Caddying for your keep is a burden to carry

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 March, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 March, 1999, 12:00am

While caddies at a Bangkok golf club continue to fight for their right to maintain their livelihood, one of the highest-profile members of golf's caddying fraternity has been left without a bag to carry. Temporarily, at least.

Following weeks of speculation that all was not well, world number one Tiger Woods announced he would be parting ways with Mike 'Fluff' Cowan, his caddie of the past 30 months.

However, Cowan, the laidback, moustachioed, cigarette-puffing caddie who helped Woods to his momentous triumph in the 1997 US Masters, and also enjoyed two successes in tandem with Woods in Thailand, should not have too much difficulty landing a new boss.

The same cannot be said of the 500 caddies at the State Railway of Thailand golf course who stand to lose their jobs if proposed plans to replace the golfing facility with a public park are pushed through.

For nine months the caddies have defiantly refused to leave the grounds, despite city orders to do so. Declining offers to take up lower-paying 'city' salaries, the caddies have camped out at the course, setting up barricades to prevent non-golfers entering.

Late last year, when the city tried to break down their resistance using cranes and hundreds of police, the caddies resisted, hurling bottles, stones and golf balls at the intruders. The city cut the power to the clubhouse . . . but the caddies reconnected it.

According to Saturday's Bangkok Post, talks to settle the dispute are still deadlocked.

While the plight of the Bangkok caddies is a hot regional topic, Fluff's split with Woods has made international sporting headlines. The rumour mill has been working overtime. Did Fluff jump? Or was he pushed? In an effort to pour cold water on suggestions that the pair had fallen out, Woods released a statement refuting claims of an acrimonious break up.

'Fluff and I have discussed this over the past few weeks, and we both feel it is in our best interest to part ways. I appreciate the support which Fluff has provided and recognise the contributions Fluff has made to my success as a professional. But it is time to move on, and I feel confident we will remain friends,' said Woods.

To date, Cowan has maintained a stony silence on the case that has been dubbed 'Caddiegate'. What we do know, is that Woods has appointed Steve Williams to assume caddying duties.

The New Zealander is hardly a rookie at the job. Indeed, Williams set out on his path as a professional caddie before Woods was born. He has carried the bags of many of the world's best, including Peter Thomson, Greg Norman from 1980 to 1988 and American Ray Floyd for the past 12 years.

By his own admission, however, the prospect of forging a partnership with Woods will take him to another level. 'I haven't slept for the past three nights,' said Williams. 'It was great to work for Greg [Norman] but this is going to be even more thrilling.' The mere fact that the Woods-Cowan story has commanded so many column inches illustrates how top-level caddies have become characters in their own right in recent years.

Thanks to the television exposure they receive, many caddies are now as recognisable as the players whose bags they lug around the course. Fanny (Sunesson), Wobbly (Phil Morbey) and Fluff have all made the big-time.

Not only have they earned a handsome living from the performances of their bosses, but they are able to negotiate their own lucrative contracts with manufacturers whose logos they wear on their visors and apparel.

Further evidence that caddying is now considered an acceptable profession has come with the release of several acclaimed books - Four-iron in the Soul, by Lawrence Donegan, and How We Won The Ryder Cup, by Norman Dabell.

The irony is that while caddies are such an integral part of the professional game, at buggy-pathed golf courses around the world they are becoming a dying breed.