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  • Mike Clayton

Back to my caddying roots

Caddying was my first job in golf. We lived at the back of the Eastern golf course in Melbourne and just after Tony Jacklin won The Open in 1969, I thought jumping the fence and dragging a golf bag around the course would be a good idea.

Mostly I worked for ordinary players but really nice men who taught me about golf, and it wasn’t long before I was jumping the fence not to caddy but to play.

The first big event I caddied in was the 1972 Victorian Open at Commonwealth. Rod Beel was the best player at Eastern and he played well and the experience gave me a sense of playing in a big event.

A couple of years later I caddied for Robbie McNaughton in the Wills Masters at Victoria Golf Club. He had just finished his three-year stint as an assistant pro and while on no one’s list as a potential threat, he started with 70 and 69 to take the lead.

David Graham ran him down over the final nine but second-place money was a little more than $4,000 – a fortune for a 22-year-old making $50 a week in the Rosanna pro-shop only a few months earlier.

I did a few more odd weeks here and there and it wasn’t long before I was hiring caddies myself. I liked them and many are still friends. They love golf as much as the players and they tell the funniest stories about the blokes they have worked for.

Su-Hyun Oh is a 17-year-old member at Metropolitan and I have watched for a couple of years as she has worked away on the same practice fairway that consumed me when I was her age. She is a terrific player, good enough to play in the 2009 Australian Open as a 12-year-old and to finish second in the Ladies Masters on the Gold Coast last year.

She called me a week before the Women’s Australian Open with a caddy problem.

“How about I do it?” I asked without giving it much thought.

We decided to give it a go and for a couple of weeks I threw her golf bag across my shoulder and worked at the Australian Open at Victoria and the Victorian Open at Thirteenth Beach.

A few things surprised me.

People ask if I miss not playing and I do. I loved being on the Tour, travelling, playing, practising and the adrenaline of the competition.

I still enjoy playing holes on the way home and even in the middle of winter, three or four holes before dark satisfies the urge to keep hitting and swinging. But for a pro in his mid-50s there isn’t a whole lot of inspiring competitive golf to play.

At the end of the two weeks it struck me: from a purely selfish point of view, caddying was a way of satisfying my competitive urge. You don’t hit shots but you still make decisions under the pressure of the competition and you still feel

the tension.

Alistair Matheson worked for Geoff Ogilvy for a decade and together they won the 2006 US Open. He worked for me many times and it always amazed me how he continually blamed himself for what were many times the mistakes of his players.

The wrong club was always his fault and so was the wrong choice of shot. “Squirrel,” (few are ever called by given names) I would tell him, “I am the idiot who hit it and there were 13 other clubs to pick from. It’s not your fault.”

For the first time I understood the way he saw the job. Su shot a first-round 74 at Victoria and then followed it with 69 and an almost flawless 66. From just making the cut she started the final day at Victoria a group ahead, and a shot behind, the eventual winner Karrie Webb.

Sunday was a hard day. The wind blew, the greens were hard, there was the pressure of having a fleeting chance at winning and it is easy to forget she is 17. On the 2nd hole the wind was in off the left, and she had hit three perfect drives the previous three days, but the wind made the bunker on the left out of reach. It made the fairway wider and I should have told her to aim a little further left. I didn’t, she pushed a drive on the wind into the rough and made a bogey. At the next she had a fast putt across the green and I knew it was quick. You’re never quite sure how a player is feeling or thinking and you worry that if you say “it’s quick” they’ll compensate and leave it six feet short.

She whacked it eight feet past, missed coming back and there went any chance of winning. In the end she and Minjee Lee, who was tied for the third-round lead, shot 78s and learned a difficult lesson.

Another great Saturday at the Victorian Open – this time a seven-under 67 – left Su five behind Minjee in third place after 54 holes.

She teed off not without hope. But on the 4th hole I made an idiotic mistake. The pin was up on the back level of the two-tiered green and, while the wedge shot was downwind, the right shot was to fly it up on top and try to stop it close – 20 feet past was much better than 20 feet short and having to putt up the tier. I saw the shot landing on the bottom tier and bouncing up. It was completely the wrong shot and she hit the slope, it came back and from there she three-putted. I knew right then how Squirrel felt.

Clown. Try that stunt with Robert Allenby, Greg Norman or Seve Ballesteros and see how long you last. Su was far too nice to say anything but there are plenty who would have unleashed a stream of abuse for such a lousy piece of advice.

In the end, Minjee hit 17 greens, shot 68 and won easily. Su shot a decent 72 and finished fourth. It was a good week for a schoolgirl playing the first three rounds with Laura Davies, but it was hardly something out of the ordinary for her talent.

It amazed me how well Su drove the ball. At almost every hole we would pick a precise target and the bulk of the time her drives were within a couple metres of her line. Her fairway woods are brilliant and so are her short irons, chipping and bunker shots.

Critics are all over her putting. It’s easy to pick on a player’s putting especially if you don’t watch all 72 (or 144) holes. You can easily watch four or five holes, see a few missed putts and assume the magnitude of the problem is far greater than it is.

I watched 144 holes of putting and it is much better than some others think. Sitting one shot inside the cut line on Friday at Victoria, she had a six-footer down the hill for a par at the difficult par-3 16th. A perfect, firm and seemingly nerveless putt ran right into the middle of the hole. A poor putter may still have holed the putt but not with such assurance and certainly it was a proper putt and one a poor putter would never have hit.

Predicting success on the pro Tour for 17-year-olds is probably unwise but Karrie Webb has called Minjee and Su “once-in-a-generation players”.

Most likely they are and it will be fun to watch them progress and maybe I can become a better caddy.


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