Man of the people: Caddie John Wood learns art of interacting with fans during play

At left: Matt Kuchar and caddie John Wood. Below: the crowds at the Waste Management Phoenix Open Scott Halleran/PGA TOUR

Man of the people: Caddie John Wood learns art of interacting with fans during play

PGA Tour

Man of the people: Caddie John Wood learns art of interacting with fans during play

If a basketball fan wants an up-close look at LeBron James, they’re probably dishing out a few hundred bucks at minimum for tickets. If they want to shout something offensive or personally insult him within earshot, we’re talking four figures for courtside seats.

Golf is different. General admission ticketing and spread-out venues mean fans can get within arms-reach of players, even converse with them at times. Naturally, that environment produces memorable moments on both ends of the spectrum.

Things can get hostile at times. Longtime PGA Tour caddie John Wood was at Liberty National for The Barclays several years ago and remembers his group was trying to hustle up and finish as it got dark.

“I think it was on the ninth green, and there was only one (fan) out there,” Wood said. “The player we were paired with missed a putt, and the guy yelled out something about choking.”

The player approached the fan and challenged him, telling him they didn’t need any of that out there and wondered why he would even say such a thing
in the first place. At that point, the fan said he wasn’t the one who said it.

“The player kind of looked around and laughed,” Wood said. “He goes, ‘What do you mean? There’s no one else out here but you!’”

 SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 04: Fans enjoy the action on the 16th hole during the third round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, at TPC Scottsdale on February 4, 2017 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

The 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale packs ’em in. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

Wood said that situation could have gotten worse, but eventually cooled down. He also recalled one fan who got involved in the action while attending a practice round for the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

Wood was caddying for Kevin Sutherland, who was playing with Neal Lancaster that day.

“Neal was getting ready to hit his second shot and this big, big guy, jeans and a t-shirt, says, ‘It’s an 8-iron! I play this course every week, it’s an 8-iron.’ … thick New York accent,” Wood said.

Lancaster backed off the shot and laughed.

“Just an 8-iron, huh?”

He brought the guy inside the ropes and handed him an 8-iron.

“There’s 200 people around this hole,” Wood said. “The guy hits the shot and it’s a horrible shot. Big chunk, short and right of the green. It was a great way to handle it.

The crowd loved it, Neil loved it and the guy got a thrill.”

Wood knows to expect a livelier crowd in New York and at other stops such as the AT&T Byron Nelson, the Players Championship and the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He enjoys those environments and considers himself one of the luckiest caddies on Tour because his current player, Matt Kuchar, is one of the most easy-going players out there. He’s not bothered by people who insist on shouting “BABA BOOEY,” or “MASHED POTATOES,” annoying as it might be for everyone else. Wood doesn’t really have to worry about playing mall cop with fans who move during backswings or forget to silence their cell phones

“Some players get really disturbed by anything. Kuch is not one of them,” Wood said. “In fact, it’s the opposite. He engages with fans. Even if they have a comment that’s not great, he’ll engage and make something funny with it. He doesn’t get bothered by little noises or people moving in general, and if it does disrupt his routine it’s no big deal to him. I literally have the easiest job on the PGA Tour when it comes to that.”

In terms of fan interaction, Wood’s most pressing duty is more logistical. If Kuchar hits a tee shot offline and fans swarm the ball, Wood already knows how much room he’ll need to clear and which direction he’ll ask the fans
to move.

If he spots a little kid getting antsy, he might use a friendly tone to say, ‘Hey, buddy, you’re fine right there, just make sure you’re real still when he hits this shot,’ and flash a thumbs-up.

“I think as caddies, the biggest job is to get inside your player’s head and figure out what he wants,” Wood said. “That goes for everything. When is he going to want to eat? When does he need to be reminded to get a drink of water? When does he want the (yardage) numbers, how does he want the numbers? When does he want a sweater, when is he going to want the rain jacket? That goes for crowd control, too.”

Overall, Wood says 99 percent of fans are harmless and great to deal with. Things can get ugly at team events such as the Ryder Cup, at which point caddies or players will alert security and get the offender tossed.

The overwhelming majority of interactions are positive, even if, say, Kuchar has just drilled one of the fans with an errant tee shot. Assuming the person isn’t seriously hurt, Kuchar will give them a signed glove and use a favorite one-liner.

“If you’d gotten the ball all the way to the fairway, I’d have given you a whole set of clubs.”

Better than “Baba Booey,” at least.  

(Note: This story appears in the January 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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