OPINION: Some of you may not have heard of Jessica Korda, but she did a rather odd thing at the weekend. Korda was playing in the third round of the US Open and, fair to say, she had not brought the course to its knees. In fact the course was looking rather pleased with itself. So Korda fired her caddie and put her boyfriend on the bag for the final nine holes.
It is hard to think of a parallel situation from another sport. Maybe if a rally driver fired his navigator and the missus hopped into the passenger seat. But the peculiarity of Korda's action prompted this thought. Is the caddie just an absurd anachronism, a throwback to the days the British class system when the servant carried his master's bags?
The R&A and the USGA, the custodians of the rules of golf, hate what they call bifurcation. That's a fancy way of saying, one rule for the pros and one rule for you and I. But this whole business of caddies is a classic example of bifurcation. The pro gets a counsellor, a porter, a philosopher and an agronomist to help him round. You and I get a playing partner rattling loose change.
At the Wimbledon women's final on Sunday, a couple of ball girls will carry the racquets onto Centre Court. Imagine if they started handing out advice during the match. Or worse still, stood behind the player - not Serena this year, it turns out - as she was about to serve, and started to line her up.
But that's what happens in women's golf the whole time. New Zealand's Lydia Ko is a phenomenon, but it drives some of us crazy to see the caddie stand behind her and help with the alignment - "Left a bit, right a bit, right hand down, good to go."
The history of the caddie is a beguiling thing. Henry Longhurst called caddies "the long and miscellaneous crew, ranging from enchanting children to out-and-out brigands."
The caddie's vocabulary is legend.
"It'll take three damn good shots to get up in two today, sir."
A colleague and friend Lawrence Donegan - curiously he was the bass player for Lloyd Cole and the Commotions in a former life - once talked his way onto the bag of European Tour pro Ross Drummond for purposes of writing a book.
The book, called 'Four-iron in the Soul', is a breeze. Lawrence is very good at muttering darkly and so was ideally suited to carrying the bag of a golfer who could best be described as 'journeymen' if only that didn't imply a certain amount of progress. But warming to his task early on Donegan writes, "The first thing to understand about caddying is that it's not brain surgery. It is more complicated than that."
Don't be beguiled by history or the occasional bon mot from enthusiasts like Donegan. The caddie is little more than an emotional crutch to help very well paid golfers pursue their profession. Let them make their own decisions, read their own putts, get their own yardages, choose their own clubs and, yes, carry their own bags like the rest of us.
It would speed up the pace of play, as well (they already employ another bloke to rake the sand in some of the majors). Imagine if Tiger Woods was not always retiring for a conference call before a shot. The European pro Niclas Fasth was nicknamed 'Not So' because it took him so long to get ready. The player is not put on the clock until he has pulled a club, before that he or she can yak away as long as they like.
After her third round Korda said, "It's a US Open. It's a big week for me. It's one of the most important weeks for me of the year. I was just not in the right state of mind."
So she fired her caddie mid round and put her boyfriend on the bag. Unfortunately her dad Petr, a former Australian Open tennis champion and drugs cheat, was not available. He was caddying for his youngest daughter Nelly, who had made the cut at the age of 14. Never mind, Korda improved by six shots over the second nine.
One might be more forgiving of the whole caddie racket if the scene was no such a bland shade of white. When Francis Ouimet famously won the 1913 US Open against Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, the little 10-year-old Eddie Lowery carried his bag.
Seve and Angel Cabrera, not to mention Hogan, Snead and Nelson learned the game in the caddie shack. Ben Crenshaw wept on the chest of the statuesque Carl Jackson after winning the Masters.
Once there were caddies from all walks of life. Heck, even Che Guevara did a bit of looping. But now it is just a parade of beige men, who are often very rude to the spectators who pay their wages. The long and miscellaneous crew turned into a bunch of chippy, sycophantic unionists.
Now there may be those of you, close relatives of Steve Williams for example, who disagree with the views expressed in this article. That is fair enough, but before reaching the point of utter conviction I ask you to follow a group round St Andrews at the upcoming Women's British Open.
You will need six hours and the patience of Sisyphus, the bloke who spent eternity pushing a boulder up a hill. You may also want someone to carry your bags.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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