Why billionaires, brothers and ‘best mates’ are caddying on Tour this week
NEW PROVIDENCE, Bahamas — Golf fans will recognize every player at this week’s Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods‘ Bahamas invitational tournament.
But will they know the bagmen?
Those of us who spend excessive amounts of time watching professional golfers do their thing have grown well-acquainted with the loopers by their side. That’s why it can be jarring to see an unfamiliar figure toting the bag of a top player. But at this week’s Hero World Challenge, an intriguing array of fill-ins dot the course.
The most qualified fill-in for Thursday’s opening round was Xander Schauffele’s caddie Joe Greiner. Greiner is on loan from Max Homa for the week; he got the call after Schauffele’s usual caddie Austin Kaiser came down with the flu. When Kaiser started feeling ill he thought of Greiner first because of his familiarity with Schauffele (the two are friends and frequent golf partners) and his week-to-week performance on Homa’s bag.
Despite their familiarity, Greiner said there were still a few things that he learned from going behind-the-scenes of Schauffele’s process. He appreciated the perspective, he said, and could see him and Homa borrowing some of Schauffele’s concepts going forward.
“There’s all these little things that he does as he prepares that now I’m curious about,” Greiner said. “Like, there’s this weird thing he does with his lag putts where if he has a 30-footer, he looks 10 feet out, takes a practice stroke, looks 20 feet out, takes a practice stroke, looks 30 feet out, takes a practice stroke, then looks at the hole. It seemed like such a good way to engage your feel and I play golf all the time but I’d never thought about that. It’s really smart and simple.”
Schauffele made bogey at No. 18 to post two-under 70; he sits four shots off the lead. What does Greiner do differently than Kaiser?
“He was great; it felt like we were at home playing a game on the same team,” Schauffele said. Is there anything he’s particular about in a caddie? “I don’t need cheerleading, but I also never want like, what not to do,” he said. “‘We can’t hit it left.’ I never want to hear what I can’t do. Joe was good on positive reinforcement and that’s my only real pet peeve from a caddie.”
Ironically it was Greiner, the experienced caddie of the group, the who made the biggest rookie mistake of them all. He chose a pair of socks that didn’t quite protect his heel from the top of his shoe. By the end of his day’s hoof the backs of his socks were soaked through with blood.
Another well-qualified fill-in was Chase Koepka, who caddied for his older brother Brooks en route to five-under 67. While
“I’ll tell you what, full-time caddies out here? I’ve got a lot of respect for what they do,” Chase said after the round. “That bag doesn’t get any lighter as the round goes on.”
Although he’d caddied for his brother plenty of times as an amateur — and in last week’s Match — this was Chase’s first go as a Tour caddie.
“Other than Ricky, I probably know his game better than anybody,” Chase said. “We’ve played enough golf rounds together that it’s very comfortable. I know his yardages, what he likes and doesn’t like. He stays pretty locked in, and especially since he was playing well I just tried to stay out of the way. I know the deal.”
The hardest part of caddying?
“Just keeping up,” he said. “He likes to have the umbrella and the rain gear in the bag, and I give a ton of respect to these guys because you’re actually moving a lot faster than I thought we would. It’s fast-paced. But it’s fun.”
He’ll have three more days to keep up. Team Koepka will also be playing for a significant payday — first place pays $1 million, while last place pays $100,000. That means guaranteed money for the guy on the bag.
Brooks said his usual looper Ricky Elliott was home preparing for a trip to see his parents in Northern Ireland, but he was complimentary of the job his kid brother did.
“Obviously Rick kind of knows what I’m doing before I even do it, but Chase is a hell of a player anyway,” he said. “He knows pretty much what the wind’s playing and it would be like if he was playing, just probably a little different clubs.” That last bit was a subtle dig. These are brothers, after all.
One guy who might not press his player on what percentage he’s getting at the end of the week is Tony Finau’s caddie for the week. With his usual caddie Mark Urbanek at home with his wife, who is expecting a child, Finau took the opportunity to hire his friend Ryan Smith — who just happens to own the Utah Jazz.
Smith is the executive chairman and co-founder of Qualtrics, a Utah-based company that sponsors Finau. He’s also a billionaire. And on Thursday he was witness to a round of four-under 68.
Then there’s Tyrrell Hatton, who was first off on Thursday and put his looper to a speed test by zipping through his round in just 3.5 hours. His usual caddie Mick Donaghy recently bought a home is Leicester and opted out of the week’s action, which meant he got the chance to bring in a buddy for the job.
“[Mick] has got stuff to sort out at home after a long year and it’s nice to share this experience with my best mate, Hugo, on the bag,” Hatton told Martin Dempster of the Scotsman. He shot three-under 69.
And those are just the fill-ins. Other fresh duos populated Albany’s fairways on Thursday, like the now-permanent team of Justin Thomas and Jim “Bones” Mackay or the new pair of Scottie Scheffler and Ted Scott, legendary longtime looper to Bubba Watson, who first joined Scheffler at the RSM Classic.
Mackay was Phil Mickelson’s caddie for 25 years before their split. Scott carried for Watson for 15 years. Veteran hands with fresh faces serve as a reminder that on Tour, nothing is permanent.
And some pairs last just one week.