Klein: Focus on caddies is unparalleled

Tiger Woods (right) and caddie Steve Williams during a practice round for the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Tiger Woods (right) and caddie Steve Williams during a practice round for the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

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11:21:02 AM ET. 04/19/2014




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What a week for caddies on the PGA Tour. Anyone who thought that bag toters (like baseball umpires) did their jobs the best when nobody noticed them would have been caught off guard by a flurry of news reports.

The big story, of course, was snarly Steve Williams getting sacked after 12 spectacularly successful years of clearing the way for Tiger Woods. Seems the issue was loyalty. In a rare faux pas, it seems Williams got antsy sitting around waiting for his man to heal and went out to work for Adam Scott without securing proper clearances.

Considerable speculation ensued as to who would succeed Williams.

British bookies even established a betting line on the several candidates. In the end - or perhaps only in the interim - Woods opted for his longtime friend, Bryon Bell, who has exactly three tournaments under his belt. Nominally, Bell is head of Woods’ golf course design operation, though the workload there is moribund of late.

In any case, there’s only one person who will be scrutinized more carefully than Bell this week for his on-course performance at the Wold Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio: That’s Tiger Woods himself.

When it comes to caddie loyalty, kudos to mop-top Rory McIlroy for his spirited defense of his trusty bag toter, J.P. Fitzgerald. They are now into their third year together, and McIlroy openly credited Fitzgerald for standing by him at the debacle of the 2011 Masters and the glory of the 2011 U.S. Open. So when golf commentator Jay Townsend mocked their decision-making, McIlroy engaged his social-media skills in a Twitter-snit that momentarily threatened to overtake the media circus that already had set up shop at last week’s Irish Open.

The public scrutiny of caddies extended to the normally staid New York Times, whose golf correspondent, Larry Dorman, weighed in with a pair of stories about caddies on the PGA Tour. The upshot of this coverage is that the relationship between looper and PGA Tour pro is, like everything else in sports, under a microscope, with every utterance under review, conversations recorded, responses documented via Twitter and Facebook, and the whole world watching a relationship that is unlike any other in sport. Nowhere else is the sideman inside the ropes and part of the action. And in no other sport does the athlete and his aide spend so much time together.

It wasn’t long ago that caddies on the PGA Tour were part of a vagabond lot, biding time between jobs or just hanging on to dreams deferred or latching on for a few youthful years until maturity led one into a real job. Today, with all of the money available, caddieing on Tour is a profession.

Which makes it all the more remarkable when someone can step out of the shadows of the caddie shack and claim the limelight, if only briefly. Which brings us to our third and most inspiring looper story of the week, the performance of Damon Green. Normally a T-13 finish isn’t cause for spilled ink. But Green is a full-time PGA Tour caddie, of late for Zach Johnson, and before that, Scott Hoch. The $52,370 check he got from the U.S. Senior Open might not be the biggest he’s ever cashed. My bet is that his share of Johnson’s $1,305,000 win at the 2007 Masters was bigger. But this payday was on his own effort and so probably means more to him.

Golf these days needs more good caddie stories. Actually, it just needs more caddies. The industry is paying a price for having lost the chance to expose millions of teenagers to the game. Motorized golf carts wiped out a generation of potential future golfers. Maybe this week’s flurry of caddie news at the top of the profession will help spark more interest in entry levels of the game.

Those of us who gained our way into the game via the caddie yards could never have imagined it would become a public spectacle. We just thought it was a great way to spend more time around golf.

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