When a man tells you his name is “Concrete” what should you think? When the man looks to be in his 60s, you’d imagine that this name was earned by something quite significant. I’m not accustomed to playing golf with a caddy, in the same way that I’m not used to playing golf from a motorized golf cart. But, Jamaica is forcing me to reconsider how I do many things. My caddy today was named “Concrete”; he had been caddying since 1959 and was in his mid-60s. I told him that I wanted to walk and he told me that he did not use a pull cart, but would carry my bag. I should have put the bag on my back. I put pull cart back in the car. I explained that I wanted him to guide me around the course, as I practised ahead of a tournament this coming weekend. “Trust me! Trust the club I give you!” he told me.
I quickly bowed to his wisdom as we started with a birdie score on the first hole. I followed that up with a series of scores I’ve only ever seen on a professional’s card, when I was scoring at two over par through 7 holes. I was trying to put into practice advice given to me by a caddy in Montego Bay last week, and my mantra to myself was simple: “Head still. Put fire ‘pon de grass!” It was working. The other caddy working with my partner asked me what was my handicap and I told him that it was 20. “Do you think you’re playing like that?” he asked. I said, “No”: I was playing like a scratch golfer. It felt strange, but decidedly pleasant.
Golf can reward you well for the simple things mastered. In the same way, it penalizes when those lessons are not followed. I could not sustain the good play through 18 holes, but I still put up a much better-than-average score for my handicap. I admire the way that the pros and good amateurs sustain their level of play and concentration.
Golf in Jamaica has always had black caddies and we are not in the position of seeing them as racially restricted in terms of what they can do. “Concrete” told me that he can play on the course two days a week. I asked him to show me a few shots of his own. His body, smaller than mine, and wiry, coiled like a snake and the ball effortlessly left his club and sailed towards a green 100 yards away.
Caddying is not high-paying work in an absolute sense, but it’s a source of regular income. With tips, being a caddy can be more than a meagre living. Players may buy caddies drinks or food, so they do alright. After our round, our caddies were champing at the bit to leave us as ‘their bosses’ were just showing up for some afternoon golf. We’d taken a little extra time because we practised, so one of the caddies pointed out that our tip needed to compensate for his losing the chance to work with the afternoon group. We considered that, but didn’t bend for it. In an economy and society starved of jobs, when you have work and can turn that into a money earner by doing more than specified or getting more than agreed, then it’s going to happen. Caddies don’t need to beg. They often earn their fees in finding balls in some deep bush that would otherwise be lost and need to be replaced, thus saving the player a few dollars each round. They can often ‘encourage’ payments by giving really solid advice, which when well followed gives the player the desired results. “Pay up!” I was all ready to quit golf and hug my caddy after my start, and we were all smiles.
I’ll be honest, I’ve seen only a few caddies work up close, but some of them are little better than piranhas. Images of Caddy Shack come to mind. But, so too, do images of people swimming in a sea full of sharks. People have talked to me about things ‘missing’ from their bags after a round of golf. I’m not going to go beyond what I’ve experienced, but just mention that the relationship need not be good. Players are a sources of funds and when it’s possible to get that in underhand ways, motive and opportunity may be too close. A lady player, with whom I played last week, was really angry when the caddy she’d agreed would work with her had not showed up but another caddy–for whom she did not have a good feeling–came up to say he had been told by her bagger to replace him. Not really his call, and he made things worse by wanting to put his clothes in the lady’s car, then taking her umbrella to go sit with her golf bag.
“Concrete” wont have his name tainted by any story of wrong doing or just bad etiquette. If I get the chance to do so, I’ll ask for his help this weekend. I told him that his help and advice given to me from last week were helping me hit drives about 30 yards longer, and I was getting about 20 yards more from each club.
Can I do that on a regular basis? Time will tell. “Concrete” has a vested interest in my improving. I represent a potentially good meal ticket 🙂