Byrne to team up with Els


GOLF:Colin Byrne is joining forces with four-time Major winner Ernie Els beginning at the €2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in the United Arab Emirates next week.

The South African is one of the game’s iconic players with 69 victories worldwide and his decision to appoint Byrne is a significant honour for the highly regarded Irish caddie.

Byrne has parted company with promising young English player Tom Lewis after 16 months. The Irishman was on the bag when Lewis won in just his third start after turning professional, the 2011 Portugal Masters becoming the joint third quickest affiliate member to claim a victory on the European Tour.

Lowest ever

The 22-year-old former Walker Cup player had commandeered the headlines in the 2011 British Open Championship at Royal St George’s posting a brilliant first round 65; the lowest ever score by an amateur. He tied for the early lead with Thomas Bjorn before eventually winning the silver medal (low amateur) and finishing 30th.

Byrne, who caddied for Retief Goosen when the South African won the 2005 US Open, explained that he felt it was time for Lewis to hear a different voice.

“Any golfer-caddie relationship is based on success. We weren’t doing well and I felt Tom needed to hear a different voice. As much as Tom’s view was different, in that he didn’t think we had reached that point, I think it will help him.

“We still have a close relationship and may work together again in the future. When things aren’t happening you begin to question your own perspective and whether you are having a positive impact.”

The Irish Times columnist who has caddied for in excess of 20 players including 1999 British Open champion, Paul Lawrie, Irishmen Philip Walton and David Feherty, Camillo Villegas and Italian Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari, to name but a few, admitted that he had a brief chat with Els at the end of the year.

The 43-year-old’s regular caddie Ricky Roberts, with whom he won the 1994 US Open (Oakmont), 1997 US Open (Congressional), the 2002 British Open (Muirfield) and last year’s British Open, underwent surgery for a blood clot last October.

Health issue

“Ernie’s caddie, Ricky Roberts, has a health issue that he’s taking care of and won’t be back for a while. I had a chat with Ernie but I was Tom’s caddie at the time and he didn’t want it to be construed as poaching. I caddied for Ernie in China when Tom wasn’t playing that week. Going forward it could end up as a bag-share (with Ricky) but I’ll be working with Els in the Middle East and America.

“I’ve known Ernie for years and enjoyed his company on the golf course on many occasions. He is an old school type player who makes decisions for himself. Personally I like that attitude as I think there is too much over-caddying in the game. There are moments when a caddie’s input is valuable, practically or psychologically, but less is more. . .

“It’s great to be working with someone of his calibre and I’m optimistic looking forward.”

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