Friday, March 22, 2013

Caddie Controversies at Masters of Yore

Two stories I recently stumbled across about caddie controversies at The Masters. First, at the 1971 Masters, Bob Murphy was near the lead when, in the second round, he double-bogied the 16th hole and fell down the leaderboard.

What did he do when the round was over? Murphy went to the press tent and blamed it all on his caddie.

"I thought it was a 7-iron shot, and my caddie told me it as a 6(-iron)," Murphy said. Murphy hit the 6-iron, and flew the green. "That was the third time in two rounds he has given me bad advice. What I told him couldn't be printed in a newspaper."

Remember, all the caddies at this time (1971) were employed by Augusta National Golf Club; they were all black (blacks couldn't join the club or play at the club in these blatantly racist times, but the club would deign to hire them as caddies or cooks or cleaners); and they were assigned to players.

At this time, golfers couldn't bring their own caddies; they were assigned an Augusta caddie. Murphy's Augusta caddie was Arthur "Sweet" Young, and Sweet was in no mood to take the brunt of Murphy's complaining.

Speaking to the media himself after the round, Sweet said this: "I don't think the mistake was mine. He's the man making his money at this game. He knows how hard he wants to hit the ball. I don't. A man can jump at the ball or hit it cozy. I didn't give him the wrong club. He just hit it too hard. I would do the same thing again."

Unsurprisingly, other caddies sided with Sweet. Jack Nicklaus' Augusta caddie was a man named Willie Peterson, and he said this of Murphy's criticism: "It's unfair. Nicklaus and me put our heads together, but Nicklaus makes the decisions. We don't have no trouble."

It's important to note that at this time in golf history, the golfers were way more indepedent in the golf-caddie relationship than they are today. Most of the big stars did their own yardages, pulled their own clubs. The caddies were there to offer advice if asked, and lug the bag.

Fast forward two years to the 1973 Masters, when another caddie controversy was, in the AP's words, "ignited by a 120-pound pepperpot from Puerto Rico," Chi Chi Rodriguez.

Chi Chi wasn't happy about having to use Augusta caddies rather than his regular Tour caddie because, he alleged, Augusta gave the best caddies to the star players (Nicklaus, Palmer, et.al.).

"They get the more knowledgeable caddies," Rodriguez said. "We should be allowed to use our tour caddies, or at least have a blind draw."

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were asked to respond. Both said it didn't matter, because they made all the decisions for themselves anyway. Which isn't exactly a denial that they were being given the better caddies.

Arnie shot a 77 the day of Chi Chi's complaint, so maybe Palmer should have let his caddie make a few decisions that day!

Leading up to the 1973 Masters, eighteen United States congressmen "demanded" that Augusta issue a special invitation to Lee Elder, who is black, because no black player had ever played the Masters to that point. Controversy - the caddie kind, the political kind - is nothing new at The Masters.

(Lee Elder became the first black golfer to play The Masters in 1975. But it wasn't until 1982 that Chi Chi got his wish and Augusta allowed Masters golfers the option of using their own caddies. Today, all of them do, if they have a regular caddie of their own.)

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