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The winning caddies from The 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills (Getty Images)

“How ‘we’ won The Ryder Cup”: The importance of caddies

The Ryder Cup is golf's greatest team event and the caddies on both sides are very much part of each team.

By Paul Symes, europeantour.com

“I regarded the caddies as being just as important as the players themselves.”

There can be no higher compliment paid to the game’s loyal bagmen than that of Bernhard Langer, who in 2002 became the first European player to play in five winning Ryder Cup teams, before captaining Europe to a record-breaking victory over their American counterparts in 2004.

Langer is particularly well placed to observe the importance of caddies, having forged a three decade partnership with Pete Coleman, the first “celebrity bagman”.

Coleman, the first caddie to use the yardage measuring wheel, made his Ryder Cup debut at Royal Lytham in 1977 alongside compatriot Tommy Horton, since when he has in many ways become synonymous with the biennial event, carrying Langer’s bag on seven occasions.

Coleman and Langer were together on five victorious occasions, with their first triumph coming in 1985; and although they tasted defeat for the first time at Kiawah Island six years later, it was not due to a lack of preparation – as Captain Bernard Gallacher noted.

He said: “Their course management was well renowned, even in practice rounds, and I was watching them go through their paces whilst playing with Colin Montgomerie. They were going down the first hole, and Pete and Bernhard were measuring the yardages as they went along.

“Monty and his caddie Kevin Laffey had already been out the day before, and Pete shouted across the fairway to Kevin: “How far is it from that water hydrant to the green?” Kevin shouted back: “It’s 173 yards.” To which Bernhard and Pete replied in unison: “Is that from the front or back of the hydrant?” We were talking about something like five or six inches in diameter! I’m not sure whether or not they were serious. But it wouldn’t surprise me if they were. They’re such professionals.”

Further evidence of Coleman’s professionalism came at The Belfry in 2002, when the man from Surrey went above and beyond the call of duty by carrying Langer’s clubs through the pain barrier.  

Just six weeks before the event, Coleman injured himself after an accident at home. But despite being diagnosed with a broken shoulder which could take up to three months to heal, a grimacing Coleman was back on bag duty a week before The Ryder Cup began.

He said: “It was one of those unfortunate things. I was in my garden picking some blackberries, and I put up a ladder. It tumbled over and I fell on my right shoulder, breaking it. When I went to the hospital, they said it could be eight to 12 weeks before I could work again. Luckily I got back within five or six weeks. I was in pain, but I couldn’t miss The Ryder Cup.”

Unfortunately that year, one member of the caddie fraternity who was declared hors de combat was Glen Murray, Sergio Garcia’s regular bagman.

But one man’s misfortune is another man’s gain, and Murray’s absence through illness allowed Edoardo Gardino, the Argentine golf professional who had caddied for Miguel Angel Jiménez at Brookline in 1999, to take his place.

Gardino, whose bandanna – made from the European flag – became one of the contest’s enduring images, summed up what The Ryder Cup meant to him.

He said: “It was like a present from God. The aura at The Belfry was out of this world – it was a very emotional atmosphere.”

That atmosphere reached its crescendo when Ireland’s Paul McGinley holed the winning putt – a putt his caddie at the time, JP Fitzgerald, recalls vividly.

He said: “We read the putt. I said to him: “We had this putt two years ago at the Benson and Hedges International.” I reminded him it didn’t break as much as we’d thought. He’d hit it left lip, and it stayed there. I told him I thought this one was only just on the left lip. He obviously hit this one an awful lot better. I was watching it, praying for it to drop in. And it did.

“It was such an incredible relief, as well as joy. It would’ve been so gut-wrenching to have lost that match. The half had done it for Europe. Paul had done it. I was so happy for him.”  

When McGinley again qualified for the Oakland Hills contest two years later, he had a new man on his bag in the shape of compatriot Darren Reynolds.

Reynolds’ chief memory of his maiden Ryder Cup appearance was the sense of camaraderie instilled in the European Team and their bagmen.

He said: “Getting changed in the locker-room and getting fired up with the rest of the boys was great. I come from a Gaelic football background, so I was used to a good team spirit. Week by week in golf, it’s normally just you and your player. But at Oakland Hills in 2002, those 12 caddies would’ve done anything for one another. It had a snowball effect.  We met up religiously, and all 12 caddies would eat together, have a beer or two together and then go to bed.”

Reynolds’ sentiments were echoed by a fit-again Murray, who was back on Garcia’s bag to sample his first taste of what life is like in The Ryder Cup cauldron.    

He said: “I didn’t feel odd, being a South African among the Europeans. You hear about the camaraderie of The Ryder Cup, and I was keen to see what it was like. It’s unbelievable how the guys all gel together. Maybe it’s the different cultures, but the banter really gets everybody going. One guy stands out on his own, though. Billy Foster really is inspirational.”

Indeed Foster, who will be taking part in his tenth Ryder Cup this year, had long since assumed the role of cheerleader and practical joker in chief. Foster made his debut alongside Gordon Brand Junior in 1987, but he had cause to remember the 2004 contest, when he carried Darren Clarke’s clubs, with particular fondness.
He said: “There was a fantastic team spirit that year – probably the best I’ve been involved in. They were a great set of caddies. We had so much fun, all week. I gave them a few songs I’d picked up over the years, and played a few jokes.

“In one of the practice rounds, we were playing with Garcia, Jiménez and Westwood, and off the tee I decided, in my wisdom, to run forward 50 yards in front of everyone and pinch Thomas Björn’s buggy. I drove off down the fairway with the bag on my back, with them all running after me. It was like a sketch from The Benny Hill Show. Björn and Westwood were catching me, so I decided to turn the wheel and accelerate away from them. As I did, the weight of the bag swung me right off the buggy. I did a triple somersault off the buggy, and landed on my head with the bag on top of me. I looked up to see the buggy heading straight towards the spectators, who parted like the Red Sea. Thank goodness, the buggy went straight through the crowd, didn’t harm anybody, and finished up in the trees. I was so lucky.”

Luck played no part, however, in Europe’s win, and the ensuing celebrations were – almost inevitably – led by Foster, who will carry Westwood’s bag in this year’s contest.

Foster said: “I’d rather hoped the match could’ve finished at the 16th hole, so we could’ve got all 12 caddies to take a running jump into the lake. But in the end, I got just as wet as in other years. Sergio chased me all around the 18th green until I gave up and lay down, and he poured a whole magnum of champagne over me. Then we decided to have a long-jump competition off the 18th green into the front bunker, and I got buried.”

But the final celebration was a more moving one, as Lee Westwood’s then-caddie John Graham recalled.
He said: “The whole team felt it was good that it had come down to Monty. When Harrington holed the last putt of the match, [his caddie] Ronan Flood put the flag back in. Whilst everybody was celebrating, I quickly nipped back on and took the flag out. I thought if I got all the players to sign it and put a little message on it, I could give it to Monty. That night, we took a limousine to the players’ hotel, and I got Bernhard to present it to Monty. He was quite tearful, and said he would treasure it forever.”

Six years on, and now in his role as Team Captain, Montgomerie will no doubt be hoping Europe’s 12 loyal bagmen are again in celebratory mood come the evening of October 3, 2010.   

With thanks to Norman Dabell, author of “How We Won The Ryder Cup”.       

©2003-2012 The PGA of America / Ryder Cup limited / Turner Sports Interactive. All rights reserved.
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