Many pro golfers’ relationships with their caddies last years or even decades. They rely on them to map out the course prior to play, make club and shot recommendations, and help read greens. The best caddies are part swing mechanic, part horticulture and topology expert, and part sports psychologist.
For this work, caddies are paid a flat fee per week, typically in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, which helps to pay for travel expenses. It’s also standard for golfers to pay a percentage of tournament winnings, which can be anywhere from nothing in the case of a missed cut to 10% for a win. Some caddies of top PGA golfers earn more than entry-level pros do.
Sometimes, a player doesn’t take his regular caddy to an event. Maybe it’s a vacation week, maybe the event is overseas, or maybe the pair just agree on a short break. Last year, Matt Kuchar attracted negative attention when he won a tournament in Mexico and earned a $1.2 million check. He paid his fill-in caddy just $5,000. Kuchar said the amount was more than they’d agreed on at the beginning of the week. But he did end up paying David Ortiz around $50,000 following media and fan pressure.
Unlike Kuchar, many players over the years have been extremely generous to their caddies. Here are a few cases where caddies have financially benefited from their players’ success:
1. Arnold Palmer and Nathaniel “Iron Man” Avery, 1958 Masters
Arnie’s first major win paid nothing like what today’s champions receive. But a first-place check of $11,250 was a fairly hefty payday for a young pro. He, in turn, paid caddy Nathaniel “Iron Man” Avery… $14,000? Yep, Arnold Palmer’s wife, Winnie, accidentally added an extra zero when writing the check.
Avery brought the error to his boss’ attention and a check for the correct amount, $1,400, was issued. Still, that’s a 12.5% bonus, above what was the normal 10% winners gave their loopers at the time. Avery, a caddie at Augusta and not Palmer’s full-time bag man, carried for Palmer in all four of his Masters wins.
2. Rory McIlroy and JP Fitzgerald, 2016 FedEx Cup
When Rory McIlroy won the Tour Championship and claimed the season-long FedEx Cup prize of $10 million, he paid his caddy a sweet $1.05 million. Altogether, JP Fitzgerald is one of the highest-paid loopers working today, though he and McIlroy split in 2017.
3. Kevin Na and Kenny Harms, 2019 Charles Schwab Challenge
The winner at the Charles Schwab Challenge takes home a lovingly restored classic Dodge Challenger. When Kevin Na won the car, he handed the keys over to his caddy. Na and Kenny Harms have worked together for over 11 years. The pro says he pays his caddy well above the average. If Harms earned more than 10% of Na’s $1.31 million paycheck at Colonial, he got a whole lot more than a car in just one week.
4. Troy Merritt and Brian Reed, 2010 Kodak Challenge
Following his first year on the PGA Tour, Troy Merritt made the cut at the season’s final event and just squeaked into the top 125 players to retain his Tour playing privileges. Then, he learned he earned a $1 million check for the season-long Kodak Challenge. Merritt was so thankful for caddy Brian Reed’s help in a tumultuous and ultimately successful season that he gave his bag man $50,000 and set up $25,000 college funds for each of his two daughters.
5. Bubba Watson and Ted Scott, 2014 season
Masters winner and long driver Bubba Watson isn’t an easy man to work for, by his own admission. He blows up at caddy Ted Scott regularly, but tries to make it up to him — and the pair has worked together for 13 years. During the 2014 season, Watson offered to buy new cars for both Scott and his wife. Scott agreed to a Lexus for his wife and a black Toyota pickup for himself but required his boss to buy used models.
The player-caddy relationship can be financially advantageous for the top caddies, but they have to endure a lot of stress and frequent travel. Here’s to the pros who recognize and reward their loyal loopers.