Despite wins, Els to switch caddies

A text arrived last week while Dan Quinn was keeping an eye on things at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where his friend and sometime employer Ernie Els was on his way to a second victory this year on the PGA Tour.

Quinn, a former NHL hockey player and avid golfer who has scored a part-time gig on Els' bag, read the message from Els more than once, letting it sink in.

It basically told him to carve out some time this week for an impromptu practice round at Augusta National.

"That sort of stood my hair up, to be honest," Quinn said.

It has raised a few eyebrows among golf observers, too.

Quinn, 44, has never caddied at the home of the Masters and will make his rookie tournament journey around the course next week when Els, 40, will be among the favorites to claim his fourth major championship.

Meanwhile, Ricci Roberts, 46, Els' caddie for most of the past 18 years -- and the man carrying the bag for both of his victories in Florida this year -- will be back home in England watching the proceedings on television.

If it seems strange, well, it is. But it is part of a plan that has been in place since before the beginning of the year.

Els decided to employ Quinn and Roberts this year, with each player getting 13 events, including two majors apiece. Quinn will also work the PGA Championship, and Roberts will handle the U.S. Open and the British Open.

"I know a lot of guys said I should take Ricci [to Augusta], but we have made a decision," Els said. "I've spoken to Ricci and Dan about it, and they are happy and we'll stick with it. I don't think anybody can tell me anything more about Augusta than I already know. I've had local caddies take me through there. I've had everybody take me through there. So I know exactly where everything goes."

It is an interesting arrangement not often used. Sergio Garcia has had caddies share the job, but he split up their duties between Europe and the PGA Tour.

Quinn, who played in the NHL for 14 years and met Els a few years ago in Jupiter, Fla., where both live, worked events in Singapore and China last year on sort of a trial basis. That's when Els decided to put his plan into play.

It was Quinn who was on the bag for the early part of the year, starting in Hawaii and then at Torrey Pines, Riviera, the Match Play and Honda.

"I think it's worked out well," Quinn said. "He's put in a lot of good work. Ricci and I are getting along great, which is even better. I don't think it's going to be any form of distraction. If anything, it'll be good for all three of us. We tried to put together the schedule that was best for everybody travelwise. We have two majors each. I think it will go well."

The caddies have agreed to share their earnings, which takes the sting out of not working when Els is at his best.

For example, Els earned a total of $2,480,000 for his victories at the WGC-CA Championship at Doral and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

If Els pays the standard 10 percent for a victory, that's $248,000 -- or $124,000 for Quinn, who was at home watching.

But it works both ways. Roberts was getting half of Quinn's share for the early-season events he did not work.

"Dan and Ernie get on well," said Els' manager, Chubby Chandler. "Dan being an athlete is very positive. It's a new perspective. And Ricci comes back and is fresher. It has worked out marvelously."

Before his two-tournament winning streak, Roberts had not seen Els since November at the Dubai World Championship on the European Tour. He showed up in Florida, and Els immediately won twice -- his first victories in two years.

But Roberts is the first to point out that a player-caddie relationship can be rocky.

"Been with him for 18 years," Roberts said. "Divorced twice."

Or, as one of Els' confidants put it, "This is their third marriage. The first ended in divorce, the second in trial separation."

That is why, although perhaps not completely sold on the arrangement, Roberts does understand it.

"We get on well together," Roberts said. "He understands me, I understand him, and we'll give it a try. I don't know how it will work out, but it's only been a couple of months. Sometimes you can be with each other all the time and it gets a little stale. This way maybe keeps it a little bit fresher."

Roberts has caddied for 57 of Els' victories, including all three major championship wins.

He is working this week's Shell Houston Open, then will be on the bag for a tournament in Korea and the Players Championship.

Next week, he defers to a former pro hockey player. Els and Quinn had to postpone their Augusta scouting mission until Tuesday because the Bay Hill tournament took an extra day to complete. They have worked together in seven events, but nothing compares to the Masters, where Els has six top-10 finishes but no victories.

"The second tournament we did was in China, a World Golf Championship event," Quinn said. "That was a thrill just to be inside the ropes. It's not to say the Masters is the same. But I'm glad I at least have one of those under my belt.

"I will just try to do what we've done and focus and be ready to work. Obviously, I have a guy who is playing very well, and I'm just trying to get him into that same frame of mind for winning."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.