside Chesson Hadley and Henrik Norlander. Though others (self-included) might get star-struck being up close and personal with the pros, Snider was focused only on delivering top-notch guidance and learning as much as possible from the experience. I asked him what his biggest takeaway was. “They [the veteran caddies] know their numbers on the dot,” shares Ian. “This caddy went to the sprinkler head, paced it back, and got his two numbers– says the pin’s 150 yards out, 141 to the front. Sure enough, he eyed everything and measured it within a yard.”

Pictured (left to right): Chesson Hadley, Ian Snider, and Brandon Antus at the RBC Heritage Pro-Am

Caddies Got Game

With their skillset, it’s no surprise that most caddies are golfers themselves. And they’re near-scratch handicaps, at that. Jim Furyk’s caddy, Fluff Cohen, is in his seventies and still knows his way around a course. “Caddies learn to adapt from the very first green in regulation,” states Snider. “It’s about trusting your instincts.” Part of the job is embracing unforeseen conditions and going with your gut (with is pretty good advice for life, too). At the end of the day, caddies are as much of a player as the player is.

Match Made?

Caddying is like dating. When a player is searching for a long-term caddy, it might take a few tries before he or she finds one they finally ‘click’ with. While personalities may not necessarily clash, pros are looking for not only someone they can rely on, but a good-natured partner who can keep them calm, cool, and collected under pressure. Snider reveals that many Tour caddies are often longtime friends of the pros. Because of their history, there’s already a chemistry, trust and banter established that makes for a good pairing. Take Phil Mickelson’s former caddy, Bones Mackay: he came out of retirement at the behest of Justin Thomas. I should note that the caddy has just as much of a say in this ‘holey-moley matrimony’ – J.T. had some nerves when asking Bones to utter “I do.”

Ironically, I started caddying for my now-husband while we were dating. While our off-course connection was solid, we butted heads in initial events. We’d see separate lines on putts and had differing views on how to execute shots. It took time for us to establish a system of communication so that we could both perform our jobs to a ‘tee.’

 

author and husband picture on golf course
Author and her husband going over a green read during the 2018 U.S. Open Qualifier in Southampton, New York

As in relationships, communication is key. I asked Ian how he handles different personalities at Harbour Town. “Give people an experience they’ll never forget,” says Ian. “Learn how to talk to people the right way. Don’t try to be too hands-on. Keep a smile on your face- it’s only eighteen holes.” Smart advice, indeed. He does expand on Tour relationships being more nuanced and how it’s important to speak up when necessary. “Try to work through it, always be positive. You can’t take anything [disagreements] to heart. Just keep going, and make par.”

How Much Do Caddies Earn?

Caddies at private clubs can expect to earn anywhere between $100 to $150 per bag they carry, plus gratuity. Some Tour caddies are paid a salary on top of the standard 10% commission due if their player wins that week. With PGA and LPGA purses clearing one million dollars, that’s a nice chunk of change for a loyal caddy. Despite the grind of traveling and competition, one win is all it takes for caddies to make their payday.

The Human Connection

His father introduced him to the game, and he landed his first caddying gig at a local club. Meeting new people and sharing memorable golf experiences with them makes Ian’s day.

Between course management and knowing how to be a people person, caddying is an all-encompassing job. It takes years to become an expert. But beyond the payday, perhaps one of the biggest rewards is the connections made with others, who share the same love and respect for the game.

Snider on 17 green
Snider with a Harbour Town guest, posing on the scenic 17th green
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