I was taught to never ask anyone how much money they make. Yet people are endlessly fascinated with our bank accounts. Yes, it’s a question thrown our way often, and not just because of the Matt Kuchar-El Tucan incident in 2018. That certainly amplified the frequency. But I’ve worked as a professional caddie for more than a decade, and I’ve been fielding that question since my first bag.
Before we go further, there’s a reason you haven’t heard caddies comment on Kuchar. One, it was a replacement jock; the agreements are slightly different, even if you’re a regular out here. And two, temporary loops getting stiffed is a tradition older than Peter Alliss. The worst shaft came about 10 years ago. Small event, but big-name winner. Caddie payout was so bad, word was that a sponsor eventually dropped the player.
So, what do we make? The assumption is, we pull in 10 percent of a player’s earnings. Not quite. Back in the day, there used to be incentives for winning, runner-up, top 10, etc. Today, we make from 9 to 12 percent of a player’s victory. Anything less than a trophy, we’re taking home an average of 6 to 7 percent for a made cut… or nada on top of our weekly base if we’re sent packing early.
Most guys’ weekly rate is about $2,000, but the top bags get close to $4,000. (And by top bags, I mean the best player/caddie agreements, not from the best players. Important distinction.) I’m sure that sounds like a lot, and it can be. But the majority of us pay our own travel, lodging and other expenses. That’s 40 percent of the weekly rate, minimum.
I will say, it’s getting slightly better. Bigger purses, of course. More important, though, the young guys pay better than the old guard. We’ve heard all the jokes about the “team” dynamic in golf, but the 30-and-under crowd buys into that and treats (and rewards) us in that mentality. Not to torch the veterans; it’s just, on the whole, they think we’re more disposable.
The key is longevity. Inherent in that is success, which brings its river of green. The longer a guy is out here, the more likely he is to ride private… which, on occasion, means you get to fly private, and for free. If you really strike it up with a partner, he’ll let you crash with him at the rental. Those aren’t as good as a top-10 finish, but the appreciation goes a long way.
If you’re doing the maths, you’re thinking we have it made, and yeah, life isn’t bad. However, save for a dozen or so fellas, no one is wealthy. We’re middle class with zero job security – one bad tournament, one bad round from unemployment. It’s not easy on the blood pressure.
You want to know what really gets to us? The FedEx Cup.
I’m sure you’ve seen the numbers tossed around. Serious dough, right? One problem. Those are considered bonuses, not earnings. That’s a major difference. We get our regular pay for the Tour Championship, and more than half of the players do cut us a cheque for the extra FedEx money, anywhere from 3 to 10 percent. (Hey, T-29 at East Lake got $400,000. Three percent of that is still $12,000.) But there are other players, and it’s more than a handful, who consider the bonus all theirs.
“More than a handful of players consider the FedEx bonus money all theirs.”
Which burns like a $2 shot of tequila. You make it to the Tour Championship, it’s a good year. You likely won an event; your wallet shouldn’t be light. But it’s human nature, knowing some of your fellow caddies have taken home seven figures in FedEx money, to get royally pissed off if you’re frozen out. My players have been good to me, but my best friend was hosed two years ago. His relationship with his player hasn’t been the same since.
Although it could have been worse. One caddie thought he was in for, well, let’s just say life-changing money. He ended up receiving a little over $2,100… which, at the time, was his weekly salary, plus $300.
Needless to say, he didn’t pick up our bar tab that night.
– with Joel Beall