Players must be clear that they make the final decisions

 

CADDIE'S ROLE:Caddies are limited by one significant factor: you are only as good as the guy hitting the shots

RORY McILROY was not the only person who came under intense, post-75th US Masters scrutiny by his native media. Us caddies have standard debriefing sessions in the caddie shack post round. Each table has its own tale of “he said, I said and we walked off with a double bogey and a bad attitude to the next tee”.

I had a colleague visit on my arrival back from Augusta last week. He is French and, in true Gallic fashion, he is passionate about most subjects and particularly so when it comes to golf. His phone rang not long after he had arrived in my apartment. It didn’t take long for me to realise that this was a pretty serious discussion he was having with whomever was on the end of the line.

I picked up key words that enabled me to piece together the gist of the disputation: caddie- responsible-respect-difficult-Augusta. It wasn’t a brief phone call and my friend apologised profusely for having spent so long on the phone, but it was a serious matter.

I was intrigued but in a jet-lagged state, where consciousness can flick on and off like a switch, I now had a topic to keep me alert for a while more.

Of course it was the dreaded Augusta National that had caused such consternation in France, even though they had only one contestant this year and he missed the cut. Gregory Havret qualified by finishing second in the US Open last year behind Graeme McDowell. This gave Gregory his first taste of the Masters.

Naturally it is a great honour and something special to look forward to on tour in what can become drudgery for a seasoned professional. The problem is that it takes a few trips around Augusta National before you figure out how to play the treacherous Masters set-up. Experience is paramount, and this normally takes a few years to accumulate, unless you are Jason Day, who exceptionally managed to finish second in his maiden trip to the Masters.

Havret shot two under in his first round, which was a very acceptable score. By the time he got to Amen Corner during his second round he was unravelling rapidly and ended up shooting in the high 70s and prematurely ended his first trip to Augusta.

It was disappointing, but realistically just part of the process you have to go through to get a deeper understanding of the nuances of Augusta. Just as Rory was accepting his back nine collapse as an emotional lesson, Havret, in a relatively less exposed situation, will put his collapse down to lack of strategic experience. It is as simple as that at Augusta, just like you accept the quirky rules, you also must accept the important subtleties of the course.

The Havret team were feeling humbled enough by Augusta. Gregory had the usual mini-entourage that seems to assemble mysteriously for majors. Included in the small group was his coach. Maybe the coach could have benefited from his own debriefing session in the instructors’ ante-room after watching his player’s back nine in the second round. Instead, he tried to make sense of it all through the French Golf Federation’s web-site which managed to get linked up to Le Monde newspaper.

In my understanding of the text he mentioned that the caddie must never make a mistake. (This was the issue that my passionate French colleague took umbrage with on the phone in my apartment. His heated debate was with Havret’s agent.) Which in a perfect world is a wonderful concept, but of course most of us would not be caddying if we hadn’t already made mistakes in some other walk of life. As caddies we all make mistakes every day on the golf course.

The truth is we are just trying to limit the errors of judgment. Caddying is an art, not a science. There are many variables to consider in each decision-making process in which the caddie engages with his player. The important thing to remember is that the caddie should only advise and the player makes the final decision. It is crucial that the player is aware he is ultimately responsible.

This is not to say that the caddie’s role is not that important. Good decision-makers need to be armed with relevant information. This is why most of us caddies will do our own extra preparation on top of using a sophisticated modern yardage book. You never want to have to admit that you didn’t have sufficient knowledge of the course due to lack of preparation when it comes to having the answers to the questions your player may ask during competition.

Add the further intensity of a major event where it’s exceptionally hot, there are huge galleries, the course is particularly subtle, your player is feeling the pressure of the occasion and you are trying to lead your man to making the right decision by feeding him the pertinent details required to do so. Many conversations I had last week concerning Rory’s back-nine troubles were about his caddie, JP. Rory and his caddie, I assume, had their usual pre-shot dialogues.

JP is experienced, he has worked for top players who not only were in many pressured situations but would have put him under pressure as a result. As a caddie with a player under pressure you continue to go though the routine at the same pace with the same tone, you reassure him, you get him to confirm his decision, you support, you do your job armed with the experience of the last time you were in this situation.

But as caddies, there is a limiting factor: you are only as good as the guy hitting the shots. The article written by Havret’s French coach which was critical of his bagman may be seen by some as disparaging to caddies. Another way to look at caddie criticism is that we have obviously come a long way if we have such an influence in the player’s ultimate decision-making. Especially when they are under pressure. I have always argued that the back nine on Sunday is the real reason any of us are employed. That is when you can really make a difference.

Perhaps the coach’s article will have resulted in conversations that lead to more understanding within the players’ entourage. The caddie in the heat of battle is just as motivated to pull the right club as the coach is to build a reliable swing in the tranquillity of a practice range.

Rory wasn’t the only one feeling the heat of the back nine at Augusta. Unfortunately for him it wasn’t just the French scrutinising his every misjudgment, it was the entire world.