As the highly anticipated 43rd playing of the Ryder Cup approaches, to be played over the visually stunning, wildly imaginative and (especially if there’s a fair amount of wind) testing Straits Course at Whistling Straits in Haven, WI, there may be no one more qualified to share insights and thoughts on the course and the upcoming competition than Mark the Caddie (full name withheld to protect the mystery quotient to his ever-growing Twitter fan base). Mark joins host Mitch Laurance and Co-producer Kris McEwen (Darin Bunch grinding away on his growing media-consulting empire) for a lively, fun and incredibly informative edition of Talking GolfGetaways.
Mark begins the conversation with a detailed account of his journey to Whistling Straits, explaining how someone who was a full-time (but burned-out) educator living in a different part of the US, with 4 kids, no job awaiting him and no caddying experience, made the transition to Haven and to landing one of the most coveted looping positions in golf at the Straits. He shares how he and his wife returned to her home state and a place that was literally one-and-a-half miles from the world-class Destination Kohler courses, how his friends told him there were some openings at the Straits, a job that paid well, and how he embarked on the intense training and learning that would prevail over the first year of what has become a three year, very fulfilling gig. Getting through the second year, with the Covid interruption in full swing, was tough, but according to Mark, his third year, with the run-up to the Ryder Cup, has been absolutely “crazy, crazy busy,” and a continuation of a life that he now loves.
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Kris points out that Mark is actually continuing his work as an educator in that he’s now educationing golfers on the subtleties and intricacies of a round at the Straits, and Mark then describes how he views a caddie’s function (other than the obvious golf-related tasks), calling it “really a people management job, one that requires working well with others and exercising patience and communicating with others.” Mitch dives more deeply into Mark’s first year and the learning curve he faced in a job where your clients expect a high level of proficiency. Mark’s detailed telling of what it was like, how he was aided by more experienced caddies in his journey, and how he dealt with his golfers is fascinating.
He then shares what he thinks is the most challenging part of a caddie’s job, the unrealistic expectations that golfers bring to a round, especially at one of the most difficult courses they’ll likely play, the Straits. Having to deal with that aspect of almost all the rounds he works, in which golfers expect to play well simply based on what Mark will be able to offer them in guiding them around, is what he calls “the No. 1 thing I dislike about the job.” Given that most of the players who visit Whisling Straits are successful, wealthy (paying a hefty price tag for a single round) and Type-A personalities, they’re used to being able to dictate results in a way that is obviously impossible to predict in golf, often blaming a lack of success on their caddie. This part of the conversation is truly interesting, as Mark describes in detail the red flags he hears at the beginning of a round (“I’m gonna go low today”), the lack of maturity he must deal with on a regular basis and managing expectations from the get-go (suggesting the proper tees from which to play). He shares stories about six-hour rounds, super-heavy bags, double loops that become less fun as frustration grows on the golfers’ part, and golfers that didn’t know they were required to tip him when the round was over. Mark talks about how he deals with these situations and what information a golfer can share with his or her caddie that will help make the experience better (i.e., what information you’d like most, what your tendencies might be, etc.) He also shares some stories about great loops he’s had and how much those inteactions contribute to his joy in being a caddie. This discussion will make you think about how you play, how you come across to others, how you can better enjoy what should be a gratifying, fun journey. It’s a truly insightful and thoughtful primer for all traveling golfers when playing a new course and using a caddie.
The discussion turns to the upcoming Ryder Cup and Mark’s thoughts on the course itself, what holes he thinks will be pivotal, and how the two sides may ultimately fare. He believes the biggest question will be the weather, most notably the wind, noting that for the best players in the world, if the wind is down, this Cup could be a veritable birdie-fest. He cites the holes that will be drivable if the wind is behind the players, and talks about a possible home-team advantage for the US side with some fairways being widened by Capt. Steve Stricker to allow for the long-hitting US players to go for drives they might otherwise avoid. He shares insights on the green complexes and the various pin location possibilities that will decide how challenging a particular hole will become. Mark then details the wild bunkers at the Straits course, noting that they could play a huge role in the outcome depending on the luck (or lack of it) for misguided shots, and interestingly predicts that the bunkers could prove the biggest problem for the long-hitting Americans should they find them. He talks about the fantastic nature of the Par 3’s at Straits and how they’ll be incredibly exciting throughout the competition, and the challenge of the closing 5 holes, which includes the Par 3 17th (the caddies favorite at Straits) and the 18th (“the absolute most difficult hole on the course”), all of them likely playing a part in a match-play format coming down to the wire.
The episode concludes with Mark talking briefly about the other Destination Kohler courses, the Irish at Whistling Straits (his personal favorite), the River Course at Blackwolf Run (the second most popular course after the Straits and possibly the hardest of the 4 destination courses), and Meadow Valley at Blackwolf Run (the easiest of the 4, but beautiful and a fantastic place to play).
This episode proves to be one of the most enjoyable, fun and interesting conversations of the Talking GolfGetaways run, thanks to the openness, intelligence and tremendous attitude of Mark the Caddie, whose energy lights up the airwaves.
— words by Mitch Laurance