Why this LPGA rookie has had 11 different caddies this season
SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Rose Zhang had all the tools when, earlier this year, she decided to leave Stanford and turn professional: buttery swing, deft touch, strong mind and work ethic.
But there was at least one asset she was missing: a caddie.
Aware the role needed filling, Zhang’s manager, Kevin Hopkins, suggested she reach out to veteran LPGA looper Jason Gilroyed, who while carrying for the likes of Minjee Lee, Cristie Kerr and Anna Nordqvist has been part of 26 LPGA wins, including four major titles.
Zhang and Gilroyed immediately hit it off, needing all of one start together — last month’s Mizuho America’s Open, at Liberty National — to record their first win.
“I know my own game,” Zhang said Thursday after her opening round one-under 70 at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol GC in Springfield, N.J. “But he also knows his stuff, and I’ve just been learning a lot about how to use yardages properly, really being precise with landing spots, and he does great at all those things.”
In her first major start as a professional, Zhang added that Gilroyed has been a calming presence. “When I’m out here at a major championship, when there’s a lot of tension and there’s a lot of difficulties on the golf course ahead of us, I feel very comfortable with him,” she said. “We evaluate shots.”
Caddies…essential workers, right?
Ehh…yeah, most pros would tell you. But then there’s Celine Borge, a 24-year-old LPGA rookie by way of Tonsberg, Norway. Borge posted a cool, three-birdie 69 on Baltusrol’s beastly Lower course Thursday to grab a share of the clubhouse lead among the morning-wave finishers. On her bag was Corey Birch, who wouldn’t have looked familiar to even the most ardent LPGA fan.
Heck, even Borge barely knows him.
That’s because she just hired him this week.
“I got him from the club,” she said after her round. “Really just want someone to carry the bag, and he’s been good at that.”
If that sounds like something you might hear from a player who doesn’t put much stock in the potential benefits of having a regular caddie who knows her tendencies or when to try and talk her out of a questionable decision, well…that’s Borge. As she has traversed the tour, she has done so without a permanent caddie, instead recruiting a local looper when she gets on site — and really for only one purpose: to schlep her bag. This season, that has meant 11 starts with 11 different caddies.
She likes to pick her own clubs, read her own putts, do her own thing — just as she did a year ago on the Epson Tour, where she even declined a push cart and carried her own bag.
Asked what has been the toughest adjustment to LPGA life, she said: “It’s to have a caddie. I’m not used to having a caddie. I just try to do what I’ve always been doing, just play my own game and just have someone to carry the bag.”
In Borge’s first start of the season — the LPGA Drive On Championship — she rocketed up the leaderboard after a third-round 63 and eventually finished 14th. Since then she had made the cut in six of nine starts with two top-20 finishes. This week marks Borge’s second career major start, and if her first round was any indication, she’s handling the swells of the Lower course’s greens just fine by herself.
“Just trying to play as normal as possible and see how it goes,” she said.
The Women’s PGA field is playing for a record $10 million purse this week. If Borge keeps up her fine play, her caddie will enjoy a payday he could have never seen coming.