Editor’s Note: This article is a part of the new Stick and Hack series “What If?” In this series, we speculate and question what the PGA Tour would look like under different circumstances.
Stewart Golf is a company that’s dedicated to designing and building the “world’s finest golf trolleys” – translation, “world’s finest pull carts”. However, they don’t make just any old trolleys, their X9 Follow is a motorized pull cart that comes with a remote control and patented “follow” technology. Basically, R2D2 from Star Wars hauls your clubs and follows you around the course. All yours for an easy $2,500.
What would happen if each player on the PGA Tour was assigned an X9 Follow instead of using their caddy for a single season? I’m not saying to permanently eliminate the loopers from our beloved sport. The game’s history would be incomplete without Bones (Phil Mickelson’s caddy for 25 years), Stevie (Tiger’s caddy for 13 Majors) or Willie Peterson (Jack’s caddy at Augusta for 5 of his 6 Green Jackets)?
But what if the Tour pressed pause on the use of caddies for one year? What would happen? What would we learn? How would golf change?
First, there’s one assumption to clarify under which this hypothetical operates; money isn’t an issue. Since the inception of corporate sponsorships and advertising in golf, it seems there isn’t a problem money can’t help us overcome. Here too, we look to the deep, generous pockets of “corporate America” to help with our experiment.
Next, take care of the caddies. No one is looking to add more numbers to the unemployment line. Instead, the Tour connects with their partners or seek out a new brand looking for exposure and squeezes cash out of them. Someone out there puts the PGA Tour caddies on scholarship for a year while the experiment plays out.
However, we wouldn’t want to leave the caddies behind for the year either; bring them along. Part of their scholarship includes room, board, travel, and bar tabs, so they can continue to carry for their player through practice rounds, contribute in strategy sessions and whatever other routines caddies and players have. But when competition starts, it’s the player walking solo down the fairway with his new,robotic friend trailing never far behind.
Caddies shlep the bag around the course, but depending on the player, they may also be asked to track yardage, suggest clubs, read greens, play part-time therapist, or any combination of those things. Some of these pairings are best friends while others simply have a business relationship. Either way, the caddy does way more than the job description provides, and if we take that variable out of the game, the player is left vulnerable on the course.
It could be a swing thought or distraction or reminder about breathing techniques or any number of things a player and caddy prepare for together. In the moment, on the course, having that second brain on your side is a huge advantage (depending on the brain). Even if caddying isn’t seen as “coaching”, the premise remains the same. As long as golfers have caddies, they have support, guidance, or help in what is one of the most mentally trying activities on Earth.
This pause could be revolutionary for golf. It could go a long way in establishing a new baseline for a caddy’s value. It might not be perfect science, but should a caddy’s player perform worse in their absence, it does give a starting point for the looper to re-examine the “contributions” of the caddy to the team.
Caddies could come out with some leverage from this experiment, but the inverse is possible too. What might happen if a player’s performance skyrockets, and it turns out the only thing holding them back this whole time was the person yacking in their ear. I’m not betting on too many players flying solo voluntarily, but the possibility of opting to keep the X9 Follow and lose the human exists.
If everyone takes a leap of faith together, and if some fairy god-sponsor delivers a Scrooge McDuck-esque vault of cash for this experiment, we could learn a tremendous amount about just how talented some of these players are and how integral the caddy has become to success in golf.
A self-taught stick with a hack brain, Bud grew up playing golf year-round in north Florida. Born-again New England, Bud learned what an “off-season” is. He now lives in Salem, MA with his wife, daughter, two cats, and dog, Miller. He is the sole Y chromosome in the house, believes we did land on the moon and strongly advocates for walk-up music on the first and eighteenth tees.
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