DP World Tour

A week as a caddie on the DP World Tour

By David Gillon, Senior Marketing Manager, NDUK

In July I fulfilled a dream by spending a week on the DP World Tour (previously the European Tour) caddying for a professional golfer on a scheduled tour event. This is the story of my week with NorDan athlete and pro-golfer Stuart Manley.

NorDan has a proud heritage in supporting sports men and women, and NorDan UK currently supports three golfers at differing levels of the game: professionals Stephen Gallacher and Stuart Manley, and amateur golfer Andrew Benson.

Whilst trying to find an event that both players were due to play at the same time, I realised they were both competing at the Hero Open at the Fairmont, St. Andrews from the 28th to the 31st July 2022.

I’ve played this course a few times, and whilst talking on the phone to Stuart Manley about his schedule, I casually dropped in that I could caddie for him at the tournament if he needed me.

It was a spur-of-the-moment comment, so you can imagine my shock when I get a call back from Stuart a few days later asking: “If you’re serious David, you’re on!”

As soon as I said yes and put the phone down, I started feel the nerves and excitement kicking-in. A quick call to the bosses – Alex Brown at NorDan and my wife Faye – and I was on!

The schedule for my week at the Fairmont looked like this:

Tuesday – 18 holes practise round
Wednesday – 9 holes practise round
Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday – Tournament days

I travelled to the Fairmont early morning on Tuesday 26th to meet Stuart at 7.30am for breakfast and to discuss some of the arrangements for the week.

On arriving at the Fairmont Hotel, I met Stuart for breakfast in the player’s lounge, and the reality kicked in of what the rest of my week would entail.

Professional after professional filtered into the player’s lounge, faces I had only seen on Sky Sports or followed on social media were now enjoying their scrambled eggs with me.

It was both surreal and oddly natural at the same time.

The natural part was definitely on their behalf as they went about their business thinking I was just a usual part of the background that they didn’t need to pay attention to.

After breakfast it was time to hit the range. Stuart explained the golf bag was mine to look after and keep organised.

As a golfer myself, I knew the basics of what he needed from me: keep the towel wet, and the clubs organised and clean.

We discussed what his expectations were from me. Having never seen him play before I obviously wasn’t aware of his game (carry distances, tendencies, temperament etc.)

We joked that I was a glorified bag carrier, and my job was to pick up, keep up and shut up!

On the range I got my first experience of Stuart and the other professionals up close: chip shots, full shots and of course full drivers.

I’ve played golf for over 25 years and play off a reasonably low handicap, but that meant nothing, I was quickly humbled, these guys play on a different planet.

The 18 holes practise round flew like a blur almost, and we had a lot of great chats about preparation, club selection, wind direction, green speeds, and general course condition. I knew it was only a practise round and Stuart was relaxed, but it felt like we had a good connection right from the off.

Same routine on Wednesday, but only a nine hole practise round that day.

Without saying too much, I studied Stuart’s routine. Before Tuesday he had never played the course, so the practise days were vital for reconnaissance work.

Run out areas, gradients, lay-up points, hazards and crucially, notes on the greens and greenside areas.

I wanted to ask a million questions, but I also wanted to try and be as professional as possible, after all, this is his job.

Although I understood the limitations of my role, I decided to make as many mental notes as possible, such as landing distances from the tee, the best lay-up areas, bunkers to avoid, slopes on the green and thinking ahead to potential pin positions for the rest of the week.

I did the mental preparation as if I was going to play the tournament myself, so if Stuart did ask for my advice or opinion, I’d be ready.

The Real Deal

The big day arrived, but the preparation was much like previous days; some food, a range session then ready to approach the first tee 10 mins before our start time.

On the range Stuart had a specific routine that lasted around 50 minutes. He wanted to finish the routine and walk straight to the first tee.

No stalling or hanging around, keeping momentum was invaluable.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, and although I’d grown comfortable and learned a lot about Stuart’s game from the practise rounds, this was the real deal.

I think Stuart sensed my nerves: “Just relax, and let’s have a good week” he said, as we walked to the first tee.

Every golfer gets first tee nerves, amateur or professional. Everyone just wants to knock the ball down the middle of the fairway. And that’s exactly what Stuart did. With one swing the nerves were settled.

A couple of early pars and Stuart had eased into a comfortable start, fairways and greens, straight forward stuff.

Unlike during the practise rounds, Stuart started to ask for my opinion on the break of the green: was it uphill, downhill? Breaking from the left or the right, and if so, how much?

I hadn’t offered many opinions previously, so it came as a small shock to now be passing on my thoughts on probably the most important part of the game.

Looking back, I was probably a bit vague with my first few answers as I didn’t want to get the read wrong – but I offered as much honest advice as I could.

On the 6th green I laid the bag down, cleaned the ball and passed it back to Stuart. I stood at the side as usual and watched on. He shouted me over: “Don’t wait for me to ask your advice on the greens. When you get to the green, read the putt and let me know what you think,” he said.

He actively wanted me involved in the decision making, and while he had to execute the putt, he wanted my opinion before making the final call himself.

From there on it felt to me like we had struck up a proper player and caddie relationship, and it gave me confidence that I was doing the right things, and that my mental notes were starting to pay-off.

Thursday flew in again. 18 holes, -2 under par and bogey free. I probably couldn’t have written a better script the day before if you had asked me.

I felt great: the first day has passed without a single glitch.

We’d been paired with Spanish golfer Carlos Pigem, and Sweden’s Nikals Lemke – both of whom, and their caddies, made me feel welcome and with no prejudice that I wasn’t a ‘real caddie’.

After the round I thanked them all for their company. While not saying much at times I was able to pick up some skills and traits that certainly helped me feel at ease on the course with them all.

Handling the Pressure

For anyone who knows professional golf, Friday is the day of the cut. Players who haven’t reached a certain score by the end of Friday, miss the cut and generally leave with no prize money.

After round one, Stuart was -2 under, and we discussed that the cut would probably be -5 or -6 under par, Stuart said: “When I get to -5 we’ll try and find out the cut mark.”

Stuart wasn’t concerned with getting to -5, he had faith that he would, and just wanted to get there as quickly as possible. No fear, no trepidation, no doubts. “Agreed, let’s get after it,” I replied.

-4 through the first 7 holes and he was now -6 for the tournament.

Perfect, great position to be in. Time to play some sensible golf, keep the risks to a minimum and we’d both be there for Saturday and Sunday.

The top 65 players determine the cut line score, and scoring was low and the cut moved to -6 under just as Stuart dropped a couple of shots.

The last 6 holes on Friday were the most nervous and intense experience I have encountered on a golf course – and I wasn’t even playing!

Through the last 3 holes (16 to 18), Stuart was -2 under and made the cut, finishing -7 under at the end of the weekend. This included holing an incredible 38-foot putt on the 18th, bringing ecstasy and relief at the same time.

After the round I sat still and silent in my car for 20mins, just absorbing what had happened and enjoying the moment. It’s fair to say I enjoyed a couple of beers Friday night.

With only 65 players making the weekend cut, the hotel, range and course were considerably quieter.

Even though Saturday was an important day to make a move to be in a good position for a positive finish on Sunday, it was very relaxed and comfortable. Maybe the nerves and tension from the previous day had calmed down, but things certainly felt calm on the course.

Two under for the round and Stuart was now sitting at -9 under for his tournament. A healthy position to be in heading into the final day with a chance to take home a nice pay-day for his week’s work.

Home Comforts

On the Friday night, my wife and two sons headed over to to St Andrews to spend the weekend, and on the Saturday after the round, we spent the afternoon at the beach, wandered around town, had some ice-cream and later some dinner.

This was exactly what I needed. Although so far, I had enjoyed every moment of the experience, it did feel like Groundhog Day at times - the same drive, same venue, similar food, the same faces and then the same course.

Having my family there gave me renewed energy for the final day. It also put in perspective how lonely and difficult life on the road must be for the professionals.

Lessons learned

Stuart finished the tournament with a score of -3 under on Sunday, taking his final score to -12 under, Tied for 22nd.

As a final flourish he holed a 30 foot putt on the last green in front of a small crowd, it was the perfect finish.

To be there, by his side is something I’ll remember clearly for a long time.

Being there first hand to witness the level of professionalism and commitment that Stuart has, has taught me some lessons I hope to incorporate into my own game and life, but also into my career.

Succeeding in sport and succeeding in business both require similar qualities. You must be honest with yourself to cover the necessary hours to master your craft and have the integrity to do the right thing, even when no-one is watching.

And finally, you must have the courage to carry out the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable tasks.

I’d like to thank Stuart for making me feel so welcome and the trust and respect that he showed me across the week. The experience is something I will always refer back to when faced with a challenge or pressure.

Thank you also to NorDan and Alex Brown for giving me the opportunity to seize the experience. I know there are many valuable lessons learned that I will be able to implement into my working life.

See Stuart’s finish and the final leader board.

NorDan and sport

NorDan has a long running history of supporting athletes, both amateur and professional. In my seven years with the company, NorDan has developed successful relationships with football teams, cross-country skiers, Olympic runners, handball teams, badminton players, motorsport drivers, para athletes and golfers.

NorDan is a third-generation family-owned business with a firm belief in the bond between success in sport and business.

Aug 15, 2022
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