Pete Coleman, from the old school of caddies, is a minefield of home truths. You ask if he thinks that the modern player’s way of including his caddie in his so-called “team” helps to make a caddie feel more secure and he comes back to you with what sounds suspiciously like a hollow laugh.
“It’s nonsense as far as I’m concerned,” he elaborated. “It’s probably OK when someone like Dustin Johnson has a brother on the bag, or when players like Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy have close friends on the job. But for the most part I have my doubts. From what I can see, caddies are getting sacked with the same regularity as they ever were.”
Hardly surprisingly, members of the latest generation of caddies did not want to get involved in the team debate. Yet one among them, speaking on a “don’t quote me” basis, suggested that even if it is neither here nor there for the caddies, “it keeps the psychologists happy.”
Coleman, now 80, doubts that Seve Ballesteros would have had much time for the team philosophy: “He was as far removed from a team man as it was possible to get. If you caddied for him, he gave you hell. He blamed you for everything.”
Indeed, when Coleman had the first of a few spells with the Spaniard, the two had an immediate difference of opinion.
“Seve,” he said, “was addicted to his 2-iron but, when we came to this par-5 where he had to carry water, I told him the 2-iron wasn’t going to work and suggested his 3-wood. He didn’t take a blind bit of notice and, after hitting into the water, he rounded on me. ‘That’s your fault,’ he said. ‘If you had said OK to the club, I’d have hit the green. What you did was to put doubt into my head.’”
There were plenty more examples of such injustices, of which Coleman’s particular favourite is the one in which his good friend, the late Dave Musgrove, was the victim.
Ballesteros and Musgrove had just won the 1979 Open together at Lytham. But when Musgrove arrived for the next tournament, he found a letter waiting for him from his boss. Far from thanking him for his contribution, Seve had penned a list of his errors from Open week. Needless to say, there was no bonus for the caddie above the usual 5 percent of the winnings.
Did Coleman ever argue a point with Seve? He never even thought about it. The reason being that it wouldn’t have been worth the hassle. “I only worked for him because I loved watching someone as absurdly talented as he was. The trouble was that you were always waiting for him to put you down – and that was something he did in the nastiest possible way.”
Every one of the many caddies who had their turn with Seve (there were 10 in the first year alone) tended to be out-of-sorts when the time arrived for the big money events at the end of the season. Events which Ernie Els once famously described as, “The ones where I bring out my wheelbarrow.”
Seve’s caddies never shared in the spoils. Always, he would tell the latest incumbent that he could stand down because he planned to use one of his brothers.
On the other side of the coin Coleman was quick to identify his relationship with Bernhard Langer, for whom he worked for 22 years, as one which eventually epitomised first-class teamwork.
“The best example I can give you here is of a day when he was angry at something he had done, though I can’t remember quite what that was. I was taken aback because I thought he was about to blame me, only he wasn’t. He had started by asking, ‘How can that have happened?’ But went on to explain it like this: ‘It’s tough to believe when you think of how I’m No. 1 in the world in course management and you’re the No. 1 caddie.’”
Langer was new to the professional tour when they first got together and, at the start, he would point out that he didn’t think he could afford a professional caddie. When he was still making that claim after they had won a couple of tournaments and Coleman made a brief return to Seve, Langer said that they needed to talk things through. Straightaway, their partnership was reinstated.
“Talking things through always worked with Bernhard,” said Coleman.
A bit later on, Coleman mentioned to Langer that his brother, Irwin, who activated the payments, was not up to speed with exchange rates when it came to overseas events. At that, Langer decided that the way ahead was for him to sign one of his cheques on a Sunday and for Coleman to fill in the amount for himself. Irwin may or may not have approved, but that is what happened for the last 12 years or so of the partnership.
No less intriguing was a conversation they had after Bernhard finally came good with a win after a dire spell of the yips. He had turned to Pete at the end of the week and said a heartfelt, “Thank you for staying with me when I was down.” To which Coleman replied, “I would never leave a man when he was down, only when he was doing well.”
And that is how it worked out. On an occasion when Langer brought his wife and children along and Irwin arranged for Coleman to stay somewhere out in the sticks, Pete decided the time had come for a parting of the ways.
Moving on to caddie life in general, Coleman delivered the little-aired fact that European caddies of his vintage preferred working for Americans when they had the chance. “They paid better. And they treated you better,” he said.
Never was this more apparent when a GB&I team of club professionals, led by Tommy Horton, took on their American equivalents. To Horton’s alarm, all the British caddies wanted to work for the opposition.
Coleman identified another generous soul in Greg Norman. “At a time when the European players were still sticking with 5 percent as the caddie’s share of the winner’s purse, he was giving 10 percent.”
Again, on the subject of the Americans, Coleman said his favourite American player was Scott Hoch, the pro who fell out with Nick Faldo. (This had something to do with Hoch having let it be known that Faldo had been lucky to hole his over-fast putt at the 17th when he won the 1989 Masters in which he, Hoch, finished second. “If he hadn’t holed it,” Hoch had said, “he’d have finished fourth.”)
Not too long after that, Coleman worked for Hoch at a Dutch tournament where John Daly, who was being paid a fortune in appearance money, started with an 80. “I warned Scott that the British press would be looking for quotes and, in what turned out to be one of the best pieces of advice I ever gave anyone, I told him to keep his mouth shut.
“Scott was great company,” he added. “He had time for everyone, and he was equally generous on the money front. Apart from paying us caddies well, he was always giving donations to good causes like the Arnold Palmer Hospital.”
Finally, Coleman identified another generous soul in Greg Norman. “At a time when the European players were still sticking with 5 percent as the caddie’s share of the winner’s purse, he was giving 10 percent.
This was a fact to remind Coleman of the time he worked for the Great White Shark in Australia and did an interview with that famous newspaper, The Australian. His answer to a request to compare Greg with Seve made for the following headline the next day. “Seve the best player in the world, Greg the best payer.”
Top: Seve Ballesteros with caddie, Pete Coleman, at the 1983 Irish Open (David Cannon, Getty Images)
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