If you cannot beat them or join them on tour, then the next best thing is to caddie for them. That is the opinion of the bagmen vicariously living out their dreams through their employers here at the Masters.
Of course, there is a rich history of great players acting as caddies, with Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris as the most obvious and most cherished examples. But they were immeasurably better golfers than the aristocrats for whom they lugged bags. This is the other way around.
It was not always this way in the professional game. Until recently, the caddies, who have always been a disparate bunch, were usually no better than good players in their own right and had fallen into the profession, mainly due to a golf club in their localities. They were enticed by the freedom.
“It certainly wasn’t the money,” Chubby Chandler, the agent and former European Tour pro, said. “People think the stories about caddies sleeping in bushes or by tents by the first tee are apocryphal. But I remember that happening, especially the tents. Of course, there were some who were more professional than others and took it seriously.
“But now, to be out here, they have to be ultra professional and reliable. And we are seeing more and more caddies coming through who once had their own ambitions of being pros. I suppose the phenomenon started about a decade or so ago and, no doubt, the increased money on offer was a big factor as you can make a very nice living if you pick up a bag of one of the top guys. But some wanted to be here on the big stages as players. This is as close as you could hope to get.”
Jonathan Smart is the best example. Danny Willett’s caddie was Yorkshire Boys champion and actually turned pro and attempted to make his living from playing. He was below the standard, but still wanted to be involved. So he switched to caddying and, six years later, there he was at his old friend’s side when he overhauled Jordan Spieth. Smart’s cut of the winning cheque – roughly £125,000 – was, of course, very welcome, but there was something more precious.
“I’d fantasised about going up the 18th of the Masters with a three-shot lead,” Smart said. “And although it wasn’t me playing the shots, it felt as good as I’d imagined.”
Ian Finnis would agree. A childhood friend of Tommy Fleetwood, the pair would talk about how they would one day crack the big time. Well, at last, Fleetwood has arrived for his Masters debut, and Finnis is with him. It is not exactly how he envisaged it, but when Fleetwood qualified with his second place at last month’s WGC Mexico Championship, Finnis’s celebration was more exuberant than that of his player. “I was a bit pumped up, yes,” he said. “ Tommy was playing with Tyrrell [Hatton], and his caddie is Chris Rice, who has been one of my best friends for 20-odd years. He was already assured of going to the Masters with Tyrrell and it meant so much that Tommy and I would be joining them.
“Chris and I have known Tommy since he was young lad at the golf club. To be honest the Masters is my lifetime dream and now I am sort of living it through Tommy. The second best thing to playing in it is caddying in it.”
Fleetwood credits Finnis with helping him turn his game around since they linked up last summer. “Some people thought he was making a mistake and needed an experienced caddie,” Finnis said. “But I know his game better than he does at times. I think it’s worked out OK for both of us.”