Lessons Learned Inside The Ropes

Updated April 14, 2014:  Thinking of being a professional tour caddie?  There may be more than one way to earn your credential to caddy on the tour.  But before you hang that badge around your neck you have to pay some dues.  Not the kind that money can buy, the kind that comes with experience inside the ropes.  Even if you want to carry for a friend or family member, your player is going to rely on you to provide accurate information about any given shot.Tour Caddies

Special thanks to all the veteran tour caddies who, by contributing their views and experience inside the ropes, have made this post possible.


The best way to gain experience is to caddy in local tournaments.  Most places conduct USGA or state golf association events.  Work as many local events as you can to build your skills and confidence level.  PGA and LPGA Pro-Ams are also great ways to learn inside the ropes with tour caddies.

You should start by being in excellent physical shape.  Caddies are the first to hit the track before an event – walking the full length of 18 holes, shooting slopes, rolling & mapping greens and taking notes requires at least six to eight solid hours of work.  During tournaments you may need to carry for more than 18 holes to catch up for qualifiers, weather delays or playoffs.

Dress comfortably for the conditions and use a high grade sun block.  I recommend Neutrogena ultimate Sport SPF 70+.  It was the only kind that kept the back of my hands from burning.

Before your first walk-through check your gear.

BreakMaster

You’ll need – a good range finder with slope indicator, a digital green reader (be sure to buy and carry extra batteries for the range finder and BreakMaster), a calculator to crunch numbers between targets, some sort of coaster to place on the greens during practice and enough golf balls to roll the greens.

Optional items include – a reflector for your range finder.  Note: not all slopes are detectable with a rangefinders unless you have a solid target to bounce the signal off.

You Do Need A Weather Man:

It is really important to make note of the local wind and weather patterns before you play.  Use a Smartphone weather application or keep up with the latest weather conditions on Weather.com.  Prevailing winds often change during the day as the temperature changes.  Find out the local patterns and forecast before you hit the driving range.  Verify the direction on the range and throughout the day by comparing the apparent wind with the compass directions in your yardage book.

Gather the course/event information.  Caddy master’s phone or contact info, pro-shop phone, location on the map, etc.  Walk-throughs go hand in hand with professional yardage books.  If there’s a professional book available for the course then buy it.  Reading yardages books takes some getting use to but are a must for tour caddies.  It’s also a good idea to purchase and save yardage books for all events you travel to.  Don’t wait until you have a player to buy a book.  Add walk-through notes and save the book for future reference even if you don’t work the event.  If you can, scan a copy of the book (including your notes and greens maps) to a .pdf file and upload it to your cloud storage.  Should you lose your original, you will always have the digital copy as backup.

LPGA White line yardage:  Just before each event the officials will spray paint a white line on one of the tee boxes.  This line is the furthest back the players will tee up during an LPGA tournament.

1) White Line Yardage – The distance is to the middle of the green and the white line yardage is the farthest back the officials will place a tee.

2) PGA/USGA events such as the U.S. Open, officials do not establish white line yardage, and can place the tee box at any location from the back tee forward.
Front Edge of Green

Pin Locations – The front spot of each green is determined from the angle that the players would be hitting their approach shot and it’s the front most edge of the green. The hole location is measured the same way the LPGA measures hole locations, front to back and then in from left or right.  In the example shown here the angle of approach intersects the front of the green (as shown in the lower left-hand corner) then continues forward to the pin location.  The pin sheet for this day indicated 23 yards in from the front of the green (the distance along the length of the green line).

You’re almost ready to start your walk-through.  Always check in with the pro shop before you start. Make sure you have the basic stats for your players target range, e.g. how far they hit the driver, 3-wood, etc.  Grab your gear and head to the course.

Walk-throughs, Targets and Crunching Numbers:

Example Hole 1.  Establish your tee shot’s target landing area:  387 yard hole minus 250 yards (the average drive of your player) = 137 yard mark; plus or minus the slope on your range finder; downhill will show something like [250 yards playing 235]; uphill [250 yards playing 265].  Look in the yardage book for a spot that is near your target yardage.

Targets, Lines and Framing the Shot:  Landing zones for each shot will depend upon a number of factors including – yardage, fairway hazards, shape of the hole, wind and slope, etc.  Develop a routine between yourself and your player that will help select an end target and start line.  Depending how the player likes to work the ball, I often like to use: center-left | center | center-right for end targets and a visual point to work the ball from.  Shots that require a straight line without shot shape will be direct to the spot or line.

Even if you have completed your walk-through, and have collected notes about targets and lines, give your player the opportunity to select or play the type of shot “they” feel most comfortable with.  At the tee, explore target and shot shape “options”.  For example:  Off the tee, a left-side fairway bunker comes into play between 250 and 280 yards.  The “A” target in the fairway is center to center-right.  The right-side line of flight is blocked by trees making a draw off the tee difficult.  Explore the best options, ”Two ways to play this one – target is center to center-right.  Straight to the spot or a cut off the left fairway bunker.”

Allow your player to focus on getting a feel for shaping the shot towards the desired target by keeping line and target suggestions “positive”.  If they want, give them a visual point of reference to work the ball to or away from, but don’t say, “We need to watch out for the water on the right.”  Instead, select a start or finish point based on a clearly visible landmark downrange.  Be ready to provide more specific information about the hole, e.g. “It’s 290 to carry the bunker on the left.”  If they need a more detailed visual point of reference be specific.  Don’t just say, “Target on that tree just past the right edge of the fairway.”  Which of the several trees out there are you talking about?

Players who like to work the ball right-to-left or left-to-right, love to shape their shots away from the start line, towards the intended target.  Once you show a shot-maker the line, they’ll dial it in and, more times than not, hit a perfect shot.  Whenever you make a shot-shape suggestion however, be careful that you’re not recommending a draw into a hook-wind or a fade into a slice-wind without factoring in the run out along the flight of the ball.  A perfect shot-shape for any given hole on a calm practice day could result in OB under windy conditions so, don’t forget to factor that in.  That recommendation into could change into a – low power cut; straight; or low stinger under windy conditions.

From the Tee Box – Forward Tee:

Calculate the difference between the back tee or white line and where the tee box is set up for that day’s play.  You can adjust your target forward or if you want to maintain the original target’s landing zone, adjust the club/shot accordingly.

Adjusted Tee & Target:

_____ BK
_____ -yFW
_____ = Forward Tee
_____ +/- sL/W
_____ = Tee (Adjusted)

In this example the tee box has been set up 41 yards forward from the back tee:

Tee:  471 BK (Back Tee Yardage) – 41 yFW (yds forward) = 430 Forward Tee +12 sL/W = 442 yards
Target: 442 – 275 (player’s driver) = 167 yd mark (adjusted target)

Adjusted Fairway Lay-Ups, Clears and Run-Outs:

Note: Use Adjusted Tee yardage and y2M distances from your walkthrough or yardage book to calculate the adjusted clears, lay-ups and run-outs.

_____ Tee (Adjusted) – _____ y2M = _____ RO-L/R | CLR-L/R | LU

Examples:

  • Hazard: 442 – 195 (y2M sprinkler clears trap) = 247 yd to clear the hazard.
  • Run-Out: 442 – 150 (y2m at run-out) = 292 yd to run-out.
  • Lay-Up: 442 – 125 (y2m at hazard) – 20 lay up = 297 yd target.

These calculations are particularly important when resetting target landing zones or negotiating the layup and/or clear yardage for fairway hazards and dog legs.  In the examples above, having the tee 41 yards forward could mean your player can now clear that right hand fairway bunker with their driver.  It could also place a dog leg run out or the front edge of a water hazard that was 300 yards, close enough to consider laying up.

Yardage book run-outs and clears are measured only from the back tee yardage.  Use those distances by subtracting the forward tee yardage from the number as shown in the book.  Using the book is probably easier than middle of the green yardage except that not all run-outs and clears are marked with tee shot distances in the book.

Example:

Tee -41 yFW; Yardage Book/Fairway RO-R shows 250 yds deep; 250 – 41 =  209 yd adjusted run-out right.

Adjustments During Play:

Alignment:  When a player asks, “Am I lined up?” I am reminded that there are too many factors involved in alignment to provide precise information during play.  Players who ask you to line them up (from behind a shot or putt) should keep in mind that alignment is relative and depends on more than one factor – feet, shoulders, hips, club head, line of sight, etc.  A player could have perfect alignment and still block or hook the shot.  Does that mean their line was off?

Work it out with your player but, if I have to check a player’s alignment I will only pull them off the ball if I see anything grossly “out of line”, otherwise I’ll step away and they will know their alignment looked good to me.  If I do see they are not lined up correctly I prefer them to restart completely rather than making an adjustment from their original stance.  For example: a player is lined up left of the intended target line; you adjust them a little right, but they only close their stance leaving the club head and shoulders aligned left.  End result of the shot – a pull hook.  Keep it simple – if they appear to be lined up, “Good”; if not reset.

Often a caddie is presented with a situation where a “Green Light” or “Red Flag” call is recommended.  Don’t hesitate to talk with your player about shot options before you begin to crunch a number and before they get into their pre-shot routine.  These days many players can reach a Par 5 in two shots.  On occasion, the position of your player’s ball after their first shot will be in the rough or waste area leaving them a less than perfect lie for their second shot.  Red flag shots require that you to talk to your player about shot options before you settle on a number.

Most Common “Safety” Options:

  • Layup – pick a target spot forward, but short of the intended target or green that can be easily hit.
  • Club Loft – hitting out of a hazard with a forward lip often requires a more lofted club that can easily clear the edge of the bunker.
  • Punch Out – provided there is a safe landing area behind or to the side, punch out sideways or backwards.
  • Unplayable Lie (under penalty of one stroke) – a) drop w/i two clubs no nearer to the hole; b) re-hit shot from original spot; or c) with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped, drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped.

Once you’ve provided options, the player will make the final call on the shot.

During play you may run into a situation where the you can’t find a sprinkler head near your ball that has front/middle/back yardage.  If you cannot find a number in the yardage book to correspond with a sprinkler near your ball, look for a yardage to the front of the green from another feature such as the edge of a bunker or water hazard.

Remember that walk-through targets are “temporary” and will need to be finalized during practice rounds with your player.  Wind, weather, and the locations of each tee box will change each day.  So don’t get locked into a single landing area.  If you have set your target to the back tee or white line and the tee is forward ten yards then adjust your landing area ten yards deeper.

Par 5 Second Shot:

If the hole is a Par 5 be sure to notate the distance to the green from the tee shot’s target landing area.  Yardage to these spots may not appear in your yardage book.  Use a bunker, tree, sprinkler head or other landmark to id the spot in your notes.  You will need that number to calculate yardage for the second shot.

In my book, notes on a Par 5, second shot would look like this:

_________ y2M (yards to middle of the green)
_________ -Tg (minus the target area yardage for 3rd shot)
_________ = LZ (landing zone)
_________ +/- sL/W (adjustments for slope and wind)
_________ =yds (yards to hit)

Example: 300 yds y2M; -100 yd target = 200 yd LZ; +8 sL/W = 208 yards to hit to target.

Yardage Book Notations:

Yardage books mark sprinkler heads with two numbers – middle of the green (usually in small font) and front of the green (larger font and bold).  Pencil the target landing area into your yardage book during your walk-through.

Still on hole number one, while walking to your target take note of any hazards that might come into play.  Note yardages to clear and/or layup these hazards.  Information I’ll have ready to share with my player includes:

  • A-Position: yardage to a preferred spot from the tee or yard mark
  • Run-Outs: yardage where a fairway end, dog leg, or hazard comes into play
  • Clears: yardage to clear corners, dog legs, or hazards
  • Lay-Ups: distance from the tee (drive) or yardage markers used for targets

When you have reached your target zone take a look at the landing area.  Does the fairway slope sharply across into a hazard?  Is there a hazard along the target line to clear?  Also note the best angle to approach the green and/or any potential blind shots to avoid.  For example if the landing zone on the left side of the fairway results in an approach shot that is blocked by a tree – you will need to avoid that side of the fairway from your tee shot.  You can’t remember each of these spots in your head so mark them down in your yardage book.  Adjust your target and notes accordingly.

Approach shots into the green:

Each player will have a preset of information they require for any given shot.  Some players just want one number.  Others may ask for detailed yardage to the front, plus the pin, slope and wind.

Target Adjustments:  Whatever amount of details your player wants, it’s a good idea to have the basics ready, plus a few specific numbers just in case they ask.  In addition to selecting target yardage, note the distance “into the green” to clear green side hazards.  Also note any “Red flag” zones like a steep drop off the back or side of the green.  Pin locations near these zones may cause you to reset to a safe target.

Key numbers include: y2F (front), y2C (cover), y2CL (clear left), y2CR (clear right), y2RO (run out behind pin), y2B (back), y2P (pin), y2T (target)

In my book, approach shots and Par 3 tee shot notes would look like this:

_____ y2F (stepped off from yardage book reference)
_____ +/- sL (adjustments for slope)
_____ =y2F (yd to front) + ___ y2CL | ___ y2CR = _____ y2C (yd to cover)
_____ + Pin [+ _____ y2RO (yd past pin to run out) = _____ y2B (yd to back)]
_____ =y2P 

Optional Info:

_________ Tg/W (+/- Review any adjustments for target and wind)
_________ =y2T (yards to the Target)

Summary:

_____ y2F ____ y2C ____ y2P ____ y2B ____ y2T 

Tip:  As soon as you get the pin sheet, before play, enter the +Pin, y2RO and Target adjustments for each hole in your book.

Example: Hole 15 a long Par 3, +22 back pin with a run out 5 yards past the pin.

Pencil in +22 Pin and +5 y2RO.  Also enter  a target adjustment -3 yards below the pin to avoid the run out.

Important Note: When calculating shot distance, I suggest using the front most edge of the green number.  Use the other numbers such as “C” center or “R” right to calculate clearing those edge points, but to avoid mistake I’ll first use the front number plus the pin for yardage.  

For example: A par 3 tee box shows three numbers for a given spot in the tee box - 135L / 145C / 150R.  I recommend using the lowest number 135L as your y2F number.  Add the +Pin to this number.  Then, if the pin is located just over the 150R side of the green near a hazard, double check the clear and adjust the target as needed.

Give yourself and your player a number you both can trust.

It all begins with a number.  One of the greatest compliments a caddy will hear from a player during an event is, “Good number!”.  And one of the most sinking feelings is when you thought you gave your player a good number only to see the ball laying short or long in a green-side hazard.  The yardage number you give your player is everything.  From that point they will decide which club to hit and how to hit it.

Do your math starting with the yardage to the front of the green.  Calculate the basic variables: +pin and +/- slope.  Provide your player with the raw “y2P” Yardage to the Pin number.

Now,  if your player wants more information, be ready to calculate yardage and wind adjustments for the shot.  Adjust your y2P number plus or minus for the “spot” you want the ball to land on the green – under, even, or past the pin.  To determine this you need to factor in a number of things:

  • Length of the Shot – longer shots tend to carry further that short ones.
  • Club Trajectory – learn how your player’s clubs release on the green.
  • Depth of the Green – deep vs short greens will affect target landing zone.
  • Slope into the Green – severity of slope +/- into the green.
  • Slope of the Green – slope of the green around the pin from your greens map.
  • Tee Location – adjust +/- for pin locations, run-outs and clears.
  • Course Altitude & Conditions – adjustments for altitude, thin/heavy air or hard/soft conditions could account for five to ten yard adjustments.  Note: these adjustments may change during the day as conditions vary due to air temperature, humidity and sun.

Example 1:  A back pin approach shot that requires your player to use a long iron may come in lower and hotter.  Exact distance to the pin could skip off the green into the back rough.  A shorter approach by -3 yards allows room for the ball to release on the green.

168  y2F (yards to front)
+22   Pin (yards from front to pin)
190 = LZ (Landing Zone)
-3     sL (+/- slope)
187   = y2P (Yardage to the pin) + 5 y2RO = 192 y2B (adjusted)

Optional Info:

-3/-2   Tg/W (+/- adjustments for target and wind)
182   yds (yardage to hit)

Example 2:  A middle pin approach shot positioned on a terraced green may require your player to land the shot beyond the cup.  Exact distance to or below the pin could pull back down the terrace onto the lower level of the green.  A longer approach by +3 yards allows for the ball to remain on the level the pin is located.

118  y2F (yards to front)
+22   Pin (yards from front to pin)
140 = LZ (Landing Zone)
-3     sL (+/- slope)
137   = y2P (Yardage to the pin) + 15 y2RO = 152 y2B (adjusted)

Optional Info:

+3/-2   Tg/W (+/- adjustments for target and wind)
138   yds (yardage to hit)

Target adjustments will depend on where you want to land the ball relative to the pin (under, even or behind).  You should note this on each hole during walk-through or practice.  During play when you get to the spot of the ball, step off the y2F.  Include slope from your yardage book and wind.  During my walk-through I write in 100; 125; 150; 175 & 200 approach slopes.  If you are in a rush for time you can do the math in your head.

One final note about target adjustments – as conditions change you may need to add or reduce the amount of yards you have been adjusting for.

For example, at the start of the round you set a +5 yard target adjustment due to cool morning air and soft conditions.  As the day progresses conditions change, the course firms up and the air warms.  Be sure to “fine tune” that +5 yards adjustment to match changing course conditions.  At some point the +5 will change to a +3 then +0 and (as the course firms) may go in the other direction to a -3 then -5.

Also, be careful not to over adjust.  A one club (+/-10 yard) adjustment is a lot of yards to change for conditions other than wind.  I’d say the average adjustment for conditions (other than wind or altitude) is plus or minus three to five yards.

Mapping Greens:

Each caddy has their own method of mapping greens.  Old school is to roll them but I’ve seen caddies/players who use a meter do well too.  Choose ones you feel comfortable with.  If available pickup any pin sheets used during prior events.  Use your meter to determine the breaks around these locations.  If the yardage book does not have the greens mapped with fall lines and slope you must map the green yourself.  Look for the highs & lows then try to detect the fall lines and zones with your meter.  Mark the straight in your book with degrees or percent.  Add a few of the slopes on either side.  Always test yourself by rolling a few balls based on your map.

BreakMaster and AimPoint® represent break in degrees.  Yardage books often show “Percent of Slope”.  The more the slope, the more the break.

StrackaLine Yardage Book

Image Courtesy: Stracka.com

Reading greens is an “art” NOT an exact science.  Players must feel and see both line and distance in order to sink a putt.  When asked, a caddy can only provide an assist – the player must hit the putt with the right line and speed in order for it to roll in the cup.

Reading The Green Around the Cup.  Direction of slope in a tour yardage book always show fall lines as straight black arrows pointing downhill.  If the ball is directly in line with the arrows (above or below) it will roll straight.  If the ball is at an angle off the straight, it will begin to break according to several factors including – grade (slope), speed (stimp & stroke), distance of the putt, and angle off the straight.  Consider the factors that will influence the putt – a steep slope could be a right edge putt if it is only a fraction off the fall line; a 2.0 degree putt will break more at 15 feet than it will at 5 feet.

Tip: Get the pin sheet as early as possible, then mark hole locations in your yardage book. Once done, simply read the break from your players ball to the cup based on the greens map in your book.

The Basics of Reading Break.  From “below” or downhill from the cup – if the ball is to the left of the straight it will break left to right.  If the ball is to the right of the straight it will break right to left. (Note: the opposite is true if you read the break from “above” the cup so be careful which “side” you declare the ball to be on).  It is important to note that the “width” of the straight can vary from a few inches to several yards.  Don’t be too focused on reading the straight as a narrow fall line.  A more accurate method would be to read multiple fall lines or “fall zone” not just a single line.  Generally speaking, a flatter slope will have a wider fall zone or straight.  The steeper the slope, the more the zone narrows to a fall line.

Contour lines show changes in elevation – steeper lines are closer together; flatter contour lines are more spread out.  Factors that will influence the roll of the putt include – slope; speed of the green; length of putt; angle off the straight; direction of the grain; uphill, side-hill, or downhill; affect of wind on the ball; and speed of the stroke (how you hit the ball).

Reading the Green Between the Ball & Cup.  Once you have determined the break around the cup, take the time to evaluate the roll of the ball on the way to the cup.  Look for any slopes, mounds, highs or lows that will affect the roll of the ball.  If the cup is located on a fairly flat, 1.0 degree slope and the ball (15 feet from the cup) is sitting on a 2.0 degree slope, factor that into your read.  When your player hits the putt along the correct line with the correct speed, it will have a good chance of dropping in the cup.

AimPoint®  If you want to further fine tune your green reading abilities, try attending an AimPoint clinic.  AimPoint is a green-reading method developed by AimPoint Technologies.  Clinic topics include: factors that control break; how to estimate percent of any given slope or grade; finding the fall line; and estimating stimp.  These days more tour players are looking for caddies with AimPoint experience, so it’s worth the investment.  I found the instruction very helpful and would recommend it to both players and caddies.

Repeat the above for another 17 holes and you’re done.

Walk-Through Notes:  If you don’t have time for a walk-through before your first practice just use your yardage book as a guide.  Calculate your players shot range then look for a target area in the book.  Look down range from the tee or spot of the ball to your target zone.  Depending on how your player works the ball, look for a line – center left | center | center right to work off.  Update your targets during the practice round.  You can go back after the practice round to finish your notes.

Catch 22 – Joining the Tour

Caddy Shack

Once you’ve worked local events and developed your skills how do you actually become a “Tour” caddy?  Generally speaking there a three types of professional caddies – 1) local, 2) tour pros with a full time player, and 3) tour caddies who are between players.  As a local caddy you go to an event, add your name to the list of caddies looking for a player and expect to carry for a local amateur.  Who you end up carrying for depends on the caddy master and a little luck.  The first time I carried for a tour pro I had no intention of doing so and was just looking to carry for an amateur player in the event’s pro am.  Na Ri Kim walked into the caddy tent looking for a local caddy.  The caddy master looked at me and asked, “Are you ready to go?”  Twenty seven holes later I collected my first check from a professional.

After deciding to caddy full time for tour professionals I would sign up on the waiting list as a tour caddy without a full time player.  Here’s the catch – without a player you must sign up for “each event”.  Sometimes the list is in the caddy shack.  Other times it’s in the pro shop.  Find out which list player registration is referring to and get on it.  If you have the telephone number of the event you can do this in advance then follow-up when you arrive at the course.  Your name goes on the list and you wait.  Each caddy master/event coordinator runs that list differently.  Like it or not it’s up to those running the event to set precedence.  Some give preference to tour caddies while others have a list of local caddies they select from.  Before I got my caddy credentials it seemed that every event I went to gave preference to tour caddies, then after I received my tour badge just the opposite would occur and they would select only local caddies.  In an ideal world the list would be combined and would alternate between local and tour caddies giving everyone a chance to loop.

Catch 23 – Networking:  You can have your name on the list all day long only to watch unassigned caddies (who signed up after you did) walking around with a bag on their back.  How did they find work while you were patiently waiting in the caddy shack?  Networking.  After you’ve been on tour long enough other caddies and/or players will help you find work by referring players directly to you.  Networking is the best way to find work as a professional caddy.

The final catch or reality is that the players ultimately decide who will caddy for them.  Work is never a sure thing until you have the bag across your back.  Even then there are no guarantees.  Some player/caddy relations last for years.  I have also seen caddies let go after a practice round, or one day into a four day event.  You can go from high fives and dinner with the family to the dog house in the blink of an eye.

There it is.  Living the dream comes at a cost.  Long hard hours away from home and family.  No guarantee of work.  Caddy masters who play favorites one way or another.  Coaches, agents and parents who insist on telling you this or that.  The list goes on.  Like any other profession you need to have a passion for being inside the ropes to stay in the game.

Read more from inside the ropes…