The Caddie Factor


Jul 14, 2014; Wirral, GBR; Phil Mickelson (center) and Brookes Koepka, with Bones trailing him, on the 18th during a practice round at the 143rd Open Championship at The Royal Liverpool Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

How important was Stevie Williams to Tiger Wood’s success?  Did Williams’ transfer that special something to Adam Scott when Scott hired him?  Could Cristie Kerr play as effectively if she didn’t have Mark Wuersching on her bag?  Why did Phil Mickelson weep as he thanked his caddie, Bones, after he won the 2013 British Open?  All the anecdotal evidence points to the critical nature of the relationship between golfers and their caddies.   Now the social scientists have entered the discussion and made it official.  Research conducted at Loughborough University and published this month suggests that a good quality caddie relationship can improve a golfer’s performance by as much as 30%.  That could mean the difference between a 70 on the card or a 67 — a not insignificant difference.

Commissioned by British Open sponsor and patron HSBC and conducted by Dr Sophia Jowett, Director of Research Degrees at the University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, the report, titled “Understanding the Quality and Functions of the Golfer-Caddie Relationship,” unpacked five crucial elements of the Golfer-Caddie relationship:

  • The higher the level (of golf), the stronger the relationship – in other words, Phil and Tiger and Stacy and Inbee are going to get a bigger kick than I will from their caddie relationships.
  • Long-term partnerships tend to be more successful and desirable  – in other words, using the same caddie over multiple tournaments will impact performance more than picking up a local caddie with extensive course knowledge.
  • Winning strengthens the bond between player and caddie – the score boost effect probably doesn’t work when the player isn’t challenging the top of the leaderboard
  • Two-way communication ensures the maintenance of quality golfer/caddie relationships – it’s sort of like a marriage: golfer and caddie need to talk to each other in order to build and maintain the relationship that will bring that boost.
  • The 4 Cs of Closeness, Commitment, Complementarity and Co-Orientation define a quality player-caddie relationship – in other words, golfer and caddie need to like each other, share the goal (winning), and balance each other.

"Not surprisingly, communication is very important and most disagreements revolved around golf strategies such as club selection and shot decisions. – Dr. Sophia Jowett"

Jul 15, 2014; Wirral, Merseyside, GBR; Golf coach Butch Harmon (left) laughing with Padraig Harrington on the 18th green during practice at The 143rd Open Championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Double Open Champion Padraig Harrington, who won the Claret Jug in 2007 and 2008, took the Caddie Factor out of the laboratory of the social scientists and put it back on the golf course, which is where it probably belongs, when he recalled how his caddie, Ronan Flood, pulled him back from the so-familiar golfer’s abyss of despair in 2007:

"On the Sunday I hit my tee shot in the water on 18 and was despondent, I then hit my third shot into the water again and felt like I’d lost. I had to walk about 150 yards for my next shot and Ronan was talking to me, coming out with all the clichés about what to do next – for the first 50 yards I wanted to strangle him, for the next 50 yards I started listening to him and for the last 50 yards I believed him. I was in the zone, then out of it and then back in it again – that really doesn’t happen very often."

And that’s how the Caddie Factor works.  Dame Laura Davies has yet to ring in on the new research.