by Martin Johnson
There are currently 34 Rules of Golf, and while you could argue with some justification that this is approximately 33 too many, a personal view is that The R&A should be giving serious thought to the addition of a 35th.
This would read, Caddies: “A caddie should not be permitted to speak during the course of a round, other than to say: ‘I think it’s an eight-iron’ (or the equivalent), ‘we’ve got 210 to the front’ (ditto), ‘would you like a Mars Bar, or would you rather the banana?’”
Penalty for breach of Rule: Matchplay – drown himself in a water hazard. Strokeplay – impale himself on either a red or yellow stake defining said hazard.
Exceptions: Where no hazard is available within the five minutes permitted, the caddie may bite into the cyanide capsule provided by the tournament director.
Given what occurred in last week’s WGC-World Match Play encounter between Miguel Angel Jimenez and Keegan Bradley, Rule 35 should be rushed through as soon as possible. The Spaniard was an innocent party in an ugly verbal spat, while the American – whose association with the long putter means he already has history in the poor-taste department – has managed it again by employing the worst kind of caddie. Namely, a gobby one.
Sadly, he’s not the only one, and it would appear to be the product – as with all sporting things worthy of tut-tutting about – of money. Once upon a time a caddie would head straight from the course to the Pig & Firkin, stumble half-senseless back to his four-to-a-room B&B, and totter onto the first tee with a head requiring something much more powerful than a Junior Disprin.
And when loading the clubs, he wasn’t required to be able to count beyond 14, although some managed it, as Ian Woosnam discovered when reaching for his driver on the final day of the 2001 Open at Lytham and finding, to his dismay, that he had a choice of two. By and large, a caddie’s only duty was to deliver a yardage when asked, or in John Daly’s case, a Marlboro Light.
Nowadays, though, they stay at the best hotels, fly at the front of the plane, and arrive in a car about four blocks long with windows you can’t see into. If you carried the clubs for Tiger Woods, you would also become the richest sportsman in New Zealand, and give newspaper interviews bad-mouthing your man’s rivals.
The best caddies are the ones who don’t say a lot, but just get on with the job. Such as Alastair McLean. In all the rounds of golf I watched when he and Colin Montgomerie were together, I can’t remember hearing Alastair say anything at all, not even on the rare occasions his employer invited him to do so.
On one memorable day during an Open Championship at St Andrews, Monty hit a perfect drive straight down the middle of the seventh hole, watched his ball land on the side of one of the Old Course’s myriad hummocks, and hop sharp right into a gorse bush. It made Krakatoa resemble a bonfire night banger.
“Did you…..did….did you …..bloody hell….did you see that!!” he spluttered, but Alastair, of course, had seen it only too well. Which was why, having worked with Monty long enough to realise it wasn’t a good idea to even be in the same postcode, he’d already legged it 40 yards down the fairway.
I did hear him speak once. I’d arranged with Monty to do an interview after a round at the Lancome Trophy, and watched inside the media tent with increasing trepidation as the scoreboard plotted his progress. Par – bogey – par – bogey – par – bogey……it didn’t bode well, and my fears were confirmed when Monty emerged from the recorder’s hut after signing for a 76, or something similar.
“Colin, about our interview, I um….” at which point, pausing only to scoop up some innocent child about to have its young life cut short by asking for an autograph, I hurled us both out of the path of what appeared to be a stampeding wildebeest. So I turned to Alastair and asked whether it would be wise, under the circumstances, to remind Monty about our chat. “Certainly,” he replied. “He’d love to see you (pause for effect). But I’d inform your next-of-kin first if I were you.”
Good old Alastair. His expression never changed, which is not something you could ever accuse Monty of, and he never poked his nose in when it wasn’t wanted. Unlike Bradley’s caddie on the 18th hole in San Francisco last Friday, when the American player was seeking a ruling for his ball lying on a cart path.
The time taken to play a round of professional golf could be reduced from the interminable to the never-ending were it not for the amount wasted waiting for rulings, and this one took even longer than normal thanks to Bradley’s caddie seriously over-estimating what his job description entailed.
Jimenez, apparently, didn’t agree with the referee’s ruling, to which Bradley took exception and told the Spaniard to push off and mind his own business. Jimenez, as he was perfectly entitled, continued to voice his opinion in what was a perfectly reasoned, non-confrontational manner, until the whole thing got nasty when the one person in the vicinity who’s business it wasn’t – Bradley’s caddie – not only decided to involve himself, but did so using a mock Spanish accent.
Whether or not Jimenez told Bradley’s caddie to shut up, as the caddie claimed, was not picked up by the TV microphone – but good for Miguel if he did. And Bradley, who sprung to the caddie’s defence by first engaging Jimenez in nose-to-nose aggression, and then carrying on the bad blood after a cursory final-green handshake, should consider where the absence of an apology places him in the pantheon of sporting gentlemen.
My biggest regret is that it didn’t involve a more gentle soul than Miguel, otherwise the TV coverage may have been dramatically enhanced by him reaching into Bradley’s bag and grabbing his putter – pausing only to express his regret that there is no broomhandle in it any more – before using it as a suppository.
*This article was originally published in The Rugby Paper on 6 May 2015