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The Kilted Caddie shares his caddie experience for David Walsh, the three-time Sportswriter of the Year and Lance Armstrong exposer, at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship…
Guess who caddies for David Walsh, the three-time Sportswriter of the Year and Lance Armstrong exposer, at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship?
What a sporting occasion the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is? Played over the iconic links courses of Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and the Old Course in St Andrews. A major Pro-Am, whilst also being one of the biggest prize money and most prestigious events on the European Tour. In fact, with a purse of $5 million, it’s a big lot of money. Tyrrell Hatton, this year’s winner, went home a tidy $800,000 better off. It is like the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in the U.S. where similarly, amateurs play alongside the pros in a major tour event. It’s just that there is a slightly bigger purse there, more Americans, and it’s played over three courses on the Monterey Peninsula rather than in Fife and Angus (if you get my drift?). Jordan Spieth, who won this year, says that he loves playing in it and probably had as much fun, or more than in any other tournament.
Now, the fascinating thing about these two events is that amateurs play at the same time and alongside world-class professionals, who are competing at the highest levels and for the highest stakes. I can’t think of any other sport where this happens, or in fact could happen, give the colour, intensity and rarity of the two rubbing shoulders with each other. Potentially you could make a case for darts, but probably not synchronised swimming, apart from maybe the rubbing shoulders bit.
At this year’s Dunhill, I was lucky enough to caddie for the 3-time Sportswriter of the Year and Lance Armstrong exposer, David Walsh. I sent him a beautiful, golfy St Andrews’ postcard, he emailed back, and we hooked up.
He was drawn with the prodigiously talented, Matt Wallace, who has made a meteoric rise up the professional ranks. He had the legendary caddie, Dave McNeilly, on his bag. So, you have 1-10-handicap David, teeing up with a massive young golf talent and probably the best and most experienced caddie in the world. And then me. A caddie of a more dubious pedigree.
David warned me over the phone, at the outset, that ‘he had everything you need to play golf apart from talent.’ I intimated that he was getting the quid pro quo on the caddying front, except probably a more Wodehousian than Wilde one (slight nervous laughter on the other end of the phone).
It was however born out at Carnoustie when we put a gloriously hit seven iron safety shot into the drink in front of the tenth green. That was indeed a shocking piece of caddying and a relationship tester if there ever was one. If this didn’t push David to the extreme, I’m not sure what would have, other than me pushing him into the drink or Lance Armstrong pitching up in the throng.
He did, however, make a brilliant birdie on the 11th which eased the situation, but full credit to my man for showing such reserves of forbearance that day, and indeed also for a formidable 5-birdie streak at Carnoustie on the practice round. He said after that it was one of the ‘top three rounds of his life’.
On the first day of the tournament, I thought I’d go the full hog and add a splash of colour by wearing some pretty outrageous trousers and scarlet socks. However, the St Andrews caddie master was none too impressed, approached me on the driving range and claimed that it was a ridiculous attire for a caddie. I felt a tad deflated by this remark and thought he missed the point that the first St Andrews’ caddie in history had landed an endorsement contract with a wacky golf clothing outfitter and showed a degree of ingenuity in bagging a top-notch journalist by sending a picture postcard.
OK, I can accept that he is not a fan of my writing, but for me not to be able to express any sartorial individuality is another thing. Maybe
they should get us to dress up in white boiler suits like the Masters. However, for the top end luxury clothing outfit that is Alfred Dunhill. I wouldn’t have thought so.
Mind you I did get approached by the local constabulary, as a beaming and most cheery looking East Neuk policewoman came over and gave me the utmost compliment on my bright saltire breeks. Now that makes a pleasant change, as the last time I was approached by the local constabulary it was on far less favourable, constructive and amicable terms.
There are rumours that some amateurs are paying between ten and fifty grand to get into the Dunhill and that there is a very long queue. And, even if you do get invited to play and pay, there is no certainty that you will be invited back the next year. An intriguing event it is.
The ‘draw’, whereby you discover your playing partner, takes place on Tuesday evening but is a slight misnomer, as some guys just keep ending up with the same partners. However, of more interest is the ‘handicapping’ which seems to be slightly fluid in nature, let’s say, and there appears to be a high correlation of success in the team event concerning the degree of one’s relationship to Irish horse racing.
During the competition, Matt and David played pretty solidly in the first two rounds and by the 11h hole at Kingsbarns on the third day, were suddenly being followed by a mobile, on course, camera crew.
No, they weren’t out to see my breeks! The fact was that Matt had edged into the second position in the Pro event. And further, David had a one-and-a-half-foot putt for a par to put the team on the leaderboard at twenty under par. However, then something terrible happened which I believe caused the sudden demise of Team Walsh and potentially (but hopefully not) the end of a bright career on the world golf stage for our young professional. For Matt holed out his par putt and then picked up David’s marker before he could utter a plaintive word. With 200,000 dollars in the team event prize fund, this was more than a rash act.
It was merely disastrous all round and if there was ever a juxtapositional turning point in events there was one. Matt immediately went on to drop six strokes to par in the ensuing five holes and David did not fare much better. Very painful to watch as the camera crew made a shrewd exit, as did Team Walsh.
Anyhow, what an experience for a week. The food provided on the course was first class with delicious Balgove Farm brioche burgers and hot dogs, wonderful Cullen skink and Pittenweem salmon sandwiches, all served plentifully to players and caddies alike, at several points on the way around. The chaps at Alfred Dunhill know how to put a show on, as highlighted by the incredible firework display over the West Sands on Saturday evening.
I met a good few characters and shook hands with several celebrities including the gentlemen, ex-Lions captain Paul O’Connell and Sir A.P. McCoy. We heard many funny stories including an anecdote from Tom Lewis’s caddie Alastair, a rather hefty chap from Sunningdale with a brilliant deadpan delivery. He mentioned that the caddies had been put up in the Athletes Village at the Olympics. David asked him what sport he told people he was doing, to which he immediately retorted with a most serious expression, ‘hurdles!’
The Dunhill and AT&T are excellent golf tournaments and bring much fun, colour and lightheartedness to the sometimes overly serious professional circuit. The mix certainly worked for Jordan Spieth, and I noticed that this year’s winner, Tyrrell Hatton, was having a good few laughs out on the practice range at Carnoustie.
A lesson perhaps for all.
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Rory McIlory looks at his tee shot on the 5th of the Old Course in St Andrews
David Walsh and the Kilted Caddie (right)
Tyrrell Hatton poses with his Alfred Dunhill Links Championship trophy on the famous Swilcan Bridge