Ever thought of being a caddy? On the surface it looks like great fun. Inside the ropes, getting a front row seat as great players play championship golf. What you’re also going to pay me? Bring it on!
That’s the dream… here’s the reality.
Brent McCullough is a mate from Pymble Golf Club who dominated the trainee system a few years back, winning everything on offer. He even broke a couple of Greg Norman’s records along the way, including three straight Queensland PGA Trainee titles.
He’s one of those good all round players… a quality ball striker, solid short game and a great putter. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you he’s under performed since becoming a Tour Pro.
I caddied for Brent at last years’ Australian Masters and we had a fantastic week. He was in contention until late on Sunday, got plenty of TV time and only dropped into a T12th due to a sloppy finish. It was his best result on Australian soil though and a great way to end the year.
However, any belief he’d built up didn’t transfer into 2012 and he’s battled a succession of poor results, which in turn affects the confidence. Now at 34, he finds himself on the verge of losing his Australasian and OneAsia Tour cards and golf is a hard enough profession to “make it” in without having a regular tour to play on.
Without any broadcasting commitments, I offered to loop for him at The Lakes, sort of get the band back together and ‘help’ him have a strong finish and secure his immediate future. It was great in theory.
After a near flawless build up which included a practice round with Geoff Ogilvy, we had his game plan sorted for every hole. We had considered all the possible situations and built up his belief that he was capable to contend.
It felt very similar to the lead in to last years’ Australian Masters, an omen perhaps? No.
Round 1 of the tournament came and despite continuing to flush the ball on the range in his warm up, McCullough felt stiff in his left hip which manifested into a back strain and got progressively worse throughout the day.
First off the 10th in the afternoon wave, he blocked his opening tee shot into the hazard then hit two balls in the water on 11 and another on the 14th, all shots cut when he was trying to hit draws.
Two over through five holes wasn’t a bad result given the way he was hitting it. I reassured Brent of this and reminded him there’s still a long way to go.
But at the next, the par 3 15th I made my first mistake. Struggling with his timing, I suggested a “smooth 6-iron” while he felt it was a 7. I wanted him to find his rhythm and I thought this was the best option, I was wrong! He ‘smoothed’ his 6-iron over the back and failed to get it up and down. Another bogey.
Three over through 6 holes is not what were anticipated but The Lakes has many birdie holes so it was important to stay patient.
This is where caddies ‘earn’ their money, the ability to free your players mind is paramount. Funny banter is often the best way. It worked at Victoria 12 months ago so why wouldn’t it again? Plus he was 3 over early on day 1 there and got it back to even par so I had another omen to draw upon.
But missed opportunities at 16 and 17 coupled with a poor start to the front nine meant he was +6 with a handful of holes to play and fast tracking a big number.
I tried everything to keep his mind in the game. We had key words like “acceptance, commit and rhythm” to help do just that but it didn’t stem the flow and he struggled to a birdie-free 79.
Not the opening round we had wanted but straight away your mind goes to predicting the cut. Last year it was +5 and it was looking pretty similar so a second round 68 or 9 should be enough to ensure we’d see the weekend.
I had no doubt he could do that and he felt the same but the initial concern was fixing his back which had deteriorated to the point where it hurt him to walk. Only a couple of pain-killers made the final five or so holes tolerable, where the bogies didn’t.
A new day provides new hope and the early start – first off the 1st in the morning – meant the course was ripe for the picking. Another solid warm up session next to Tom Watson no less gave him good vibes and he piped his driver off the first, hit a wedge just 10 feet past the pin.
“You beauty…” I thought, “he’s back!” But it didn’t take long before we were back in grind mode. A couple of half blocked shots on 3 & 4 led to bogies and it downward spiraled from there.
There’s only so many, “c’mon mate, stay focused, we can fight back from here” or “you know you’re capable at this level, now lets show ‘em.” you can deliver before it gets annoying.
Lets be honest, it’s demoralising, even for us club golfers, when you’re not hitting it like you know you can and the putts keep sliding by.
In the end Brent carded 79,80 and missed the cut by 11. It was a far cry from the near victory 12 months earlier. His fifth Australian Open was one to forget.
As a caddy, you’re privileged to be inside the ropes, you met fellow tour players and their caddies who all share a love of golf. You’re excited for the opportunity but when your player is struggling it can feel like a chore plus those big bags weigh a tonne, especially, when you’re not in contention.
You’ve also got to consider the caddies that do it for a living, 5% of nothing makes it hard to feed the family. But I wasn’t doing it for money, I worked ‘pro bono’ to help Brent get his year back on track.
However, the feeling of failure is an empty one and I left The Lakes knowing my mate was hurting and for a guy who makes a living talking, not even I could find the words to numb the pain.