Caddie Confidential: Time to recalibrate at Royal Birkdale

Saturday's anonymous caddie had universal praise for Royal Birkdale as an Open venue, calling it one of the top 5 courses in the world. Oli Scarff/AFP Photo

SOUTHPORT, England -- In majors, just like in the NFL, defense wins championships. But every now and then, when conditions are right, you gotta let the offense loose. Consider a caddie an on-field head coach. Saturday, Royal Birkdale was defenseless at The Open, so what was it like for our anonymous caddie on a day made for offense?

Enjoy "Moving Day" Caddie Confidential!

Collins: If Friday was like playing in a hurricane, Saturday was like playing _____?
Caddie: Indoors. (laughs)
Collins: What's the easiest thing about that?
Caddie: Well the hardest, I'll give you that first.
Collins: OK.
Caddie: The hardest is adjusting to the fact that there is no wind, really. You had your eyes trained on seeing moves in the sky and now suddenly, you've gotta take dead aim. It's adjusting to that because you start aiming off centers to allow the ball to move. Whereas today there's no movement on it. That's the hard thing to adjust to. The thing about yesterday that made it pretty impressive was how many crosswinds there were. If you didn't have control of your ball, it was really hard. If you missed your target line with the wrong spin, you're in a lot of trouble.
Collins: So what was the easiest thing about the day?
Caddie: About today? I guess that downpour that happened mid-afternoon (Friday) softened everything. The "fire" of Thursday's fairways where you were having to make the carry and then hope not to run out [was gone]. That was no longer an issue. The fairway [was] wide suddenly and the balls were stopping in the fairways. So that was the easiest bit by far.

Collins: Anything about the course setup surprise you?
Caddie: No. I could see they'd put a few more [hole locations] up on top of the ridges to try and offer a bit of protection to the course from these world-class players. It was pretty much how I expected. They did push the tee forward at 5 so people could have a go at the green, which was really nice. A good touch ... and they were smart and used the up tee at [No.] 7 as well and put the pin really tight in the corner, but you're now with a wedge or a 9 [iron in your hand,] so it's encouraging you to take on the challenge. That's really cool.

Collins: You're on the course, and you see guys going so low. What's going through your mind on the course?
Caddie: For the caddie, I think it tells you that mentally, you want to be a little bit more aggressive because you can see people are getting away with it. In my case, we talk a strategy before going out anyway, but our strategy today was very different from Thursday. Because, like I said, fairways are playing so soft, so it widens them by double if not more. Thursday you're having to always catch the right line and land the ball in a five yard increment, and that would probably only just stay in play. Today (was) very different.
Collins: Is it hard to flip that switch? That goes from defense to offense.
Caddie: It is, but you know we're all seasoned out here, really. Anyone that's caddying in the Open Championship probably has done this for quite some time and has a class player.
Collins: But the pressure of a major is different.
Caddie: It is. But I think most people find by Saturday they're into the flow of it. They recognize the course well by then. You know the Thursday pressure is much more when you first come here and hope you have a good strategy. You're sitting there thinking, "I want to get through this day and not put ourselves straight out of the tournament" because you want to be here on the weekend. This is a massive tournament, and it's one of the most enjoyable tournaments to caddie in -- if the weather's not ridiculous.

Collins: Even when the weather's bad, this is a good tournament to caddie?
Caddie: Oh absolutely! What you don't want is wind and rain together. Yesterday we played and it was windy. But it wasn't nasty. It was enjoyable. It was great to use your mind and actually have the variation that sometimes we don't see in the U.S. This keeps you thinking all the time, and that's wonderful.
Collins: Interesting. So if it's just rain, cool. If it's just wind, cool. But if it's both, not cool!
Caddie: Yes. Because you don't get a chance to look up, or even take a breath. You don't find the opportunity to enjoy it. It's just grind it out, see what we can come in with and get dry. One of the others, on their own, you can look up and take in the views! You can say, "This is nice. And we need to give it 40 yards for the movement of the wind." And then when you pull it off, [it's] like, this is really cool, you know?
Collins: Because we normally don't get to play stuff like that.
Caddie: Yeah, exactly.

Collins: All week I've been talking to players and caddies about this golf course, and I can't get anyone to say even a word of negativity. Is there anything about this golf course that could be made better?
Caddie: I don't think so.
Collins: Geez.
Caddie: I've been fortunate enough to play here once, and I viewed it as top five in the world when I did. And I still do. I still do think this is one of the best golf courses you'll ever play. It's amazing. The green complexes are so cool. I think it's faultless.
Collins: Whoa. People watching on TV will wonder how that's possible.
Caddie: ... The problem with TV is how it flattens things out ... that's the one thing that they don't see is some of the undulations and the terrain. One of the great things about Royal Birkdale over some of the other venues of The Open roster, is that it changes direction probably more than [the others]. You know, it's not the out nine and return nine. It plays in every direction. You get cross lines. If you ever look from above or [see] the graphic of the golf course routing, it changes a lot. So you wouldn't see that on TV. You wouldn't realize that there are so many holes that are in [a] completely different direction, and they're played almost totally on their own. So you'll have a right to left on one shot and it'll be pumping downwind. And then the next one it'll be off the left, and then the next one it's into you. So that's the cool thing about this course. You have to take every one of the wind directions on.

Collins: What are you most looking forward to on Sunday?
Caddie: Well, I haven't checked the weather report yet.
Collins: Forty percent chance of rain with a little bit more wind than today.
Caddie: So not too bad. OK, well I'm looking forward to the challenge then! If that's the case ... Have the opportunity to come in under 70 is always great at the championship. And the Sunday walk is lovely -- the walk up 18 to say goodbye to a great course.
Collins: What do you least look forward to about a championship Sunday?
Caddie: Packing up and traveling again, I guess. We all get tired of the travel bit. It's the reality on Sunday. You're back in a car or a plane, heading off somewhere.

Collins: Have you seen anything this week outside the ropes that made you laugh?
Caddie: I've just seen The Beatles. I didn't realize they were all alive. (Laughing with a sarcastic smile on his face)
Collins: (Asking through a laugh) What do you mean by that?
Caddie: There was a group of guys, four people dressed up as the Beatles out there in the crowd.
Collins: Did they look like them?
Caddie: Yeah, they were perfect! All in their "uniforms." Saw a set of wizards out there as well. There were four or five wizards all with their hats and their big cloaks. Who knows the connection to that, but they were out there!