Oddly both employing caddies who grew up in Northern Ireland
Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Jeff Rude are co-hosts of a weekly podcast, Hawk & Rude, in which they discuss and debate the hottest issues in golf. They also share their takes in this weekly installment.
British Open co-favorites Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy employ caddies who grew up in Northern Ireland and have played Royal Portrush hundreds of times. Ricky Elliott (Koepka) and Harry Diamond (McIlroy) also were accomplished amateurs. How much does having such a man on the bag help this week?
Hawk’s take: It’s probably worth two or three strokes to each guy for the week. Any estimations beyond that are a bit whimsical. We’re not talking about the late Greg Rita serving as John Daly’s seeing-eye dog at St. Andrews in 1995, which was a very rare example of a caddie’s value soaring far above the norm. The dude on the bag is important, but the man he works for controls his own destiny, or in some cases density, by making the final decisions and executing the necessary shots.
You certainly can’t blame Diamond for the long iron that McIlroy steered out of bounds with his opening tee shot Thursday, a catastrophic spark that would lead to a 79 and wreck the Northern Irish lad’s major homecoming. The local knowledge that Elliott/Diamond bring to that first tee is significant, but primarily as an additional source of confidence to a pair of four-time major champions already bolstered by extreme levels of self-assuredness. Any caddie’s role takes on greater importance if the weather is lousy, which is expected to be the case. The decades of experience that Elliott and Diamond have gleaned at Portrush will come in handy regarding what their players should or shouldn’t attempt in difficult conditions, but it’s probably just as important to keep the grips dry and the scorecard from turning into a dishrag.
When you win four majors before your 30th birthday, you don’t need a lot of help.
Rude’s take: It should help to a certain degree, though not in a massive way. Koepka, who says the local knowledge boosts his confidence (as if it needs elevation), should benefit more than McIlroy. This is a quick-study Open because a lot of players haven’t seen Portrush; Elliott, thus, is a security blanket worth at least the equivalent of several practice rounds for Koepka.
Little Mac is from Northern Ireland and shot 61 at Royal Portrush at age 16 and has a better understanding of the place. But obviously that vibe and a plugged-in bag man didn’t matter at all in his opening 79.
Caddie knowledge helps with lines on greens and full shots. Such affirmation helps players commit, and committing to something is a big part of competitive golf. But caddies don’t hit shots. If the golfer’s swing or stroke is off, as was the case Thursday with McIlroy, the looper can’t send in a substitute or call a timeout.
I’ve heard it said that there’s a “huge advantage” to having such caddie intel. Not so. If you want a huge home-course advantage, tap in to Tiger Woods’ eight-packs of victories at Torrey Pines, Bay Hill and Firestone back in the Terminator days.
John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Rude has covered golf for more than 30 years, most notably for two decades with Golfweek, and has hosted multiple national TV and radio shows. He covered 82 consecutive major championships. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @JeffRudeGolf