Westin: Insight gained by interviewing, being a caddie
40th anniversary: Golf writer David Westin, who is covering his 40th consecutive Masters Tournament for The Augusta Chronicle this week, looks back at how the art of the interview has changed since his first one in 1979.
It’s always interesting to talk to caddies in the Masters Tournament. Most have interesting insights into their players, especially Bubba Watson’s caddie, Ted Scott.
He gave reporters such a fascinating take on Watson after his 2014 victory at Augusta National that I used it in my game-day lead.
The first caddie I interviewed turned out to be the most famous. It was Carl Jackson. I talked to him and quoted him in my story after his man, Ben Crenshaw, won the 1984 Masters. Jackson went on to caddie in a record 53 Masters before retiring after the 2009 tournament.
That’s him in that iconic picture consoling a Crenshaw overcome with emotion after Crenshaw tapped in to win the 1995 Masters.
Sometimes I write about a specific caddie, such as Jackson or Nick Faldo’s longtime Masters caddie Fanny Sunneson, in 2010.
The fact that the media-shy Sunneson consented to an interview with me caught Faldo by surprise when I told him.
“Oh, my God, that’s a shock,” Faldo said. “You’ve got a world exclusive!”
Other times I write about a group of caddies, such as this week when three prominent players - Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day - are all breaking in caddies who have never before worked the Masters.
Another reason I enjoy talking and writing about caddies in the Masters is because I’ve seen Augusta National Golf Club from their perspective - kind of.
I was an Augusta National caddie for two and half years, with the white jumpsuit and all, in the late 1980s. I had my club caddie card, which would get me in the gate any time I wanted. From mid-October until late May, when the club was open, I would caddie on days off from work or in the mid- to late-afternoon after work.
At the end of the day, caddie master Freddie Bennett (one of my all-time favorite people) would pay you in cash.
Back then you got $35 for 18 holes, $15 for doing the par-3 with your guest and another $5 if you shagged balls for him. Yes, you would stand out in the old driving range field and pick up the balls your player hit. You had be alert or you’d get hit by shots from another player on the range. Some caddies wore hard hats for that reason.
If you were lucky enough to get a player who hit practice balls, did 36 holes in one day and the par-3, you could make $90. It would be more if the player tipped you, which he wasn’t supposed to do, though a few slipped me something when no one was looking.
Tipping is how I got out there in the late 1980s. The club had just changed the tipping rule, telling members and guests that caddies were not to be tipped. Because of that, many had quit because they couldn’t make enough money without the tips.
So the club quietly reached out to the community, asking for caddies. A friend of mine heard about that and started caddying. He told me to come out and sure enough, I was hired.
I used my caddie privileges to my benefit at times. Once, before the Masters, I changed out of my caddie uniform and spied Masters participant Dave Rummells in the club-repair room that was then located next to the member pro shop. This was weeks before the 1989 Masters and Rummells, a Masters rookie, was checking out the course. I quickly interviewed him, and the story ran that week in The Chronicle. I always wondered why no one at Augusta National wondered how I got that interview.
At the end of the club season, if you had caddied enough rounds, you were allowed to play in what was called caddie day. It was a free day of golf at Augusta National.
Dave Spencer, one of the co-head pros at Augusta National at the time, knew I was a Chronicle reporter and that I was caddying but didn’t have a problem with it. I even caddied in his group once.
But one year, the only one I had enough rounds under my belt to qualify for caddie day, there was almost a problem. The club saw my name on the caddie day list and the list for the local media day tournament, both of which were held the final week of the club season in May.
I was told the club said I couldn’t play in both, that it had never been done before. I heard that Spencer stood up for me, saying I qualified both ways and I should be allowed to play in both.
Which I did. As far as I know, I’m the only reporter to play caddie day and the local media day.
And what an experience caddie day was. Unlike the local media day, where you had a tee time and were limited to 18 holes and the par-3 course, there were no tee times on caddie day.
You showed up, they gave you a cart and you played as long as you wanted. I played the par-3 course once and got in 54 holes on the big course and was heading back down No. 1 for more when I got rained out at 6 p.m.
When I was caddying at Augusta National, friends would ask me what it was like. I told them I couldn’t believe I was getting paid for being outside, walking the beautiful Augusta National course, even if I did have a bag over my shoulder.
“You can’t beat the working conditions,” I’d say.