On the way into work early this morning my carpool driver passed the time with a story about his loop yesterday, which included a player I’ve worked for many times and even won the club championship with a few years ago. It’s a story that I think the average golfer can find instructive, plus it has a certain entertainment value. And so to the story.
It seems that this player started out his round birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie—five under par, a spectacular stretch even for my low-handicap sometime client. But, my driving friend went on to tell me, a series of misadventures—including a lost ball on the 14th hole, a point I will return to—led to a round of 76, five over par. Though the numbers might be different, every golfer has had a round like that, with elation followed by disappointment. The interest for me though is in how it reveals something about the caddie business.
As it happens, I drew the same player this morning, and he warned me that he hadn’t bothered to hit a ball or even a putt before beginning. It was not much of a surprise then when we started out with a bogey, which was quickly followed by two more and then crowned with a double-bogey: five over par. But the rest of the round went smoothly, and we finished the rest of the holes at … even par, for a five over par 76. Yet today’s 76 felt a lot better, even though the score was the same.
Aside from the psychological lessons to be drawn, the round an importance to me because I have designs of making this guy a regular client. For that reason, I made a point of directing his attention to the curious parallel between the two rounds. The story that I heard about yesterday’s round was that the caddies lost the ball because no one had gone forward to forecaddie—the act of watching drives that’s a big part of a caddie’s job—that hole, a looper no-no. I smelled an opportunity, because in literally years of working for this same guy, I’ve never lost a ball of his, mostly because I know I need to be forward—like the Dalai Lama, he’s a big hitter.
What I want him to realize is, as they say, “why go out for hamburger when you can get steak at home?” In other words, why should he depend on the whims of the caddiemaster and the daily lottery drawing—which determines the order in which caddies are called—to provide when he could just arrange things with my boss so I can work for him every day? It has a certain benefit for me in that I could have a bit of security in a wildly uncertain business, and a benefit for him for the same reason.
It also has a certain benefit for my caddiemaster—at least potentially. As another caddiemaster once told me, the way caddiemasters make their money is essentially by selling the services of their charges: they are like pimps in that way. A number of caddiemasters have actually become angry with me for making arrangements with a golfer, because it cuts into their action. Caddiemasters want and need to have the freedom to assign caddies, because they are getting tipped by the players to provide quality caddies. A cheap guy, in other words, gets a kid, whereas the big tipper gets an experienced guy. It’s a beautiful example of the free market at work.
In my case, what this means is that for the most part my bosses want to sell me to the biggest tip they can get on that day. Therefore they don’t like being locked into a long-term deal, because what if I’m promised to somebody when a much bigger wallet shows up? However, like a lot of problems, this one goes away provided enough cash is thrown at it, so I am searching my brain for ways to encourage this player to make the proper arrangements with my boss. It didn’t hurt my chances when my fellow loopers did me the favor of losing this guy’s ball yesterday.
Since I’m playing a long game, I therefore did not mention it directly to the player today, preferring to let it stew around in his brain for a while until (ideally) he arrives at the answer himself. I just wanted to give him a hint in that direction by mentioning the similarities and contrasts between today and yesterday. Naturally, I also don’t particularly want to throw one of my co-workers under the bus—at least overtly. This of course is a bit tricky.
I’m told that on the PGA Tour and elsewhere that caddies do that sort of thing unhesitatingly: caddies often will call players if they hear that somebody might be getting fired, even if the caddie in question is a friend of theirs. On tour, or so it’s said, things are cutthroat: pro looping is a dog-eat-dog world.
That may or may not be true—the PGA Tour is a hermetic, self-enclosed world, so it might be that things are just attempting to find their own level rather than the cesspool of iniquity it’s often rumored to be—but club caddieing is somewhat different, mainly because of the role played by the caddiemaster: if the tour is a model of laissez-faire capitalism, club caddieing more approximates the world we actually live in, with the caddiemaster taking the intrusive role played in reality by national governments. There’s a bit more finesse involved.
I can’t directly criticize somebody else’s work, in other words, because that might come back to me. What I can do however is ask what I might need to do better in order to get this golfer as a “regular,” as these relationships are known. I do have some indications that things might work out for me. The golfer did ask me today if I had been working much—the answer is no, because our prestige golf course is still closed—then told another golfer in our group that I was usually right with reading putts. He capped it off by telling me he was going to play this coming week. I took that last as perhaps a sign that he would finally just ask for me instead of waiting for me to show up serendipitously—and maybe I’ll get that corsage after all.