FANNY – STILL THE BENCHMARK
It has been seven years since golf’s most famous female caddie, Fanny Sunesson, looped a golf bag for the final time. Here, she reflects on her amazing career inside the ropes and reveals she hasn’t been idle in retirement.
It has been seven years since golf’s most famous female caddie, Fanny Sunesson, looped a golf bag for the final time. Here, she reflects on her amazing career and reveals she hasn’t been idle in retirement.
Unlike just about every other sport you can contemplate, it’s not only the players in the game of golf who experience a level of celebrity and are recognised the world over. There are a handful of those who have carried their bags who are as well known, if not more, than many players in the field at any given event.
Many in the modern era are so familiar to us that they’re known simply by their first or nickname: Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay – Phil Mickelson’s long-time caddie until recently; and of course ‘Stevie’ Williams – Norman, Floyd, Scott and most famously, Tiger Woods; are figures recognisable to most.
Englishman Chris Paisley’s recent hot hand early in the 2018 European Tour season, highlighted by his win at the BMW South African Open, was especially heart-warming as he shared the moment, cheek and jowl, with his wife Keri who was filling in on the bag for the week.
Keri no doubt claimed a higher winning bonus than the standard player/caddie arrangement after helping her husband supress the formidable challenge of Branden Grace on the final day. Together, they forged a memory bank entry to boast to their grandkids about for years to come.
Female caddies on Tour are a more regular occurrence on the LPGA and Ladies European Tours than in years past, although numbers remain thin on the men’s tours. With few exceptions, those that pop up do so for a week here and there on their husband’s bag or until a more permanent arrangement is forged.
Justine Reed has done the heavy lifting for her husband Patrick, from PGA Tour Q-School to victory at the 2013 Wyndham Championship; and over in Europe, Janet Squire stands out among Tour regulars having caddied most notably for India’s Jeev Milka Singh over many years. None however, before or since, can hold a candle to the woman unsurpassed as the greatest of all in her cohort, also instantly recognisable purely and simply by her first name…Fanny. Fanny Sunesson retired from the caddieing caper in 2011 but not before establishing a legacy that most male or female caddies could only dream of. The Swede also looped for Howard Clark, Fred Funk, Mark Hensby, Michelle Wie, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson in her time,
but it’s her partnership with Sir Nick Faldo during the Brit’s era as the world’s best player in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that she’s most fondly remembered.
Those years on the Faldo bag included four Major wins, umpteen Tour victories and numerous Ryder Cup appearances.
Sunesson might be outside-the-ropes now but remains incredibly active within the game through a range of activities including commentary, coaching, tournament hosting and soon, course design.
I’ve seen first-hand that one of your contemporaries, Bones Mackay, seems to get more shout outs from the gallery as a course announcer these days than most players. Do you still attract that sort of attention when you’re around golf courses?
Yeah, if I’m at a tournament, definitely. I always think that the player is the star but, I guess it was Nick that said to me in the beginning that, ‘If people get a kick out of getting your autograph, why should I say no?’
It’s nice but, it’s sort of weird as well. I think the player is the star, not me, but it’s cool if it makes someone happy. Your record suggests you’re one of the best caddies, period, but you’re by far and away the most pre-eminent female caddie ever. How does that stature sit with you?
There’s a lot of good caddies out there but they’re not often as well known or with a high profile player.
I worked really, really hard and I was really good as a caddie. I think it’s nice that people think I was one of the best caddies and I’m very comfortable with that. I worked hard for that. I’ve learned to say that (laughing), it took me a long time! And it was fun, caddying all those years was fantastic For those that don’t know, how did you get involved in the game and, as an extension of that, into caddieing?
I got my first golf club when I was six and I was really enjoying it by the time I was 13, I could stand on the range all day. I was the perfect teenager, always at the golf course.
I was in what they called the Swedish Observation Team, like the development squad for the main team, and I ended up winning a
tournament. I took a chance to caddie to learn for my own game. I was going to go to college in the US but I hurt my knee and had to postpone that a year.
I caddied at the Scandinavian Masters in Sweden and that was fun. I remember I got a bunch of balata golf balls, it was like Christmas had come early. The guy (Jaime Gonzalez) asked me to caddie the next week too and I did that.
Long story but I ended up caddieing in Europe for Jose Rivero in 1987, then Anders Forsbrand and then Howard Clark.
You were in Australia with Clark at the time Nick Faldo approached you to caddie for him. I’d imagine that was exciting but brought with it some apprehension, being No.1 in the world at the time?
Yes that’s right, in Melbourne. It was very exciting but it wasn’t nerve-wracking at all actually. It was unbelievable. I still didn’t really believe it until I was in a taxi going to his house in England before we went to America to practice for five days, where I learned everything about his swing.
We went to Australia from there, our first tournament together was in Port Douglas for a Skins event. Not long after that, he won at Augusta (1990) where he defended his title.
Early on I just thought, he’s No.1 in the world, I might get the chance to go to Augusta, which I’d only heard about. I hadn’t even seen the course on TV prior to going there the first time.
I basically just thought, if I do my best, I can’t do any more. I’ll just give it my all and if it’s not enough, then at least I gave it a shot.
And I think I gave it my all every time I caddied, for 25 years.
Nick’s public persona nowadays is chalk and cheese when compared to his competitive years. Up close and behind the scenes, did you get to see the Sir Nick that we now see?
He was great fun but very focussed obviously. We fitted right in and gelled together, we were both perfectionists. It was brilliant working for him.
We’re still friends today and I would say I feel like he’s a brother to me, I care for him like a brother. You spent five years on the bag with fellow Swede Henrik Stenson and you continue to have a close relationship. I can imagine how exhilarating it must have been when he broke the men’s Scandinavian major drought in superlative style at The Open in 2016?
We actually have a junior event together in Sweden, which is in its second year, and we’re about to take a group of juniors to the States to play in an event that Faldo is doing – a ‘Major Champions Invitational’. Nineteen major champions are each bringing four juniors to play. That Open Championship Henrik won was unbelievable, I think that was one of the best matches ever in golf. To see Henrik become the first Swedish male major champion was very special and he really, really deserved that. The way he did it was amazing and he’s such a great guy, it was really fun to watch.
I was so pleased and proud for him, and for Gareth Lord as well, his caddie. Your interests now are many and varied but still centred heavily around golf, including coaching?
I coach golfers, I was also a mental coach for a premier league football team in Sweden for two years, I commentate on a Swedish golf channel – C More Golf – which is really good fun. I’m in the media now which is weird, same as Nick, which is unbelievable.
If I had to best describe it, I’d called it ‘performance’ coaching. I work with golfers and footballers on mental strategies, how to perform your best under stress but I also work for ‘normal’ golfers too. I work with a guy who’s a 15-marker and I really enjoy that.
I do some public speaking and host some events and I’ve just started a small project co-designing
THE BACK NINE OF A MAJOR, THAT’S WHAT I MISS. BUT (BECAUSE) OF MY BACK, I DON’T MISS CADDIEING...
a golf course up in the north of Sweden, which is really exciting. I’ve seen a lot of golf courses and I’m very interested in course design, how courses should be played and the strategy side of things. We’re just waiting on the weather to improve before we can start.
The junior event Henrik and I host – the Stenson Sunesson Junior Challenge – is something I’m very excited about and we expect to have 156 juniors playing the event this year.
With all that on your plate, is there any time for you to miss anything about the competitive environment of caddieing at the highest level?
I do tend to think of the good things now in what I’m doing, I enjoy the coaching and the course design and the TV stu. There’s a lot of fun projects that I’m doing now and I did caddieing for 25 years.
The thing I miss is the back nine with a chance to win, that’s what I miss. I can go now to my favourite events like Augusta, the TPC, The Open, but of course, it’s not the same.
The back nine of a major, that’s what I miss. But ( because) of my back, I don’t miss caddieing because caddying is carrying a golf bag. And my back doesn’t want to carry a golf bag! Steve Williams has said he was most proud of convincing Tiger Woods to stick with a lob wedge to the 72nd hole of the 2008 US Open, leading to Woods holing a birdie putt to tie Rocco Mediate and win the following day’s playo . Is there a similar moment in your career where you positively influenced a player to hit a critical shot that allowed them to win?
I remember one in particular and Nick would say the same.
It was at The Masters and I changed a club at the 4th hole, he wanted to hit 3-iron and I totally convinced him to hit 4-iron.I think it was on the Saturday one of the years he won.
He hit it sti for a tap-in birdie.
After finishing with Faldo, Fanny worked with many players including Michelle Wie.
Mucking around with the boss...
...and helping out with practice. There was never a quiet moment working with Sir Nick.
Fanny was an integral part of Faldo’s major success, which he always recognised.