Life of a caddy

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By Dennis George

Golf Columnist

Bones Mackay, Stevie Williams and Fluff Cowan.

Golf enthusiasts will recognize those names as the caddies for Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott (and formerly of Tiger Woods), and Jim Furyk (and formerly of Tiger Woods), respectively. You saw the bond between a caddy and his player when Mickelson and Mackay broke down in tears and hugged each other closely when Phil captured the Open Championship.

What’s it like to be a caddy on the PGA tour? 

How is it rubbing shoulders with the best players in the world? What is the typical week like for a caddy?

Brandon Parsons, childhood friend and former caddy for Campbellsville golfer J.B. Holmes, says that while it’s tough to be away from family for weeks at a time, the life can also be a fun one.

And hectic.

Parsons says that he has been on the road for up to eight weeks at a time. Time away from family. Working seven days a week.

How do you pack for that?

The 31-year-old Parsons says that he packs 10 sets of caddie appropriate attire (10 collared shirts from his sponsor Oakley and 10 pairs of shorts. He washes them on Mondays at hotels or at a laundromat. He carries rolls of quarters to do his laundry and for J.B to use as ball markers. (Golfers can be superstitious.) Parsons also takes four t-shirts, two dress shirts, a pair of jeans, caddy shoes, a pair of nice tennis shoes and a pair of dress shoes. If he acquires more clothes on the road, he says that he will send them home via FedEx or UPS.  He admitted that once he sent laundry home and it weighed more than the 50-pound limit. 

“I only made that mistake once,” he said. “When I leave for a tournament, I pack my yardage books with me for every course that we will be playing until I come home again. If we finish a tournament on Sunday, a lot of the caddies will fly that night to the next stop. Sometimes when we’re on the West Coast swing, we may rent cars and drive. But we give Southwest a lot of business.”

The typical pre-tournament routine includes walking the venue on Monday and checking the yardage book from the previous year, says Parsons.

“If there is a new yardage book, I will buy one at my own expense,” he said. “I check for new tees, the angles and use my Bushnell range finder with a slope so that I can tell J.B. if a shot will play 154 yards if it’s 150 yards away.”

The golfer normally arrives for a tournament site on Tuesday where the caddy will meet him on the range. Parsons says that the golfer’s schedule before the tournament depends on whether he is participating in the Wednesday pro-am. 

“If he plays in the pro-am, we may only play nine holes on Tuesday,” he said.

Once the tournament begins, the caddy may become a sports psychologist, swing coach, cheerleader, and advisor to his player. That’s in addition to carrying the bag full of more than clubs.

Professional golfers do not use the small stand bags that most of us prefer. What’s in the bag? Extra towels, gloves, sandwiches, snacks, sunscreen, umbrella and a dozen golf balls.

“It also changes depending on the weather,” said Parsons. “For example, when we are on the West Coast swing, I will have my rain suit in the bag as well as J.B.’s. We have to have sweaters and jackets in there as well because at times it can be pretty cool when we begin our round.”

That means the caddy is carrying a bag that can weigh up to 50 pounds up and down hills, through the rain and wind.

Once a round is completed, Parsons says that golfers and caddies disperse and there is almost a tour within a tour.

“J.B. and I will often stay at the same hotel, go to dinner together, and take in a movie at night,” he said. “We hung with Bubba Watson, Boo Weakley, and their caddies a lot. You build a lot of relationships with people you play with.”

I’m sure many are wondering what the compensation rate is for professional caddies.

Parsons said that most caddies get a weekly stipend from their player that can range from $1,200 to $2,000 per week. Out of that, the caddy must pay all of his own expenses, including meals, hotel room, travel to and from each tournament, yardage books, and other miscellaneous items. Most caddies do not get paid if the player is not competing in a tournament. He estimated that yearly expenses can amount to nearly $60,000 per year. 

If the player does not make the cut, the caddy can lose money for the week. The range of additional compensation when the player makes the cut can be up to 10 percent of the prize money for a win, eight percent for a top 10, and six percent for any other finish.

Parsons added that most caddies will not take a week off if their golfer is playing.

“You don’t want to leave yourself open to losing your job if you take off and your man wins with someone else on the bag,” he said. “You take your weeks off when he does.”

Two major triumphs that Parsons was able to share with his good friend were a win at the Waste Management Tournament and the 2010 Ryder Cup American victory at Valhalla.

“Beating Phil to win the Waste Management tournament was nice, but the Ryder Cup was the best,” he said. “It was different because you had the team element. You’re out there representing your country. In Kentucky. That was a once in a lifetime experience. There are good crowds at most tournaments, but at the Ryder Cup was like it was a parade at every hole.”

Parsons left the grind of the PGA tour in 2012 and is now employed at a bank in Magnolia. He says that he is enjoying the time with his wife and young son, but doesn’t rule out going back to the tour.

“I guess the grass is always greener on the other side,” he laughed. “J.B. and I have talked about maybe joining him again. We are good friends and he will always be supportive of my decisions.


What an Open!!!

Several people commented to me about how ugly Muirfield looked on TV. However, links golf is not predicated on being green as most Scottish courses do not use thousands of gallons of water to keep them aesthetically beautiful. Their game is more of keeping the ball low instead of the high shots required to play our courses. 

The Open set-up does not favor long hitters but shot makers. Mickelson says he thinks he now knows how to play links golf. It showed Sunday.