HAVEN — Outside of, maybe, the men and women who helped lay the 1 million square feet of carpeting and erect the 1.3 million square feet of temporary bleachers throughout the golf course in the months leading up to this week's Ryder Cup, the most thankless job at Whistling Straits might belong to the caddies for the 24 golfers who will tee it up in front of some 40,000 fans each day beginning Friday morning.
Most will calculate yardages for their golfers. Many will help them read putts. Some might log as many as 36 holes one or both of the first two days and 90 holes by week's end.
If you look closely later this week, in person or on TV, you might see them, but you might not appreciate the work they do. They will be the men behind the men whose fist pumps and emotion-filled reactions to the highs and lows of a Ryder Cup provide the indelible images from these biennial matches.
2021 Ryder Cup: Team USA player/caddie pairings
|Collin Morikawa||J.J. Jakovac|
|Dustin Johnson||Austin Johnson|
|Bryson DeChambeau||Brian Ziegler|
|Brooks Koepka||Ricky Elliott|
|Justin Thomas||Jimmy Johnson|
|Patrick Cantlay||Matt Minister|
|Tony Finau||Mark Urbanek|
|Xander Schauffele||Austin Kaiser|
|Jordan Spieth||Michael Greller|
|Harris English||Eric Larson|
|Daniel Berger||Josh Cassell|
|Scottie Scheffler||Scott McGuinness|
2021 Ryder Cup: Team Europe player/caddie pairings
|Jon Rahm||Adam Hayes|
|Tommy Fleetwood||Ian Finnis|
|Tyrell Hatton||Michael Donaghy|
|Bernd Wiesberger||Jamie Lane|
|Rory McIlroy||Harry Diamond|
|Viktor Hovland||Shay Knight|
|Paul Casey||John Mclaren|
|Matt Fitzpatrick||Billy Foster|
|Lee Westwood||Sam Westwood|
|Sergio Garcia||Glen Murray|
|Shane Lowry||Brian Martin|
|Ian Poulter||James Walton|
"It is a difficult job week for the caddies," European captain Padraig Harrington said at the initial captains' news conference Monday afternoon. "There is a physical requirement; if they go 36 holes a day, they need to stay mentally sharp. Yeah, it is a different week for them, that's for sure."
John Wood can speak to those differences.
He was a Ryder Cup caddie for both Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar before joining NBC and Golf Channel last year as an on-course commentator. In an NBC teleconference ahead of its coverage of the Ryder Cup, Wood recalled the challenges of doing his job not just for Mahan and Kuchar, but also their partners in foursomes and four-ball.
"It’s a different week, and you really need to — especially with the pod system and you know your potential playing partners — you’ve really got to learn his game," Wood said of potential partners. "You’ve got to learn what shots he likes to play, what shots he likes to avoid. A lot of that is talking with the other caddie. Does he like a certain number on layup shots. Would he rather chip, or would he rather play from a bunker?
"More than that, though, it’s learning their personalities. Sometimes in these team events, you’re out with somebody and you can kind of tell that, for one reason or another, they may have tuned out (his) caddie for a little bit. And it happens to everybody, where you hear the same thing over and over and over again. Sometimes it just comes on blank ears."
When that happens, Wood said, sometimes it falls to the other caddie to help play the role of psychologist.
Wood played that role at the 2013 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne in Australia where Mahan was paired with Bill Haas in Saturday four-ball matches. Haas, the FedEx Cup champion that year, had gone 0-2-1 (with the two losses being 1-down decisions) in the three sessions before teaming with Mahan in his debut in international team competition. Wood could tell Haas was starting to get frustrated in their match with Presidents Cup rookies Aaron Baddeley and Jason Day of Australia.
"He had his brother working for him, and his brother said, ‘Boy, you’ve got to go say something to Bill. He’s not listening to me at all,’" Wood said. "So that was a case where it’s easy for me to do that because I’m not worried about keeping my job with Bill. I can tell him anything I want.
"So we were walking from 9 to 10, and I said, ‘Hey, Bill, Hunter is playing good enough to win this thing on his own right now honestly. You make us one or two birdies on this back nine, and there’s no way we won’t win this match.’ That kind of picked him up, and he made a couple birdies, and sure enough, we won the match on the 17th hole."
But there is nothing like soaking in the atmosphere of a Ryder Cup, something Wood did in a different role in 2018 at Le Golf National in France. Wood performed many of his caddie-like preparation duties working alongside Kuchar, a vice captain under Jim Furyk, and reportedly went so far as to skip the opening ceremonies after he got wind that officials were going to paint the hole locations on the greens in advance of Friday's opening-day matches.
"As much as it pains me not to be working it as a caddie, ... hopefully I can bring some of the stuff that really isn’t talked about in terms of nerves and emotions out there because there’s so much more of that than in a regular event," said Wood, who joked that he has lobbied NBC golf producer Tommy Roy to work "29 of those 28 hours" of coverage. "You’re worried about your partners and your partners’ caddies, and the captains and assistants who are watching. So there’s a lot more emotions, a lot more nerves, and hopefully, I can bring some of that into the telecast."
U.S. captain Steve Stricker indicated in an interview last week that he intends to bring the perspective of the caddie into the team room for the Americans, something four-time major champion Brooks Koepka said recently did not happen at the 2018 Ryder Cup in France where Team USA fell 17½-10½.
"The caddies are a huge part of this deal," Stricker said on "PGA Tour Learning Center" on Golf Channel. "They know their players the best. I've been tapping into them, too, to see what's on their mind. We'll meet again with them during the week."
In the meantime, Stricker and Harrington will let the caddies do their jobs this week at Whistling Straits, which isn't an easy walk even without a heavy golf bag over one shoulder.
"Clearly these are the best caddies in the world; why would we be telling them what to do? They know their job," Harrington said. "And there's no doubt that in many ways, it's nearly a thankless job. They will be forgotten about at times, but they do pull their (weight) when it comes to tournament golf and no more so than at the Ryder Cup."