ONE PERSPECTIVE: Time to treat caddies like pros

Never mind Jordan Spieth.

He's the 21-year-old Texan who won the PGA Masters in April and the U.S. Open in June. He's made nearly $7.9 million playing golf so far this year. But look behind Spieth in the U.S. Open photos from Puget Sound, and you'll see a 37-year-old man with a neatly trimmed beard named Michael Greller. He's the one carrying the bag.

Although Greller's deal for the U.S. Open hasn't been disclosed, the typical caddy arrangement is wages of $1,500 to $2,500 for the tournament plus a bonus: 5 percent if the golfer makes the cut, 7 percent if he finishes in the top 10, and 10 percent if the golfer wins it all. That likely made Greller's bonus $180,000. That's a pretty good salary bump for a guy who started schlepping for businessmen at $50 to $100 per bag.

But caddies are independent contractors, and the 150 or so who make a living at it on the PGA Tour are trying to organize. So far, that's been unsuccessful. The job started when golf courses were less pristine than today's; caddies carried bags and hunted down stray balls, which were frequent. By spending all day on the course they got to know its quirks, and that local knowledge became valuable to golfers. At the U.S. Open level, caddies are psychologists as well as strategists and porters.

"He was the one that got me through this week when I wanted to get down when things weren't going well," Spieth said, praising his caddie after the tournament.

There's an association for tour caddies that has become a pseudo-union, negotiating with the PGA in an effort to get health benefits, pay guarantees, clubhouse access and other improvements for its members.

On the tour, caddies are free to sign their own endorsement deals. Although the PGA requires caddies to wear bibs with sponsor logos, caddies are free to sell space on their hats and sleeves. Those carrying clubs for top players in nationally televised tournaments earn as much as $200,000 that way, although most make about $40,000, and loopers outside the top 30 players earn as little as $5,000. But caddies say that's not much considering what the PGA is charging companies to put a logo on the bib. A class-action lawsuit filed in February asked a court to rule they be can't forced to wear bibs that benefit the PGA.

"Caddies must know the correct yardage for every lie on every hole, and they must be skilled in reading greens," the plaintiffs argued. "Caddies also serve as coaches, strategists, general assistants, cheerleaders, counselors, and friends."

The petition further complains that caddies are treated poorly at tournaments, being denied clubhouse access and forced to use portable toilets. But the big deal is the bibs, which the plaintiffs allege are worth more than $50 million per year. One of the named plaintiffs is Micah Fugitt, whom Forbes Magazine listed as the game's highest-earning caddie in 2014 with an estimated gross of $1.57 million. Fugitt caddies for Billy Horschel, who won $10 million as the FedEx Cup champion, which got Fugitt a $1 million bonus. The magazine put Rory McIlroy's caddy, J.P. Fitzgerald, in second place with estimated earnings of $1.48 million. Earnings for each of the remaining top 10 ranged from $625,000 to $900,000.

In 2014 Heath Slocum placed 150th in PGA earnings at $566,166. His caddie would have earned about $50,000 above his travel expenses.

Every executive is surrounded by valuable people who serve as coaches, strategists, general assistants, cheerleaders, counselors and friends. They're not expected to wear customers' logos without compensation, though, and most of them get to use the indoor plumbing.

Published: Fri, Jun 26, 2015

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