Koji Uehara to Shane Victorino: “What did the five fingers say to the face?” (via Deadspin)
We had the opportunity to chat with John Dunn, the author of the new and lighthearted book ”Loopers.” Loopers chronicles his 20 years as a club-level caddy with a case of advanced wanderlust and the adventures and misadventures of his profession, and its effect on the most important relationships of his life.
HHR: Full Disclosure here - I’ve always had an uncomfortable relationship with caddies. My game isn’t nearly good enough to warrant having someone pace off yardage, clean my ball/clubs, and share the playing details of the wind, the course, etc. I already feel my father-in-law wince when I skull a chipping wedge, and the idea of having another person watching me swing is less than desirable. How do you recommend someone like me (20 handicap) who is just excited when I pick the ball clean - get on the same page with my caddie from the start? What are some of the best ways you’ve seen people break the ice and keep expectations realistic while still having fun?
John Dunn (JD): Try to look at the caddie as an ally and a resource as opposed to an intimidating judge. Remember, we WANT you to succeed, and you are definitely not the first high handicapper your caddie has been out with (and for the record a “twenty” is BELOW the national average.)
Yes, high handicappers can be some of the most challenging jobs in terms of the amount of attention required, but they can also be the most rewarding because they can benefit from a caddie’s knowledge even more than an experienced golfer. For example, instead of just getting a read, they can pay attention to the way the caddie reads the green and learn how to do it themselves - spot putting for example, ie: picking a spot halfway to the hole to roll the ball over… or on the tee - standing behind the ball and picking a spot, say, ten feet away, that is on line with the target. Little tricks like this make the task at hand a lot simpler - its a lot easier to hit a shot over a spot ten feet away than aim at something hundreds of yards away.
If you get a good caddie and get in the “zone”, you might surprise yourself and shoot the round of your life. (And you can always trash talk your father-in-law with your caddie too… we love a little gossip to pass the time between shots :)
HHR: Watching baseball, I see a real time comparison between the actual strike zone and the umpire’s strike zone. How often do caddies work against this with the variety of GPS golf applications on their player’s phones (which will only get better and more precise)? Is this a good thing or a bad thing for caddies? Do you have any apps that you use and/or recommend?
JD: GPS apps are fine… and most caddies use Rangefinders now. Using your analogy a caddie is like a pitching coach or catcher - the distance from the mound to the plate (or golf ball to the target) is a given. It is our job to judge how the elements - wind, moisture, elevation, contour - and attitude, predisposition, strengths, weaknesses of the player will affect the flight and bounce of the ball. Electronics will probably never be able to accurately judge all of those things.
There is that funny line from Caddyshack, “There’s been a lot of complaints - fooling around on the course, bad language, smoking grass, poor caddying. If you guys want to get fired. If you want to be replaced by golf carts, just keep it up.” I had a caddiemaster who used to say that all the time, but caddies will never be replaced by golf carts, nor by GPS devices either. The human element, the companionship, the luxury of being doted upon and advised cannot be electronically or robotically duplicated.
HHR: You seemed at ease with the sense that while you could walk (or often play) these amazing and exclusive courses, work and talk with influential people, and at the end of the day, those gates closed behind you. Some of these clubs sound more like Downton Abbey than anything else; in your view does etiquette become a convenient way of maintaining an antiquated class structure or is there something more honorable to it all that we need more of in today’s society
JD: I think there is definitely something exclusive about golf in our country (as opposed to Scotland where it is completely open and universal) but it is not all exclusive here. There are more public courses than ever before and the USGA is making an effort to host more Opens at public courses too - Bethpage, Chamber’s Bay, Erin Hills, etc.
And as far as etiquette goes, I think it is one of the best things about the game - manners, honesty, graciousness, discipline, character are all essential, and at private clubs these traits tend to be honored more than at public courses…. PACE of play being one of the best examples. Members of a private club will almost never hold up a fellow member, but public players often disregard other players… make them rot back there while they take photos and lean on their putters and line up every shot like it’s the US Open. We have an epidemic of slow play in this country and it is almost entirely a public golf problem.
In short, if American golfers as a whole behaved more like the Scots (who invented the game), the lines between private and public would be much less important… if you could get around your public course in three and a half hours and could play occasionally at the top private courses (as you can in Scotland, where even caddies are often the members of the clubs they work at) the whole concept of “membership” would be less critical.
HHR: The book is fairly light-hearted throughout, but at pages171-173 (of the hardcover version) the whole book takes the turn; you describe a man named Phillips who has two very distinct sides, and reveal what causes his dark side - the notion that golf itself nurtures self-delusion and how easy it is to chase that delusion well into your old age at the expense of your prime years. The irony (to me) is that how you viewed golf in this light is clearly how your dad viewed caddying. At what point in your book research did you realize that your father and your relationship had a bigger part to play in the narrative?
JD: I first decided I was going to write a book about caddying in 1998 - I even came up with the title “Loopers” back then - but my original concept was just a collection of light-hearted, social satires along the lines of PG Wodehouse’s wonderful stories. But as I kept caddying, I realized I was onto a much bigger story - that the “characters” at these clubs - both caddies and members - were much more than just caricatures… that this story could be something bigger - more like Steinbeck than Wodehouse. But seeing a “Steinbeckian” world and writingabout one are two totally different animals. It took me years to develop a “voice” and a deep enough perspective to do it justice and by that time I was one the main characters myself - a “lifer”, so to speak.
And in the end the story was more about my journey than anyone else. I decided to expose more of my own inner demons, doubts, struggles (as well as joys, hopes, lessons, etc.) than others because I didn’t feel the need, nor the authority, to single out anyone else when my story held many of the same ups and downs, feats and foibles. I may not be the most interesting caddie out there, but I certainly know myself better than any of them.
HHR: Loopers is full of great stories. Are there any that you really wanted to share but it didn’t fit the arc of the book? What’s one story that you really wanted to share but didn’t have a spot for it?
JD: There are TONS of stories I left out. A lot of them because they involved scandalous behavior and I didn’t want to embarrass anyone or score points at someone else’s expense.
I caddied a lot for Bernie and Ruth Madoff and then after the scandal broke, I caddied for an older woman who had trusted them and lost everything in the ponzi scheme. That was a very deep moment… hearing this woman’s pain and disbelief at their betrayal and her fear of the future - being suddenly, completely wiped out in her seventies… and looking back myself on the many hours I spent with them and wondering how they could be so relaxed and friendly, so at ease with themselves and so generous, while living this giant lie that would ultimately hurt so many people.
I’m not sure I’m able to draw any conclusions, and many other people are closer to the story than I am.. That is why I chose not to write about it. But it was still one of many incredible “insider” experiences that caddying afforded me.
HHR: Do you ever find yourself watching golf on TV and second-guessing the caddies?
JD: No, because I don’t know the breaks or conditions on those courses, but I do remember sitting in the stands with a fellow caddie on the seventeenth at Augusta during the third round of the Masters and we could clearly see that the caddie and his player had misread the putt to the middle left pin… it sits right on the top of an almost imperceptible ridge and they thought it was still turning towards the front, but we knew it would move ever so slightly towards the back. We said so to the guys sitting next to us and when the ball did just that and the player looked at his caddie in disbelief, they guys next to us laughed out loud. They thought it was the coolest thing that they’d just gotten that “insider” caddie view of the tournament action.
HHR: What are the courses that are still on your list to play? Where in your view is the next undiscovered Bandon Dunes?
JD: There are so many, that it will be a lifetime pursuit - the tops include Merion, Cypress, Fisher’s Island, Muirfield (Scotland), Royal County Down, Ballybunion, etc. I don’t think Bandon was ever “undiscovered”… the first course was only finished in 1999 and received a lot of attention right away.. There are already so many incredible courses that I think the next “gem” is different for everybody… the experience of playing a world class course for the first time always being a “discovery.” But I do have favorite little unknown courses that I’ve played… I’m not sure that these would be everyone else’s faves too, but for whatever reason, they are just special to my heart. I think this is true for everyone… the “greatness” of a course, ultimately being a subjective thing.
HHR: What has the response from former ‘regulars’ and/or fellow loopers to the book?
JD: Honestly, I haven’t really gotten any yet as the book doesn’t come out til Tuesday. But my friend Dawnie who caddied at St Andrews when I was there and lived and worked there for many years (and is featured in my book) loved the chapter. She even teared up and said, “It reminds me of home.” (She now lives and loops in New York.) So that was a very nice confidence booster… if most everyone in the book thinks I have eloquently and accurately described the places they know intimately, I will have succeeded.
HHR: For a long time I have advocated that golf broadcasting should have a caddy as a commentator. After reading Loopers, I’m amending my position in that it should be a local caddy if at all possible. Jim Nantz thinks he’s great at coming up with puns and waiting until just the right moment so that it sounds plausibly un-rehearsed, but I want someone who is going to give me unique detail about the course and strategies to beat it. In your view, who are some current/former caddies that the Golf Channel should be contacting and getting them on TV as commentators?
JD: I think it is a good idea, but you’d have to pull a top caddie off the Tour, like say, Phil Mickelson’s caddie Bones, he’d probably be one of the best. But good luck getting him off of Phil’s bag! I always thought David Feherty brought that funny, sardonic, insider caddie wit and knowledge to the job. So he’s prob as good as its going to get.
Btw, I totally agree with you about Jim Nance [sic]! That guy is like a can of Peaches in that awful syrup… totally artificial and unnatural, but we still love slurping it up! :)