The professional caddie is--either by definition or default--a
porter, a shrink, a den mother, a babysitter, a schoolmarm, a
cheerleader, a scapegoat and, always, a future former employee,
as easily discarded by a struggling boss as a balky putter.
Though their standing has improved of late on the PGA Tour,
where a gratis breakfast or postround buffet awaits them at
selected tournaments, caddies have historically been made to
feel as welcome as smallpox by the USGA at its showcase event,
the U.S. Open.
That is why, upon arriving on June 10 at Bethpage Black's
designated caddie shack just off the driving range, David
Frost's caddie, Scott Sajtinac, didn't know whether to leap for
joy or faint straightaway. Standing directly behind the Caddie
Wagon, the cramped camper that serves as the caddies' de facto
clubhouse at most Tour stops, was a great, canvas Taj Mahal, all
white and welcoming, with signs touting free dinners, gift
certificates and--massage schedules? "When I saw it," he says,
"I nearly fell over. I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
Eight-time Open veteran Dave McNeilly, on Padraig Harrington's
bag for the last four years, called the digs "the finest I've
ever seen at an Open," a sentiment echoed by dozens of caddies.
"It's really pretty incredible in the tent," said Rick Adcock,
Gary Nicklaus's regular caddie, who was carrying for Tom Gillis
last week. "The food, the drinks, the AC.... We've come a long
way from packing our own PB&Js."
To understand the unabashed joy from such a traditionally salty
group, consider the dreary treatment caddies endured at recent
Opens. Three years ago at Pinehurst, according to several
loopers, the USGA failed to provide any food; a caddie had to
recruit a sandwich-shop manager to fill a car with subs and
drive them to the course. In lieu of catered meals for last
year's Open at Southern Hills, the USGA distributed food
coupons, which caddies could redeem at concession stands--if
they could find the time. "In the past I don't think we've been
given any thought by the USGA," Brian Sullivan said as he
stepped out of last Friday's monsoon and into the tent's open
arms, "but guys have everything they could want in here."
As he spoke, Sullivan, who carries for Jeff Maggert, moved down
a long table offering an endless supply of sandwiches (chicken,
ham and turkey), bagels, bananas, apples, oranges and other
snacks. Next to a glass door with a view of the busy range, a
quartet of interested caddies sat around two other tables, one
with a computer featuring real-time Open scoring, the other with
a 36-inch television tuned to the day's round. A dozen more
caddies sprawled at other tables, reading newspapers or
discussing the day's play. Good cheer abounded.
A caddie emerged from behind a curtain by the food table,
rolling his newly limbered shoulders. Sullivan nodded in his
direction. "And of course," he said, "there's that."
That was the altar of this makeshift cathedral: the massage
area, where teams of three licensed massage therapists and a
chiropractor volunteered in five-hour shifts, providing relief
to caddies done in by the longest walk (seven miles) in Open
history. Eavesdropping on the treatments gave proof of two
things: One, Quasimodo had nothing on most caddies, and two,
such a service was long overdue. (Players have massage and
physical therapists as well as a chiropractor available at every
tournament.) "These caddies have problems very consistent with
their profession," said volunteer massage therapist Elaine
Fenick. "Their bodies are wrenched to one side, asymmetrical.
Some are even worse, all bent and disfigured. And because most
carry their bags only on their right side, it'll only get
worse." At a nearby massage table, as if on cue, a (regrettably)
shirtless caddie groaned in either agony or ecstasy, possibly
Meanwhile, McNeilly steeled himself for the day's rain-soaked
18, a round he and Harrington--both Irish--would find pleasantly
reminiscent of the blustery conditions at home. "In Europe the
caddies are treated like this all the time, and better,"
McNeilly said. "Over there caddies can go into the clubhouse and
the locker room, can help our players prepare. If it's raining,
we can wait it out with our players. If nothing else, our
players know where they can find us. [At past Opens,] if it
rained, they'd have to go looking for us huddled beneath the
clubhouse eaves or standing under a tree."
Give credit to Jeff Poplarski and Bill Higgins, cochairmen of
the caddie committee for this year's Open. For the last two
years the Massapequa, N.Y., duo gathered information from past
chairmen and met with caddie representatives to hear their
concerns. "Things haven't been good in the past, and we wanted
this to be done well," Poplarski says. "We wanted to give them
the massages [Poplarski is a chiropractor] and the food as well
as a place to sit and watch TV, or to simply stay dry. It's nice
to see guys walk in and say, 'Wow.'"
By the weekend the tent's crowds had thinned with the cut;
still, the camaraderie was clearly, and amusingly, evident. One
caddie detailed how the weather forced him to lie to his player
(a top 20 player on the Tour), knowing his boss wouldn't believe
that the rain had lengthened the course. "I pretend to go to the
book," he explained, "and figure out how much to tack on so that
he asks for a bigger club." On his way to meet Maggert, Sullivan
popped in for a quick rubdown, and when asked for the trick to
caddying in the rain, he smiled and said, "Don't drink too much
the night before, because it's awfully close quarters under that
umbrella." Snorts of knowing laughter erupted nearby.
Idling contentedly amid this ruckus, McNeilly smiled as a
masseuse prepared his shoulders and back for his big day,
Harrington's third-round pairing with Tiger Woods. As tee time
loomed, McNeilly said he and Harrington would most likely
discuss Ireland's World Cup match with Spain, anything, he said,
"to lighten the mood and help ease Padraig through the day."
To that end, then, the massages had already worked their magic.
"When I told Padraig about all of this yesterday, he couldn't
stop laughing," McNeilly said with a wink. "All I said was that
now I finally know not to eat Raisin Bran before having my
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL WITTE