Bob Harig: A year after caddies filed a lawsuit against the PGA Tour, the case was dismissed this week by a judge, who ruled that their suit, among other things, to get paid for wearing endorsements was invalid. Michael, as our resident looper, I know where you stand. But I always felt the caddies would have a tough fight here. What is your initial take?
Michael Collins: The decision didn't surprise me because, when the case was originally filed, this judge called the caddies case "weak." What it did do was shine a light on something the tour didn't necessarily want brought to the public's attention. I'm surprised that you, a former club caddie, were not in favor of the lawsuit from the beginning. Why?
BH: Well, first, I never walked in these guys' shoes. But I'm a champion of caddies in general and had hoped that perhaps there could have been some common ground found here. But I always thought it would be tough because the caddies are not employees of the tour. They are employed by the player.
Even though they are part of the show, their deal is with the player, and simply from a cold, business standpoint, the tour was not obligated to do anything for them. Now putting advertising on the bibs they wear? I understand wanting a piece of that. But I also understand that the caddies have a required wardrobe to abide by as a condition of working at a PGA Tour event.
MC: Where the tour uses the bait and switch is in the caddie regulations and the player handbook. The caddies are supposed to be subject to the same dress code and sponsorship deals as the players. The caddies used to be required to wear pants regardless of temperature. In the judge's dismissal he basically says, since it's always been that way ...
I've learned something during this, told to me by a tournament director who didn't want to be named: The bibs are part of the signage package for the tournaments. If the caddies refused to wear the bibs, the PGA Tour would be in breach of contract with the tournament. Now we know, in part, why the tour is fighting so hard for this.
BH: Still, if the caddies want to be compensated for wearing those bibs, where is the money supposed to come from? Remember that the individual tournaments are non-profit entities run separate from the tour. Should it come from their bottom line? If it comes from the tour's bottom line, does that mean they put less into the purse? And if that happens, aren't the players upset?
In essence, the caddies are indirectly suing their bosses -- the players. Adam Scott said as much last year and I get the sense that not a lot of players were on board with this.
MC: What the caddies were asking for was less than $4 million per year. Just for some perspective, commissioner Tim Finchem received a bonus check in 2008 for $4 million. Not his salary, his bonus check. And in 2014, he was paid $11 million. A big point the caddies tried to make was they didn't want the money to come from their players. They wanted it to come from their own sponsor deals. The point I've always made since this dispute began was that it makes everyone look bad.
An organization that brags of giving billions to charity has some people working for it that die as paupers. And the millionaire players look greedy by hoarding their billion-dollar retirement fund (according to some projections.) It should have never come to this.
BH: So you're saying the caddies wanted to negotiate their own deals for what went on the bib? If so, then that is indirectly taking money away from the players. The tour has already made a deal with the title sponsors of the events for that space. Now maybe they should not have done so, but they did. If they go back, don't the sponsors say "We're going to pay you less"? And then doesn't something have to give?
MC: Yes, the caddies wanted to put a patch the same size as what's on MLB jersey sleeves above the logo of the bibs. That was thrown out. The tournament director I spoke to said they happily put more signage around the course similar to what the European Tour events do in lieu of having caddies wear the tournament logos on the bibs completely. It was the tour that didn't like that option. The tour says they compensate caddies with a yearly stipend for health care. What they don't tell people is that stipend is taxed as income and won't cover two months for a married man with a child. I would know.
BH: I just go back to this: The tour does not employ the caddies. It is obviously a volatile line of work, with little job security, no benefits -- except the small stipend for health insurance -- and far more making very little than the names we hear about often working for the top-10 players. The tour and its tournaments could work harder at finding some solutions: room and rental car rates, food discounts beyond what they get at the course, and perhaps a cooperative health insurance plan that allows caddies to tap into the vast network of employees at the PGA Tour.
That's not giving them money or free health care, but it is helping them. And to me, that's a lot when you consider the overall premise: The tour does not employ the caddies, the players do. Now maybe the tour could institute some minimum guidelines that its players must adhere to do right by the caddies, but that would be a slippery slope, too.
MC: ESPN employs you, but I'm the one who tells you what to wear and where you're permitted to go. How exactly do you see that ending? Here's another example of the double talk making caddies so angry. If Rickie Fowler and Puma have Joe Skovron, Fowler's caddie, wear matching orange shorts and shoes, the tour comes in and says, "Joe, you have to change shorts and shoes." What right do they have?
The employer (Fowler) and sponsor (Puma) dressed the team and pay them both. In both the player and caddie handbooks it says the caddies are due the same sponsor deals as the players. Where the tour has prevailed is that the caddies as a group have always backed down.