Caddies have it tough during rainy conditions

David Toms walks with his caddie Scott Gneiser to the 18th green during the first round of the 95th PGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y.

David Toms walks with his caddie Scott Gneiser to the 18th green during the first round of the 95th PGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y.

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— Meandering out of the clubhouse and onto the putting green, David Toms looked skyward toward a brightening picture, breathed in the air, and then felt a gust of cool breeze.

“Am I going to need a sweater?” he asked.

Shaking his head, caddie Scott Gneiser said, “Only if you wear it all day.”

The joke wasn’t lost on Toms, who laughed. On this day, no caddie was looking for any more weight in the golf bag.

Though Gneiser did have the bag jammed with all the necessary tools to combat foul weather on this second day of the 95th PGA Championship – an umbrella, rain gear, extra towels, extra gloves – he knew he had gotten a break. His man had the afternoon draw and didn’t play in the heavy morning rain.

Still, Gneiser has enough experience to appreciate what his colleagues had battled earlier in the day. The rain had been a steady drizzle when the round began at 7:10, but it grew heavier and heavier. So by the time the marquee pairing of Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, and Justin Rose reached the tee at their day's ninth hole, Oak Hill's No. 18, they stood for five minutes while the area was squeegeed.

Standing back on the 15th tee, Darren Woolard was sure play would be halted. “It was really dumping,” said Woolard, who caddies for Scott Piercy. “But the guys said to keep going.”

If that decision was to the chagrin of some players (“The ball was flying nowhere and it’s playing really long,” Lee Westwood said), others saw it as a decision that was out of their control. Those players, the ones who maintained a focus and a steady demeanor, found that their parade was not rained upon.

“It was,” said Webb Simpson, after posting a 6-under 64 in the pouring rain, “a great day.”

That, of course, is a matter of perspective because surely the miserable playing conditions hampered efforts by notables such as Luke Donald (74—145) and Bubba Watson (74—144) to even make the cut. But with “play on” being the morning mandate, the question was asked of caddies: What is the most challenging job when it’s pouring?

“Trying to keep your players calm, doing whatever it takes,” said Lance Bennett, who feels fortunate to work for one cool customer, Matt Kuchar.

“Keeping towels dry,” said Jimmy Johnson, who works for Steve Stricker and knows that sounds simple. But on a day when the rain comes down furiously, like it did early in Round 2, that’s not easy. He said he’d probably go through at least four towels in heavy rain, between wiping down the grips to letting a player dry his hands.

A prepared caddie will call upon whatever resources he has – a couple towels in the bag, one under his jacket, another knotted beneath the umbrella – to have a dry one with him.

Yes, the umbrella is a crucial component for keeping rain off the clubs and towels, but Johnson knows there are players who forget that a caddie can’t hold the umbrella, clean dirt off a club, and wipe down grips all at the same time. A caddie sometimes needs the player to hold the umbrella over him and the bag while he does his work after a shot.

“Hands,” Johnson said. “We never have enough hands on a rainy day.”

“Teamwork. It’s important on a rainy day to have teamwork,” said Frank Williams, who worked several years for Stewart Cink and is presently with Ben Curtis. “You know who the best player was in that regard? Curtis Strange. I used to tell him all the time, ‘You’re a great caddie.’ He would always hold the umbrella so I could do my job.”

Williams confirmed what Johnson said, that he’s seen players hit their shot, then grab the umbrella and march forward on their merry way, leaving the caddie in the rain to try and keep the towel dry and grips dry. You know what probably follows in those situations – the player complaining about things being wet.

“A caddie earns his money on a day like this,” said Woolard, who figures the bag weighs 10 pounds more on a rainy day – before it gets waterlogged.

“You’re trying to help all the time, but you probably help more in the rain,” Woolard said.

Dave McNeilly, the veteran looper from Ireland, works for Matteo Manassero. As they trudged through about 14 holes of rain that went from a steady drizzle to heavy to intermittent to very heavy, McNeilly relied on his experience.

“You have to keep everything in a certain order,” he said. “Nothing should ever be rushed. Keep your routine. Don’t do anything until everything is ready.”

McNeilly said it was “a slippery slope” for both player and caddie in the foul weather. “If you lose your composure, it’s really hard to get it back.”

Woolard conceded that “tempers can flare” more readily on a rainy day than when it’s optimum conditions, often times the situation dictated by a player’s attitude. Players like Stricker (“He shot 65 one day at Riviera in brutal rain,” Johnson said) and Kuchar handle foul weather in a manner that you’d expect, given their demeanors. But Williams said it should come as no surprise as to who the best rainy-day player he ever saw.

“Tiger Woods,” Williams said. “He beat our butt (2003 Arnold Palmer Invitational) in Orlando one year and then in a playoff at Akron (2006 Bridgestone Invitational) in the rain. Rain doesn’t stop him.”

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