We have watched Jim “Bones’ Mackay, Steve Williams and Joe LaCava on television for years looking for the best golf players. Sometimes they get almost as much airtime as the player looks like. But what does a caddy from the middle of the pack gain from the various Tours?
It’s understandable that those on the PGA Tour would make the most of it based on the sheer size of the portfolios, but what kind of range are we talking about?
Well, for starters, most pay their own expenses and have a baseline of what they’ll earn at a PGA Tour event that week.
“I think 2,000 a week is pretty average, but it all comes down to you and the player,” said veteran caddy of over 25 years, Brennan Little. “After a few years you will get a raise. Or you will get bonuses at the end of the year. It just varies by player. I think in general, if you were looking for a number, it would be $2,000 a week, and then 7 to 8 percent and 10 percent.”
The last two figures represent 7 percent of what the player earns that week (sometimes it’s 8 percent) and then 10 percent for a win.
“It’s not something that many of us talk about often, except my close friends. I know what they do,” Little said.
But isn’t it the same for us in the real (non-golf) world? Discussing our salaries in casual conversation is not something that rolls off the tongue over a pint of beer. Now, job security in the caddying world isn’t exactly as strong as it is in other professions most of us may have, so how do these caddies deal with the variables that come their way? It’s not easy to start with, but Little shares this advice.
“I think in this business you’re going to have ups and downs, whether your player has a losing streak or whatever. But you have to manage your money.”
And that also happens when your player gets injured.
“If a guy is hurt for a couple of months, if he wants to find another job for a couple of weeks, I would say he probably could. Some guys don’t have full-time guys, some players change,” Little said. “Chris Kirk is moving, there are different guys moving. But if a guy you’re working for is out for a year, then maybe you can talk to some agents and maybe you can find something for the rest of the year, but you have to understand that you’re going to have good times and bad times. times.”
Those good times and bad times happen on the Korn Ferry Tour, too, and veteran looper Michael Bestor (now with the PGA Tour’s Kevin Streelman) knows firsthand how difficult it can be to caddy for a living on that Tour.
“Typically on the PGA Tour it’s about $50,000 a year in expenses, and on Korn Ferry it’s half that, $25,000,” Bestor said. “If the player is making $100,000-200,000, you are making 7 percent of that. You’re just not making enough money to cover things like hotel, gas, and food.
“There is so little money in the bags, and you are there for a week. The programming jumps from one side of the country to the other and many places are also expensive (Bahamas, etc.)”.
But Bestor advises that if you’re in the long-term caddying job, looking at the big picture and your time as an investment is critical.
“It’s like a growth company in a stock market. I don’t know how many years Amazon was around and didn’t make any money. Fifteen years or so, and now it’s one of the biggest companies in the world,” Bestor said. “So you have to see it that way. You could tell yourself that you have a five- or ten-year plan and I’ve put in my time.”
And then on the LPGA, Bestor estimates, based on the size of the purses, that caddies make about a fifth of what caddies on the PGA Tour make. That’s a tough road to travel, but there are often other advantages to that Tour that travels massively around the world more than the PGA Tour.
“I know the ladies do it a little bit differently because they travel more and pay more travel expenses to their caddies,” Little said. “They will pay for flights abroad, otherwise you can’t travel to Asia all the time. Whereas here, everyone gets a salary plus a percentage of what they earn. With the stocks going up as they are, you basically get raises all the time.
“We are very lucky here.”
David Clark has been a caddy for over twenty years and currently for Justin Rose. He also has some salaries and averages of what caddies are paid at the PGA Tour level.
“I’ve heard of some five percentages (on earnings),” says Clark, “I’m surprised. I’ve heard that caddies are paid $1,500 a week and I don’t know how you survive on that kind of money. Nine times out of ten these guys want the yardage books and they’re not free. If you get paid 1,500, then you have to shell out 300 for yardage books with colored pictures. So you’re down to $1,200. That’s hard.”
As difficult as some of the finances can be at times, Clark doesn’t want to give up being a part of golf’s biggest stages and inside the ropes by taking a “normal” job.
“I don’t want any part of that real world. You see caddies leave, come back and ask them how they’ve been and they tell you that in the real world, you don’t want a piece of it,” Clark said.
“So I’m hugely grateful and appreciative of this work and what we do. As you know, nothing lasts forever and that’s part of the deal with this job, there are no guarantees, there’s never a safety net.”
But many of these caddies are in this profession because they love the game and for former players like Little and Clark, it’s as close as they can get to the big stage other than playing themselves.
Read more: How to become a caddy on the PGA Tour