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Another triumph in the bag for the irrepressible Reilly

Who’s Your Caddy?: My Misadventures Carrying the Bag

by Rick Reilly

RICK Reilly of Sports Illustrated magazine is the best sportswriter in America and he’s got the trophy cabinet to prove it.

He wins awards like Sir Alex Ferguson wins Premiership titles and no wonder; he’s a newshound, a ballpark poet and a comedian - the kind of sportswriter who makes other sportswriters turn greener than the hoops on a Celtic strip.

So when Reilly publishes a book it’s pretty much guaranteed that it will be good, which brings us to the first thing to be said about Reilly’s new book Who’s Your Caddy?: My Misadventures Carrying the Bag (published this week in Britain by Yellow Jersey Press); it’s better than good, it’s brilliant.

The second thing to be said about Reilly’s new book is that it’s built round a fabulous idea. Over the course of the last two years, Reilly - a golf fanatic who was cruelly denied a career as a pro by his inability to break 90 - has toured around America caddying for the greats (Jack Nicklaus), the near greats (David Duval - circa 2001) and the reprobates (Donald Trump; a New Age guru, John Daly, Deepak Chopra; a golf hustler called Dewey Tomko - take your pick).

All of which begs the question; why?

"I’ll never play golf like most of these guys. I’ll never play golf like those guys’ gardeners.

"But as a caddy, you can be closer to great athletes without actually being a great athlete than in any other sport. Only in golf do you get to be there at nut-check time, when it really matters," he says.

"You can’t be out there on a soccer field and saying to David Beckham ‘So what do you think you’re going to do with this free kick, Dave?’

"In golf, if you’re the caddy you can stand there and say to Jack Nicklaus, ‘So, what I think you should do here Jack...’."

What Jack thought was that Reilly should keep his advice to himself and just read out the yardages.

"I caddied for him at the opening of a golf course he’d built. On one hole I told him to watch out for the water at the front of the green and he turned and said to me ‘I designed this place - you think I don’t know about the water at the front of the green?’"

He also decided to write about caddying because he happens to love caddies.

And who can blame him. "I happen to think caddies deserve better," he says.

"When I cover a golf tournament for Sports Illustrated I’d be toast without the caddies. All the stuff you hear from the players, agents, swing coaches, mind gurus, flex trainers and masseurs don’t equal one cigarette-smoking caddy saying ‘My man is hookin’ like Divine Brown’."

Reilly, being Reilly (that is to say a man for whom no scheme is too outlandish), he thought he’d like to start his caddying career at a smallish tournament, away from the spotlight - like the Masters.

The benefit of being America’s most famous sportswriter is that when you want to get a bag at the most prestigious golf tournament on the calendar, you get one. He ended up carrying for the 1973 champion, Tommy Aaron. The story of their week together starts, in typical Reilly fashion, with a couple of snappy new-liners. Think Raymond Chandler with a sense of humour.

"The bag was simple and blue, with no sponsor on it, and heavier than Meatloaf."

They missed the cut, naturally.

"The thing I remember most of all about the guy was that he kept telling me to stop talking to his ball. ‘Get your mouth off my ball’ he’d say, as if that was going to make any difference. For Christ’s sake, the guy shot an 84 on the first day."

Along the way Reilly caddied for Casey Martin, the disabled American pro, a blind golfer called Bob Andrews, a comedian called Bob Newhart and Tom Lehman.

He almost got a gig with Hollywood actress Cameron Diaz and OJ Simpson. Only world No1 Tiger Woods refused to even consider his application.

"I asked Tiger a hundred different ways. I asked if I could substitute for his usual man Steve Williams in a tournament, or an exhibition, and he always said no. I asked him why not and he told me ‘Because I suck. I need good help’."

Of the stories about those players he did caddy for, the chapter which has created the biggest fuss in the States is one about John Daly, mainly because Daly talks so openly about the problems with drugs, alcohol and wives he’s faced throughout his career.

Like most of Reilly’s "victims", Daly emerges from the experience (in print at least) as a more rounded and sympathetic figure, although he may have made yet another error of judgment when he decided to nickname his temporary bagman "dumbshit".

Rick Reilly may be many things; "dumbshit" he is not.

by Lawrence Donegan


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