Steve Brotherhood has been a professional golf caddie on the European Tour since 2003. Currently with Robert Rock, he has previously carried the bags of David Howell, Paul Broadhurst, Steve Webster, Marc Warren, Ritchie Ramsay, Anthony Wall and David Horsey.
Brotherhood, a scratch golfer himself from the age of 16, has guided his golfers to a number of impressive wins over the years, perhaps most notably when Howell beat Peter Uihlein in the 2013 Alfred Dunhill Links Championships, at the home of golf, St Andrews.
Here, the charismatic caddie breaks cover on how Covid has changed the game, both logistically and financially.
RSNG How has caddying been through Covid times? STEVE BROTHERHOOD, GOLF CADDIE TO THE ELITE PROS “The golf itself has been much the same, although preparation is now on another level. Players got used to a lack of spectators, but that’s obviously changed now. Mostly, right now, with the flying between different countries, the biggest factor is exit Covid tests before your flights. It does throw the process of work into a little bit of uncertainty, but you do your best.”
“It’s about sticking to the rules, making sure that you’re staying socially distanced. I’ve recently been in Dubai with Robert at the Dubai Desert Classic event, and it’s not like we were going to go out because it’s a dry country, and the events were staged at a golf course attached to a hotel complex with not a lot going on around them.”
“It sounds like a glamorous life traveling around the world, but this, just as it is in many places, was a case of coming back from your round for the day, going downstairs for something to eat and then back to your room for ‘Netflix and Chill,’ as they say! And that’s about it.”
RSNG Despite that downtime, it’s a grueling schedule at times, isn’t it? SB “It is. I am actually speaking to you on what is supposed to be my week off. Robert went back home to the UK before coming back out for the next event. So, instead of me having a break for the week, I was given the fortunate opportunity to caddy for Sam Horsfield in Saudi Arabia on the Asian Tour.”
“That came about due to Sam’s caddie Mike Seaborn testing positive for Covid in the 48 hours before he was due to fly to Saudi, so I took the bag instead. It’s a nice opportunity and I would never complain about extra work – golf is what I know and what I love.”
RSNG I guess the point is, from an outsider’s perspective, the reality is it’s not just a case of turning up, playing and then getting out and enjoying yourself? SB “Even the paperwork we have to fill out just to get to events is completely different to what we did two years ago. You’ve got passenger locator forms and then for certain countries, you have to have an app, like Test & Trace, so we don’t get into contact with anyone.”
“Even in normal times it’s very challenging. One good thing about the European Tour is that if you’re at an event going on to another, your expenses will be looked after, and they will put you in a good hotel.”
“But when you go from the European Tour to the Asian Tour for a week, as I did, that’s different – you have to cover your own.”
If your player doesn’t do well, the job of a caddie is a bit of a gamble
RSNG Money is always a contested issue when it comes to sport, and a lot in golf are scraping away for what they can get, right? SB “My last two years have been more of a struggle. I’ve not really made any money at all – if your golfer hasn’t been earning, the caddie doesn’t either. That’s no disrespect to your man because he is always trying his hardest.
“That’s why if your player doesn’t do well, the job of a caddie is a bit of a gamble. If he’s missing cuts and you’re only playing for €1m prize fund, you’re traveling all over the world and not making any money. Remember, that money is only shared between the players who make the cut.”
“Yet when you get a good job and you’re at the other end of the pond, playing for a lot more money, life is good.”
RSNG As we are continuously reminded, players are now able to hit the ball longer and further. How does that affect a caddie? SB “For me, it’s easier. Because the course plays a lot shorter and most of the courses these days are between 7,500-8,000 yards, that makes them very tough places to play – especially if the rough is also up.”
“But if you’ve got a golfer who hits the ball a country mile, that’s a big difference. On the European Tour, except for the odd course which pops up, we play pretty much the same venues. When you’ve been part of it for as long as I have, you know what score is going to win the events.”
RSNG Yet no two rounds are the same? SB “Correct. There are always a number of other factors that come into the equation. Probably the biggest is the elements, and dealing with those is something any caddie loves to get stuck into. The elements can make those margins even bigger. So, if you have a golfer on a par four 470-yard hole, who in normal conditions will hit driver and then 7-iron, he may just play driver and 5-iron.”
“But your average Joe player who drives 270 without the wind, is then only driving 240-250 into a gust, is then probably having to play a rescue club after that, and that’s the real big difference.”
“This is the type of challenge you go into elite golf for – the task of setting up to find paths around obstacles in tricky conditions is something we always look forward to on the day.”
If you’re playing in an event where -25 is the winning score then it’s just a putting competition
RSNG The US Open has always had a reputation for being the hardest course setups in the game – would you agree? SB “You always know it’s going to be a tough challenge playing the US Open, regardless of where the event is taking place. You expect that if you’re able to get around the 72 holes in around +1 or +2 each day, you’re going to be in for a decent cheque on Sunday night.”
“I would rather have it like that. If you’re playing in an event where -25 is the winning score, it’s just a putting competition. To add to that, if you don’t get it close enough on the greens and you two-putt, you could be half that score and finish 40th in the event.”
“So, I think that anything where an average score of about -3 per round is winning the event, that’s a good test. But it all depends how the course is and if the greens are rock-hard and you run off, you’re chipping and if you don’t hole a 15-footer, you’re bogeying. It’s the mental test, as well.”
RSNG As a European Tour caddy for almost two decades, would you be able to tell how far you are from any hole at any of the courses, almost blind (without a yardage book)? SB “Well, week-in, week-out, we have a guy called Dion Stevens whose business is to come and map out the courses and then sell us yardage books. So, we have a very professional and well-made yardage book.”
“That helps us a lot, because otherwise we would have to get there about two or three days before our player does to map the course out ourselves.”
“I speak to the other caddies who had been doing it in the Nineties and they used to walk around with a yard wheel and notebook, and it would take them about two days. Yet they would do it because they’d know the best place to put the ball and, more to the point, where to avoid.”
RSNG How has caddying evolved? SB “Well, on that point alone, the technology and pre-arrival preparation is on another level. These days, the caddying game has changed immeasurably and that’s why there are all kinds of different people carrying the bag now.”
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Photo by Cristina Anne Costello, Allan Nygren, Daniel Stenholm, Markus Spiske on Unsplash