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A well-informed caddie is essential for success at golf

Trust is a big factor in the relationship between a golfer and his bagman.

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Apr 11, 2019, 11.02 PM IST
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Rory McIlroy (R) and his caddie Harry Diamond.
By Anand Datia

As they approached the 8th tee during the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last week, Jennifer Kupcho, the eventual winner, suffered a bout of migraine that left her with blurred vision in the left eye over the next three holes.

In the event she was thankful for deciding to have Brian McKinley on the bag, after her dad carried it during the first two rounds.

McKinley is believed to have a nuanced understanding of the Augusta National course. His yardages, tee to green, and advice on putting helped Kupcho navigate a critical period in the final round without conceding too much ground.

A well-informed caddie, one that is willing to literally walk the extra mile to scout information and prepare for the vicissitudes of a course, is an essential ingredient for success at the elite level of golf.

Jordan Spieth has always spoken about his relationship with Michael Greller, the trust they share and how they work together as a team to play golf. The second shot on the 13th of Royal Birkdale in the final round of the Open Championship is a good example. Spieth played that stroke blind, with Greller standing atop the hill to indicate the direction of the flag. The American escaped with a bogey before going on to secure the Claret Jug in 2017.

As the Masters celebrates the 40th anniversary of Frank Urban (Fuzzy) Zoeller’s victory at Augusta as a rookie in 1979, it is a good time to acknowledge the important role caddies play in the success of a golfer.

In those days Augusta would assign a caddie to each golfer in the order of registration, considering any express preferences where possible.

Jeriah “Jerry” Beard was thrown on the bag of rookie Zoeller when he reached Augusta on Sunday. Later that week, Zoeller joined Horton Smith and Gene Sarazen as the only men to have won the Masters as a rookie. Much of it was down to his ability to trust his caddie that week.

“He didn’t even have a yardage book. It was all me. I pulled all the clubs and read all the putts,” Beard was quoted as saying.

“That’s pretty close to how I remember it,” Zoeller admitted with a smile. “He told me what to do and I did it. “I think our personalities is why we clicked immediately. I’m laid-back, easy going and Jerry is kind of the same way.”

Trust is a big factor in the relationship between a golfer and his bagman.

Justin Rose’s caddie, Mark Fulcher, who underwent cardiac surgery in January, is back on the bag for the Masters, affording the golfer just the kind of comfort he was seeking while on the course.

“Where Fooch is going to earn his money and earn his position on the bag and earn his importance on the team is on Saturday and Sunday. Basically when emotions start to get more intense and there’s more variability from that point of view, that’s when I’m going to rely on him more and more,” explained Rose about the role of his caddie.

Especially on a course like Augusta National, which the elite players experience year after year, familiarity and experience can be a big advantage.

The caddie-golfer dialogue isn’t only about yards and breaks. A shrewd caddie is able to study the emotions of the golfer and say just enough to calm nerves or draw the focus back when distress or a poor stroke are beginning to distract a golfer.

Harry Diamond is on the bag for Rory McIlroy, who has been trying to change his lens by looking inward and setting himself on a path of exploration and introspection in an effort to become a more complete person. As McIlroy looks beyond the club, distance and scores, Harry has been a steady calming presence.

That is helping Rory practice an approach that is built around patience and perspective.

“Look, when I asked Harry to sort of caddie for me, I thought it was going to be a temporary role back in August 2017, but he has done a wonderful job,” acknowledged McIlroy.

“But over the course of the last eight or nine months, he has been with me every step of the way on this journey of getting to this point where I’m almost making more time to practice my mind-set rather than to be on the range,” he added.

Irrespective of whose shoulders take on the Green Jacket on Sunday, the seams will be held in place by a diligent caddie.

(The writer is a columnist with Golfing Indian)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)

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