The caddie is an important element of a professional golfer’s success on the course. A good caddie can really help out his golfer, but caddies are often fairly anonymous with not many people outside of hardcore golf fans knowing their name. The fact that caddies usually aren’t well-known doesn’t mean they have interesting stories and backgrounds to share.
Tony Navarro has been a caddie for some of golf’s biggest names over the last 40-plus years, but he did not have an easy journey to get to where he is today. Here is his story.
Tony Navarro sets his sights on the PGA Tour
It’s 1978, and Navarro is 18 years old. Just out of high school, the teen leaves his hometown of Moline, Ill., hoping to caddie in the Canadian Open. So he spends $50 — a quarter of the $200 he had in his pockets — on a Greyhound ticket to Glen Abbey Golf Club.
He recalls that he “just wanted to do it for the summer” because “when you’re young and single, you can sleep anywhere.” He says he slept in gas-station bathrooms, locking the doors to feel safe — and in cars or orange groves –he had to, since he only had $25 a day to spend, according to an interview he did with Craig Dolch.
That was a time when caddies had difficulty making a living on their income. But, Navarro says, he learned a lot and “started making some good friends.”
Tony Navarro breaks into the PGA Tour
Navarro’s first time caddying for a pro was at his hometown Quad Cities Open, and his first “name” pro was Slugger White –currently a rules official with the PGA Tour — who went by Carlton White at the time.
Navarro said in his interview with Dolch, “Slugger treated me so well, but I made no money caddying for him.” The caddie says that White jokes with him that he “owe[s] him so much for all the good players” that Navarro got after him. But Navarro’s first big break was when he got to carry Raymond Floyd’s bag.
He learned a lot from Floyd as the Hall of Famer “took [him] under his wing” and treated the caddie like family, including taking him to his first dentist appointment when he was 21 or 22.
Floyd says that Navarro was “like a son” to him and they had a special relationship with Navarro “was always willing to learn.” In the mid-1980s, Navarro went on to another Hall of Famer in Ben Crenshaw. The pair worked together for three years, winning four times.
A career-changing opportunity
In 1992, Navarro started caddying for Greg Norman, which changed his career — and life. Norman was the world’s top golfer at the time, and still in his prime at 37.
Norman was “very intense” and “a perfectionist,” Navarro stated in his interview with Dolch, and was sometimes hard to be around on the course, but he says Norman treated him and his family like they were his own family.
Norman says Navarro’s “professionalism and loyalty” made him such a good caddie. The two spent 12 years together, which included more than 20 tournament victories. Navarro had a chance to caddie for Tiger Woods in 1999, but he turned down the opportunity because he was still working for Norman, and his loyalty wouldn’t allow him to switch pros.
Other pros Navarro worked with
After moving on from Norman in 2004, he started working with Adam Scott, one of Norman’s proteges, and they won more than 10 tournaments together from 2004-11. When Scott let him go, Navarro started caddying for Gary Woodland.
Navarro is currently partnered with Nick Watney, who describes Navarro as “a legend.” In 2017, Golf Digest named Navarro to its (unranked) list of the top-36 caddies of all-time. Navarro is 60, but doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon. He says he’d “like to do this at least another four or five years” because, “being a caddie is a big part of my life,” he says.