May 16th, 2016
The Secret Caddie
Reading putts for complete berks
Words: Wouldn't you like to know Photography: Getty Images
Many golfers love having a caddie when they visit a course, but for some of us it's a heart sinking moment when you realise you're going to be exposing all your golfing frailties to a long in the tooth local caddie who, let's face it, could beat you with one niblick tied behind his back. So what's it like for the caddies? Over to the Secret Caddie. Real name Keith McLaren. (Why do I bother?! He was supposed to remain anonymous and .... oh, sod it – Ed)
Caddies get off on lines
Now I am not talking about the narcotic stuff here. I mean the line of a putt, of course.
It is a huge thing for us and has the same importance to a caddie as, say, a beautiful movement would have to a master watchmaker, or a smooth motorway to a bloke who works for Tarmac. I mean, we can really get off on lines.
It can be a sublime thing to read a difficult putt. To watch your player hit the perfect stroke which follows the designated path and fall into the back of the hole. It is a bit like poetry, because it can be such a fine, nuanced and delicate thing. As one unsuitable word can throw and give a whole different hue to a piece of writing, so can a slightly misread putt. The ’read’ is fundamental and an art form in itself. A putt can meander up and down and shimmy like a formula one racing car. It can suddenly slow down or accelerate, and indeed, it can even circumnavigate. It can follow the perfect celestial path across a green and hold us caddies in rapture and wonder.
However the reading of a putt can be very difficult indeed . When I first started caddying I had nightmares about it. At the Castle Course in St Andrews it is a very tricky thing indeed, as the greens are so hard to read and can catch the best of us out.
Imagine the scenario as you’re caddying in a group of four, and you have the bag of some imposing, slightly egotistical CEO, out with his major clients. It’s the first green and he has stormed his first putt and left a tricky four footer. You have three other experienced caddies alongside who are looking on with glee. You are centre stage and time is running out, you are unsure, prevaricate and then say it’s left lip. However, he hits it there and it takes a break to the left! I mean that is catastrophic and humiliating and disastrous to be honest. But it can and does happen. I’ve seen it happen to the most long in the tooth of caddies, even ones without teeth.
My player Mike yesterday, funnily enough, told me a story about an experience with his characterful 70 year old Scottish caddie at Carnoustie. The chap had given a line of two balls left of the cup. Mike hit an atrocious putt which ended up seven feet left. As the other guys in the group putted out, his caddie whispered in his ear with his marvelous Scottish dialect and accent ‘you must hae some size ae balls under yer sweater!’ Mike said it was a priceless comment and made his day.
Nowadays, with a few years experience under my belt I have improved but there is always the possibility of things going awry. And I suppose it keeps us on our toes and indeed it can define and illustrate our skill. But it is a complex thing too. For a putt to take your line it must be hit with the right pace. So, of course, this is a minefield and is the most clever and subtle acid test of a person's character, client and caddie alike. It is a pity Shakespeare wasn’t hanging around when golf was invented. Or was he? Maybe it was too big a challenge for him? Left it to Wodehouse, I suppose.
When it comes down to it, the guy with humility and utter honesty will admit that he has pushed or pulled his putt. And that is music to the ears of a caddie. But then there is the bloke who will hit the said bad putt and put the blame on his caddie. This is not a good situation. It is a fait acommpli and curtains for the hapless chap. He is force-fed humble pie not of his making. I have seen a caddie walk off a course as a result.
So if you see a caddie slightly the worse for wear in The Keys pub at some late hour, don’t be too judgmental. It’s not necessarily all beer and skittles for us caddies. Unless, of course, we’re driven to it. Or should I say ‘putt to it’?
But this is getting complex again. Give me a beer for goodness sake.