Life on tour with North East-based caddies Chris Simmons, Michael Burrow and Sean Russell
Home club: Newcastle United Golf Club
Current bag: Matthew Jordan
Past bags: Peter Fowler, Graham Bannister, Joël Stalter, Brandon Stone, Julian Suri, Fabrizio Zanotti
Career highlights: Caddied for Brandon Stone in two European Tour wins and The Olympics in Brazil
Home club: Northumberland Golf Club
Current bag: Thomas Detry
Past bags: Garrick Porteous, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Scott Henry, Marcus Armitage, Haotong Li
Career highlights: Caddied for Haotong Li in multiple majors and for his win at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic
Home club: Gosforth Golf Club
Current bag: Jean-Baptiste Gonnet
Past bags: Diana Luna, Jean-Baptiste Gonnet, Alex Levy, Phillip Price, Ken Ferrie, Chris Paisley, Sam Brazel
Career highlights: Caddied in The Solheim Cup for Diana Luna, chairman of the European Tour Caddies Association
Caddying has come a long way from the days when bag carriers were simply required to show up, keep up and shut up. Today, caddies are an essential part of every top player’s team – more psychologist and statistician than bag carrier.
The North East is home to three of the European Tour’s best loopers – Sean Russell, Michael Burrow and Chris Simmons – and we caught up with them to find out what it’s really like to be inside the ropes with the world’s best golfers…
How did you get into caddying?
Chris: I used to caddy at Slaley Hall in the European Seniors Tour events. When I was 17, I carried the bag for Peter Fowler. I worked the next week for him at the Senior Open Championship at Carnoustie, he did OK, and I ended up doing some more events that season. I did the next season, but there wasn’t much money in it, so I came home and took a job in recruitment. A few months passed, I was bored, and Michael rang me up with a lead on working for Joël Stalter. I’ve been out on the tour ever since.
Sean: I did some work for the BBC at The Open and bumped into an Italian guy who caddied on the Ladies European Tour. I told him it was my dream job and he ended up getting me a job the next week. I took a week off to carry the bag for Diana Luna, we got on well and I ended up working the next week. She finished in the top-10 and offered me the job for 2008. She had a decent year, but I went back to work for BT that winter. I then took voluntary redundancy in 2009 to give caddying a proper go. Diana won twice in 2009, finished second twice, played in the Solheim Cup and set me up with Jean-Baptiste before she went off to have a baby.
Michael: Caddying is all about luck. I’d done the odd week carrying the bag at Slaley and I was between jobs in 2014 when Garrick Porteous asked me to caddy for him at European Tour Q School. We played with Mike Lorenzo-Vera, we got on and Mike asked me to go and work for him on the Challenge Tour. He finished ninth that year and got his European Tour card. I went on to work for Marcus Armitage and after he missed out on a card by one spot at Q School, I got a call to do a one-off tournament for Haotong in Hong Kong. It was a bit of a punt going halfway round the world for one week, but on the Sunday morning he asked me to work for him full-time. We won our third event together and spent a couple of seasons in the top-50 in the world.
What has been the highlight so far?
Sean: Caddying at the Solheim Cup in 2009 at Rich Harvest Farms in Illinois for Diana. I also caddied for Chris Paisley in Hong Kong when he managed to hole a 15ft putt for par to make the cut – with Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose looking on – which meant he would keep his European Tour card.
Chris: The Olympics in Rio was just phenomenal. While caddying for Brandon Stone, he finished sixth in the final event of the Challenge Tour season to get his European Tour card, which was a special moment.
Michael: Caddying in the majors and being on the bag for Haotong’s win in Dubai was brilliant, but there’s nothing better than playing the opening two rounds of The Masters with Tiger Woods in 2019. It’s the only time I’ve been nervous before a round. I shook his hand on Thursday morning and it was so surreal to hear him introduce himself.
What’s the best part of your job?
Michael: It’s the only sport where you can be there in the critical moment without having the talent. If England get to the World Cup final, I won’t be on the pitch, but when Haotong was winning in Dubai I was right there.
Chris: It’s a very nice lifestyle. We work hard, but we chase the sun around the world and get to come home for long stints.
Sean: We get to work in an environment we absolutely love, and we get half the year off!
What are some of your favourite memories off the golf course?
Chris: Caddying at The Olympics in Rio was amazing. There were so many amazing moments out there, like looking out the window in the athletes’ village and seeing Novak Djokovic practising with Boris Becker.
Sean: The special moments like walking into the opening ceremony of the Solheim Cup, and the little ones like when Monty – a guy you’ve watched on TV for years – starts chatting to you in the Mizuno truck.
Michael: In 2018, Haotong played with Phil Mickelson in Mexico and they hit it off. We then went to Augusta to practice and Haotong got me in for breakfast in the Trophy Room as his guest, which caddies can’t do during the tournament. Phil was there, saw us and said “Morning Michael” as if he was one of the lads on a Tuesday morning back at home. If there was ever a moment I wish my mates had seen, that’s the one.
What are the biggest challenges of being a caddy?
Chris: It depends who you work for. We have to adapt to suit players and be able to handle stressful situations.
Michael: The skill in caddying is adapting to who you work for. Haotong and Thomas are two totally different people, so I need to adapt how I do things to suit them.
Sean: You need to have a thick skin. Things can get stressful, both player and caddy make mistakes, and you need to be able to move on and have the confidence to make the next decision.
Have you had any strange requests from players?
Sean: I was once asked to get a quarter of a degree taken off a sand wedge. The guys on the tour truck weren’t very impressed.
Michael: I was once sent out with a player’s putter and a couple of balls to get the pace of the greens for them, I still don’t understand what that was going to do for his feel.
Chris: I’ve had a player ask how many holes were left while standing on the 18th green.
Are there any moments from your career which you’d like to forget?
Chris: While caddying for Julian Suri, we had a one-shot lead playing the last and hit it into the water. That was a $450,000 mistake.
Sean: How much time do we have? Caddies are very self-critical and we remember all our mistakes far better than any great decisions or moments.
Michael: Everything is amplified on a Sunday and it’s bigger again in a playoff. In Turkey, Haotong was in a playoff with Justin Rose and we three-putted the 18th twice – once to force the playoff and then to lose it.
Which events are the best to caddy at?
Chris: The Nedbank at Sun City in South Africa is phenomenal. We’re all on site so we walk to the course, the fireworks display during the tournament week is amazing – it’s just a brilliant event to be part of.
Sean: The WGC Mexico event is great. There’s only a small field, it’s all the best players in the world, there’s no cut and the atmosphere is very relaxed compared to a normal event.
Michael: The Masters, being at Augusta National is even better than everyone says it is.
Which events are the toughest to caddy at?
Sean: Malaysia is really tough as it’s 30 degrees, the humidity is high and the course is hilly.
Chris: Leopard Creek in South Africa – it can be up to 45 degrees.
Michael: The Nedbank in South Africa as the golf course sits between three mountains and the wind swirls between them.
What do caddies do that we don’t see on the TV?
Michael: Depending on who you’re working for, keeping statistics and analysing them can be a big part of the job. It helps me come up with strategies, but you need to be careful to understand your player and what they want to know.
Chris: Having stats and keeping on top of them is really important, whether your player is big into them or not. It’s our job to create a course strategy and ultimately the more knowledge you have, the better that plan will be.
Sean: The best players have supreme confidence; they truly believe they can win every time they tee it up. A big part of our job is instilling that confidence in them. It’s a really special skill.
How much have you learned while being out on tour?
Sean: The game has moved on so much since I started in 2010. The distance the professionals hit it is phenomenal and it’s not just the top guys, everyone has to bomb it now.
Michael: The amount of work the players put in is phenomenal. I spent a week sharing a house with Haotong and everyday he would work on his fitness and golf game from 8am to 9pm. That was the same every day and he’s been doing it for years.
Chris: The players work incredibly hard every day and now it’s every player on tour. You have to do it just to be able to compete. Caddying has changed a lot too, there are a lot of younger guys and you see a lot more caddies in the gym these days.
Why have the caddies launched the Tour Caddies brand?
Sean: As Chairman of the European Tour Caddies Association, I’m pushing for caddies to be sponsored as a group – a bag strap, cap or towel for example – and then use that money to better support caddies, giving them additional revenue streams and financial support. We want to be able to support caddies who get injured or those whose players get injured, and support all caddies on the tour. It will definitely move our profession in the right direction.
Michael: The caddies at the top are well looked after, but there will now be something there to support all the guys further down the pecking order, which can be really important.
Chris: We’re all self-employed and relationships between caddies and players can end abruptly. Hopefully this will give all the guys support financially, while also giving us the chance to work with partners to move the profession forward.
What’s your dream as a caddy?
Sean: I’m coming to the end of my caddying career, but I’d still love to caddy in an Open Championship.
Chris: I’d love to go back to The Olympics – it was so special the first time in Rio.
Michael: I’d love to caddy in a Ryder Cup. It would also be amazing to stand on the 18th with the The Masters champion.
How would you sum up what it’s like to be a caddy on the European Tour?
Sean: We’re very lucky. There are very few days when you feel like you’re at work.
Chris: We’re very fortunate to live the life so many people dream of. We work hard when we’re away, but we get a lot of down time and the lifestyle is amazing.
Michael: You don’t realise it when you’re at work or when things aren’t going well, but we’re so lucky to do what we do and be so close to some of the best sportspeople in the world.
For more from the European Tour caddies, check out www.thetourcaddies.com and follow @TheTourCaddies on social media.