Colin Byrne: Europe more of a team when it comes to Ryder Cup
European Tour set up in a more social way than the PGA and Europe reap benefit
Colin Byrne: ‘As caddies we do sometimes get the feeling of really belonging to something special.’ Photograph: Getty
As caddies we do sometimes get the feeling of really belonging to something special. When you arrive with a distinguished player in a strange country where golf is in its infancy and they whisk you through the private air terminal, stamp your passport in the comfort of an exclusive lounge and generally get pampered like some international dignitary, you get the sense of occasion.
When you win a tournament, the barriers that were imposed on you at the event somehow disappear as you watch your player hoist the trophy on a Sunday evening. You are suddenly part of the sponsors and VIP procession. There is a sense of being part of something special, a unique occasion.
Most other weeks we arrive in a foreign airport amid the usual terminal bustle and battle our way anonymously to a metro, a rental car desk or a bus stop and start asking loads of questions about how to get to the golf course. That is the reality of life on tour for a caddie.
This week it is really different. The Ryder Cup week is unreal, it involves a lot of caddying but not like you have know it.
This is big time, the closest that golf will get to the atmosphere of a World Cup final, a Super Bowl or an All-Ireland final, and that will be from the time they boarded the plane in London last Monday until the time they disperse as individuals again at the Dunhill Cup at St Andrews next Monday.
The European caddie shack is a reflection of the locker-room, with an equal balance of really seasoned campaigners like Billy Foster working for Lee Westwood – this is his 13th time and so he will definitely be considered the “caddie daddy” this week – and rookies.
His advice, I already heard him pass on to Andy Sullivan’s novice at one of the many rain delays in Italy a few weeks back, was to get some time to yourself because you will find it extremely difficult once you board the plane at Heathrow.
Self-obsessedBut, of course, that is what the whole event is about, the team and not the individual.
Naturally it is the greatest challenge for the players who are accustomed to being totally self-obsessed in this understandably self-centred game. Consequently as bagmen we have to service that individual’s obsession. It is a mentally draining exercise to have to deal with one needy player – this week there are 11 other egos to massage.
The most important attribute in generating a winning unit, apart from putting really well, is camaraderie. The European Tour is set up in a more social way than the PGA Tour on a weekly basis. In Europe we tend to share bus journeys from cities to golf courses, with time to chat and get to know different players and caddies.
In the US everyone disappears from the course in their own car without exception. You get to chat at the course but never get that quality time that an otherwise boring bus journey affords.
This has been a key feature to Europe having traditionally such a sense of unity and homogeneity.
Stronger bondMy strongest memory of the team-building sensation of a long bus journey was at the Presidents Cup with Retief Goosen in Montreal in 2007. Players and caddies boarded the same bus out very early in the morning and back when it was dark that evening. There is no doubt we all felt a stronger bond for having done so.
It was the same in Columbus Ohio in 2013, all boarded the bus, with no exception. It gave the leaders an opportunity to give their motivational speeches and enforced the sense of belonging to the team.
As caddies on the European Tour we have access to the locker-room each week, players are used to us mingling with them. In the US this is not the case, caddies are not allowed in the players’ locker-room. They are subtle nuances to the two different systems but probably significant when it comes to the compromise of an uncharacteristic team event. Europe traditionally mingles, America doesn’t.
There will have been a welcome session in the team-room with rousing footage of past Ryder Cup successes and individual victories of the golfer and caddie team that earned them their Ryder Cup slot.
There will be an extensive range of fine Italian clothing hanging in each caddie’s room with directions to a personal tailor if any alterations are needed. There is a specially assigned caddie master to look after the bagmen’s needs.
There will be individual lockers and other personalised items that remind each caddie what an important cog they are in the overall Ryder Cup machine. Of course it is different, and it can only help to motivate you to contribute in what ever little way you can to a victory for your side.
PairingsI know Colin Montgomerie as captain of the team in Wales in 2010 wanted us caddies to let him know how our players were really feeling about their games in order to help him make the best decisions he could make for pairings.
It was a warm and enriching experience for me personally given the inherent isolated and individualistic nature of our weekly existence on tour. Apart from the obvious financial boost the event gives to both tours it is a very positive anti-dote to the self-driven nature of standard tour life.
Although the names in both the European locker-rooms and caddie shacks may well be dwarfed by the mighty Americans, don’t forget that this grand spectacle is played over 18 holes of matchplay and not 72 holes of stokeplay which really does favour the underdog.
The hard work has been done. The best advice for each caddie is to enjoy the trip and the chance to be somewhat altruistic in the greatest “me” sport ever played.