Caddie’s Open diary
SUNDAY, JULY 22
7:00 – Get up, grab a bite to eat and make my way down to the golf course.
9:00 – I arrive at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s and head to the physio unit, which is actually a truck that travels from event to event. My background is in sports science and when I’m not caddieing for the likes of Grant, I run a golf fitness service out of Serengeti in Johannesburg. So, I was particularly keen to spend some time seeing how the guys at the top do it. I had some time with the director of the European Tour’s physio unit and that was incredibly useful. I ended up spending a couple of hours there, watching some of the players come through and go through their warm-up routines. Whilst I was there, I saw the likes of Zach Johnson, Ross Fisher and Graeme McDowell all come through and again, it was interesting to see the different routines.
12:00 – I meet Grant at the course, as he comes down to say his goodbyes. I thank him for a fantastic experience and wish him well. He has to head back to South Africa early, as there’s a Sunshine Tour event at De Zalze in Stellenbosch this week that he has to be back for.
13:00 – I make my way to the range and again watch the guys warm up. Even at that stage, Ernie Els looked like he was hitting the ball beautifully, while Tiger Woods didn’t seem to have the rhythm he had in the days before. Adam Scott certainly looked in good shape on the range.
14:00 – I make my way down to the putting green to watch the guys come through there, before heading to the first tee. Interestingly, I observed Adam looking quite nervous and he was even missing some really short putts, even though it was just the putting green. His demeanour wasn’t great at that stage. Conversely, Graeme McDowell looked really confident and had his mental coach, Bob Rotella with him on the putting green, while Adam didn’t have anyone like that.
15:00 – I make my way onto the golf course and follow Tiger for a few holes, but the crowd is so big, you really can’t see anything. I decide to head for the hospitality tent where the caddies, the players and their families were. I watch most of the afternoon’s action on the TV, before grabbing a good spot near the 18th green, as the final groups come through. I was actually almost directly behind Ernie when he rolled in what proved to be the winning putt on the 18th, and from the moment it left his putter, it didn’t look like missing. What I found interesting was the local support for Ernie. The British golf fans know their golf and they applaud all their past champions, but Ernie seemed to get a different kind of cheer. They really do love him in this part of the world. Of course, when the putt went in, the place erupted. At that time, it didn’t seem like he’d done enough, but obviously he had, with Adam dropping those shots coming in.
19:00 – I hang around after the presentation ceremony and go to speak to Ricci Roberts, Ernie’s caddie, next to the putting green.Thereafter, Ernie comes into the clubhouse to thank the members and I’m there to see him wax lyrical about how much he loves Royal Lytham and St Annes, where he has a great record. He tells them that it was his dream to win another major and that a lot of people had written him off, but that he was very glad to win this time.
19:30 – I manage to get the chance to shake Ernie’s hand and congratulate him at the clubhouse, which was quite special. After that he was headed for his hotel and a waiting helicopter that was due to ferry him back to Wentworth, where he was going to celebrate with his family. I’m told that Johann Rupert and Sunshine Tour commissioner Selwyn Nathan were going to drive from London to meet him there, to congratulate him and join in the celebrations.
21:00 – I get back to the Chadwick Inn and reflect on a truly special day and a week to remember. My only regret is forgetting to get a pic with the Claret Jug! Not my smartest move. But, that doesn’t take away from what has been a great week at the 141st Open Championship.
SATURDAY, JULY 21
8:30 – Get up and grab breakfast at the hotel. My plan is to head to the course and check out some of the behind-the-scenes stuff, after spending a week concentrating on caddieing for Grant. After he missed the cut, it’s my chance to see another side of the Open Championship.
10:00 – Arrive at Royal Lytham and St Annes. I first head to the physio unit, but don’t spend as long as I want to, with plans to go back there on Sunday.
10:30 – Decide to head to the driving range and watch some of the guys warm up. Got to stand quite close to Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods on one corner of the range. They were all very impressive, as they moved through their warm-up routines. It was interesting to see how different the various routines are. Ernie works through his bag, either by odd or even numbers, starting with his wedges, all the way through to his driver. Tiger’s routine is completely different, as he starts with hitting some very short chips and moves on to full wedge shots and then seven and 8-irons. Thereafter, he hits his 4-iron and then that 2-iron ‘stinger’ of his, which he’s been hitting a lot of during this championship. I think he’s hit driver just twice all week, on the seventh hole. I think Tiger hit about 20 or 30 2-iron shots (draws and fades) and that’s clearly a big part of his links golf armoury. The key for him is finding the fairway off the tee. Tom Lehman, who won here in 1996, said that that was key to winning at Lytham, after having picked up that tip in the pro shop before the tournament. What will be interesting to see is, if the wind picks up on Sunday, if Tiger can get away with hitting few drivers.
11:30 – Have a good chat with Jo LaCava, Tiger’s caddie, who I had actually met during the week. It was great chatting to him on the range, whilst he was waiting for Tiger to arrive. Great insight into what it’s like to caddie for the biggest name in world golf.
12:00 – I go out onto the golf course, but instead of watching, I decide to spend time in the tented village, checking out the merchandising. There’s absolutely everything, from ball markers to hats, to t-shirts, and they all have the Open Championship logo on them. What they also had was boxes of the tees the players get, as well as the yardage book that I was given for free. Here it was going for 40 pounds – around R500! Among the other things on offer – a guy making hickory-shafted clubs (see pic right), which I thought was quite interesting.
14:00 – I poke my head into the media centre (see pic below) and am blown away by how big it is and just how many print journalists are there. They are seated at desks in rows, in front of a massive screen, which has live scoring changing all the time. When I was in there, Tiger had just finished his round and loads of journalists were typing away furiously. That was a real eye-opener.
15:00 – I head onto the course to watch some golf, but it’s not that successful on my part, as the crowd is so thick. I watch on the 15th and 16th holes, but in some places, the crowd is about 10 or 15-deep. I do see Ernie, Tiger and a bit of Graeme McDowell, but otherwise, not much quality golf viewing.
17:00 – I manage to find the point where Seve Ballesteros hit that famous tee-shot of his many years ago, into the car park on the 16th hole. It’s quite a famous shot and I now see that the chip shot he hit from there was quite incredible.
19:00 – I head back to the hotel and Grant and I plan to head out into the village for a few beers. Sunday is going to be an interesting day at the 141st Open Championship.
FRIDAY, JULY 20
8:30 – Try to sleep in late, due to our 16:00 second-round tee time, but it’s just not possible. 8:30 is late enough, but it would have been nice to stretch that out a bit. We’ve got a whole day until we tee off!
9:00 - Grab some breakfast at the hotel and do it rather leisurely, as there really is no rush. Very basically, you’ve got to try and delay everything and delay your normal routine, so that when the time comes, you can actually follow that normal routine, if that makes any sense?
10:00 – We stay at the hotel and decide to watch the golf on the TV, which is actually quite interesting, as you see the golf course from a completely different perspective and get some insight into some of the pins etc. That’s very different from seeing the course ‘cold’.
12:00 – We call for the courtesy car and end up at the course at around 13:00. Then it’s the same routine as yesterday, with Grant heading off to the physio unit for a stretch and a rub-down.
14:00 – We grab a bite to eat, before heading off to the range to hit some balls and get into a rhythm. From the start, Grant didn’t seem as comfortable as he was on day one, and it showed later, when the round got under way.
16:00 – We tee off, knowing that after yesterday’s 77, Grant probably has to shoot at least four under par, if not five, if he is to make the cut. He starts off solidly, making par at the first. But he then blocks his drive straight right on the par-five second and that’s a big blow, as he goes out of bounds. He ends up making a good six, but that’s the shot that has been bothering him and it does nothing for his state of mind.
16:30–20:00 – After that, Grant struggles to find a rhythm, but that’s golf and it was just a very difficult day out there for him. For me, it was great to be out there and be part of the Open Championship – a real dream come true. The crowds were fantastic, offering great encouragement, even though we were in the penultimate group. One thing I did enjoy was the fact that you get your own bunker raker following you around, so I didn’t have to rake the bunkers! Top draw!
Up ahead we could hear the roars of the crowd and when we were on the 13th tee, there was a massive roar from the 18th and I turned to Grant and bet him that that was Tiger. So it proved, with Tiger holing his bunker shot at the last. There was also a huge roar for Tom Watson, when he birdied the 18th to make the cut right on the number. What a legend! Must have been that practice round he had with Grant and me….
It was a good day – it wasn’t fun, but it was amazing just to be taking part in the Open Championship. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. Grant feels the same way, but he’s obviously disappointed to be closing with a 79. He’s more disappointed for all the people who came out to support him, but that’s the game, I guess. He’s had a great following over here, from his mates from Cape Town to the people at the hotel, to all his followers on social media.
21:30 – It’s back to the hotel for a drink with the supporters mentioned above. Doug and I will probably chat to Grant later, but now is not the time. It is important, though, that he takes some positives out of this experience. We’ll both be around for the next few days and I think we’ll be at the course tomorrow to watch. I’m not sure what Grant’s plans are, but I know that he and Richard Sterne are big mates, and with Richard making the cut, I’m sure we’ll go along to support him.
I’ll have more Open Championship observations for you in the next 24 hours and they’ll be from a different perspective tomorrow.
THURSDAY, 19 JULY
7:00 – We’re up and ready for a big day. A good hearty breakfast at the hotel and then it’s off to the course via the courtesy car.
9:00 – Arrive at Royal Lytham & St Annes and are blown away by the crowds of golf fans arriving to watch day one of the Open Championship. Once we’re there, Grant heads off to the physio unit for a bit of a stretch and to get himself ready to go. I strike up a conversation with George Coetzee’s caddie – a guy called Alan Burns – and we shoot the breeze about the day ahead and how important it is to keep our players “in the moment”, as I talked about yesterday. Clearly it’s a bit of a recurrent theme, but even more important on a difficult course such as this.
9:30 – Grant and I head off to the range, where Grant works a bit with coach Doug Wood on some of the shots he will need today. Most importantly, though, Grant works on getting into a rhythm and proceeds to hit the ball beautifully. The big difference though, with the vibe, is that you can feel all around you that it’s all serious and that it’s game time. The fun of the practice days has gone.
10:15 – We head to the chipping green so that Grant can get a bit of a feel for it and also hit a few putts, to round things off, in terms of preparation. Thereafter, we’re ready to go.
10:59 – We’re on the first tee with Warren Bennett and Aaron Townsend, and legendary Open Championship starter, Ivor Robson is calling out Grant’s name and announcing him to the watching public. Ivor is a real institution and he apparently stands there all day, from the moment he’s on the tee to announce the first group at around 06:50, until the last group goes out around 16:00. He doesn’t move. Hearing Grant’s name being read out was a really special moment. He proceeds to hit his tee shot on the green of the first hole, which is a par-3, and, as we walk off, I tell him that he can breathe out now, and he does….
11:30 – Grant hits it just short of the second green for two and asks me if he should chip or putt. I tell him to go with the putter, he agrees, and promptly knocks it in for birdie, from quite a distance. That was also pretty special and I got the sense that Grant settled after that, and actually played some nice golf, despite the score he ended with.
11:30-15:30 – After a bogey at 6, Grant misses a makeable birdie putt on 7, and drops one shot at the 8th and two at the 9th, to be out in 37, three over par. I almost get the sense that he relaxes a bit and doesn’t commit to a couple of shots, whilst also not getting much luck with some of his bounces. In a heartbeat, he’s gone from level par to three over. Three pars start the back nine, but a bogey follows on 13 and then we make a bad club selection on 15th, and Grant ends up in some nasty long grass. He has to take a drop and collects a double-bogey. That seems to take the wind out of his sails and another drop follows at 16, before he nearly birdies the 18th, but for a putt left short. The end result is a 77 and that’s probably the worst score he could have shot today. It’s not the start we want, but we both agree that Grant didn’t play that badly, but for a couple of bad swings. Essentially, three swings cost him five shots, but that’s links golf.
16:00 – We grab a bite to eat with Doug and discuss the round. Grant doesn’t feel he played that badly and I agree with him. But, this is the majors and there are no easy holes out there. You need to be on your game all the time.
16:45 – Grant catches up with his mates from Cape Town and the down time is a good thing for him. After that, we head to the range and work on a couple of shots. Grant is hitting the ball well, and, with the way he’s putting, I don’t see why he can’t go out there and shoot four-under tomorrow. He may need to do that to make the cut, looking at the scores at the top of the leaderboard.
17:30 – We head back to the hotel and reflect on a tough day. But, it’s a wonderful thing being part of an Open Championship and I remind Grant that the most important thing is to enjoy himself and make the most of it. Tomorrow is another day.
WEDNESDAY, 18 JULY
6:30 – We decide to get an early start and get to the golf course promptly, as this is our final day of preparation before the start of the tournament. When we arrive at the course, we are greeted by some rather strong wind and rain.
9:00 – After waiting for the weather to clear, we head to the range to work on some key tee shots, which Grant has been struggling with. Specifically, the tee shots on the 8th, 10th and 14th. We then went out onto the course and put that work into action on those specific holes, hitting two or three tee shots on each, to reproduce the shot and get some repetition going. The 10th is a tough par-four – it plays into the wind, or with a cross-wind, and you’ve got to hit a tee shot that is almost blind, over two mounds, depending on what the wind is doing.
11:30 – Back on the range, I manage to grab a picture of Grant with Steve Stricker, Stewart Cink, Davis Love, Keegan Bradley and Ben Curtis. Quite funny, as it looked like a couple of the Americans were trying to cosy up to Love, the Ryder Cup captain. Maybe they were trying to get a word in for themselves? Stricker was very impressive – not only is he a really nice guy, but watching him hit balls was also quite a sight. We hooked up with him on the course and Grant had a great chat to him about some of the strategy. Really, one of the nicer guys you’ll meet out here.
11:30 – Again, I’m amazed at just how many people are out on the golf course. Weather predictions were for big storms in the afternoon, but it actually cleared up a bit and the skies were clear later on. So, so much for that weather man. Think I may need to change channels! But the wind is strong, to the extent that officials have to push the players back on the 300 metre driving range, because some of the guys, like Dustin Johnson, are bombing balls over the end of it, due to that strong gale behind them.
12:30 – We grab some lunch and I end up sitting with Charl Schwartzel’s caddie, Greg Hearmon. We reflect on our practice round and he talks about keeping his guy ‘in the moment’ and just how important that is for the player. He’s going to hit some bad shots and Hearmon reminds me that Grant shouldn’t beat himself up about it. It’s all about playing the golf course and hitting the shots you need to hit, and not worry about too much else. Charl said much the same to Grant during that practice round.
14:00 – After lunch we head to the putting and chipping greens, to practice the short game and get it sharp for the opening round. Grant also hit some bunker shots and just made sure he was on top of everything. A nice crowd formed and there was actually quite a crowd, about four or five deep, just watching the guys chip and putt. Grant was joined by Trevor Immelman, Jbe Kruger, Pablo Larrazabal and Sergio Garcia, and there was always a big cheer from the crowd, when one of them holed a chip or bunker shot. Quite a nice vibe out there.
15:30 – We head back out onto the range to iron out a few kinks and get Grant feeling comfortable with the important clubs – the driver and the 3-wood. That’s because accurate driving is just so important on this course and will ultimately be the difference this week. You just can’t afford to stray from the fairway.
16:30 – Before we head back to the hotel, I don my all-black outfit and re-enact some golfing history. Back in 1974, Gary Player played a famous left-handed chip shot from next to the clubhouse wall on the 18th, on his way to the winning the Claret Jug that year.
The story goes that Player asked the members watching from above to quieten down, because he needed to play the shot. As you can see, I’m in my all-black Gary Player outfit; although I’m not sure my left-handed chip was quite as good as Gary’s! Anyway, I got a nice cheer from the fans who were watching.
17:30 – We head back to the Chadwick Inn and Grant hooks up with some mates who have made the trip from Cape Town to support him. We go off to dinner and I’m happy that he’s got some old friends to distract him, as the last thing I want him thinking about tonight is golf. It’s an early night, as we make sure we’re well rested for the opening round of 141st Open Championship.
TUESDAY, 17 JULY
7:00 – Wake to more of the same, in terms of weather. It’s raining once again and it goes on to rain, pretty much, for the entire day. Grant and I know we’ll just have to adjust, if we are going to be successful this week.
8:30 – Get to the course and prepare for the day ahead. Grant does an interview with the international TV show, Golfing World, which is some nice exposure for him, as it goes out to a number of countries.
8:45 – I tell Grant to go and put his name down for a practice round, as we were looking to play around midday. He comes back and says, “sorry, there were no times available at 12, but there is a slot at 11, playing with Tom Watson. What do you think?” What do I think??? We get the opportunity to play a practice round, at the Open Championship, with arguably the greatest ever links golfer, and a man who has won the Claret Jug five times. I can’t believe Grant’s luck and mine, as Tom Watson is a hero of mine. So, we’re down to play with Tom and PGA Tour player, Mark Wilson. I try to contain my excitement…
9:00 – After that, it’s off to the driving range, where we spend nearly two hours, as Grant works on some specific things with coach, Doug Wood. Specifically, he worked on shaping his driver left and right, as that is what he will have to do on this golf course, due to the set-up and prevailing wind. By chance, Tom was hitting balls next to us and Tiger Woods was just two bays down, once again. It’s funny, some time into Grant’s routine, I just got this feeling that something was happening behind me – a kind of buzz of excitement. I turned around and sure enough, there he was, taking his glove out of his bag and starting his routine. Tiger really does carry an aura about him and he seems to have such an effect on everyone around him – both players and fans. It was a real privilege to watch him hit balls, as the sound of the ball off the club is almost like no-one else. He really does “pure” it and it looks like he’s really hitting the ball well at the moment. It was also really interesting to watch the interaction between Tiger and Tom – there’s clearly a lot of mutual respect between the two.
10:45 – We head off to get Grant a rain suit, as it’s clear that the rain is not going to stop today.
11:00 – We’re on the tee with Tom and Mark and proceed to spend a really special couple of hours in the company of a legend. What was incredible, as well, was the number of people who turned out to watch a practice round, in the most awful weather! The UK fans really are golf fanatics and they really respect Tom for obvious reasons, never mind the fact he’s won their tournament five times. They applauded us on to every tee and green. It was incredible. I told Grant to really make the most of his time with Tom, and the great man was really forthcoming with information and advice. It was quite funny – on about the fifth hole, I asked Grant if he’d quizzed Tom on the secret to links golf. He replied that he had, but that he couldn’t remember what Tom had said, because he was just in awe of the fact that he was speaking to Tom Watson!! Fortunately, Grant went back and asked him. I also spent some time chatting with Tom and I really enjoyed his stories about playing with Jack Nicklaus in the 1970s and 80s. For a golf nut like myself, it was a couple of hours to remember. It was also good for Grant, who said afterwards that he felt more comfortable playing in front of big crowds.
16:00 – We get something to eat and Grant heads to the physio unit for some stretching and a rub-down. He also needed a little bit of treatment on a stiff neck, which has been bothering him.
17:30 – We head back to the hotel in St Annes.
19:00 – A light jog, before heading back to the hotel, grabbing a snack and hitting the sack. One more day of prep awaits, before the real thing kicks off on Thursday.
MONDAY, 16 JULY
7:00 – Wake to typical British weather. It’s summer, but it’s raining – in fact, it’s driving rain with a little breeze.
9:00 – Get to the course and find out that Grant has been drawn with Australian Aaron Townsend and Englishman Warren Bennett, for the first two rounds. Both fairly unknown players.We’re off at 10:59am on Thursday and we like that – it’s a good time. It also means we’ll be off late on Friday, which we like, because it means we’ll know exactly what we need to do to make the cut. Also, the weather seems to improve in the late afternoon.
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9:30 – Grant receives his commemorative bag from sponsors, TaylorMade, and that’s the bag I’ll be carrying this week. It’s quite special and a nice memento for Grant.
10:00 – Thereafter, it’s time spent with the TaylorMade guys, working with them on the clubs that Grant needs this week. He had a 2-iron made up and a stronger rescue club, so that he’s able to flight the ball down. During this time I had a nice chat with Trevor Immelman and David Leadbetter, the legendary golf coach. David was very interested in all the South African guys and wished us well.
11:00 – More time spent on the range, with Grant trying out a few things and hitting different types of shots. Spent our time on the range with Trevor and Richard Sterne, whilst Germany’s Marcel Siem – who won the French Open a week ago – was on the other side of us.
13:00 – I walked the course backwards, to work on my yardages and to get a sense of where Grant can ‘miss’ on certain holes. I find that works well for me. I also walked a few holes with Ernie Els, and he looked like he was hitting the ball well. He’s also got a good record here, having finished joint-second in 1996 and joint-third in 2001. Also, with the greens being flat here, I think he stands a good chance, as you don’t necessarily have to have a hot putter this week.
16:00 – Played 18 holes with Charl Schwartzel and Richard Sterne. Great spending time with Charl and we chatted plenty about his Masters victory last year, the last few holes and just what it was all like – in particular, what it was like walking up the 18th hole. Richard is playing really well and he’s one of my dark horses to do well this week.
21:00 – A late dinner in the hotel’s dinner hall, and off to bed. Another important day of preparation ahead.
SUNDAY, 15 JULY
9:00 – My first glimpse of Royal Lytham and St Anne’s and it’s quite a sight to behold. I’m also very impressed with how professional every aspect of the tournament is. There are martials and security everywhere, particularly around Tiger Woods, who has his own Nike-clad bodyguards.
13:00 – Speaking of Nike, I spend some time in the Nike tour van, checking out their operation and chatting to Paul Casey and his coach, Peter Kostis, who some fans will know from his commentating on PGA Tour events. It was interesting getting their thoughts on the golf course and they seemed to agree with what everyone is saying – it’s damn brutal! That’s due to the incredibly long rough and the length of the course, which is playing even longer, because of all the rain they’ve had. The only good thing is that you can stop the ball short of the bunkers – it doesn’t run forever. But, with 206 bunkers round this course, you’re going to find yourself in some. It really is a shot-maker's golf course and the greens are pretty flat. But, you need to be able to hit it straight and distance control is key.
15:00 – Spend a lot of time on the driving range, which had a real buzz about it, with the who’s who of the golf world. Tiger and Hunter Mahan were just a few spots away from us, working with their coach, Sean Foley. They looked pretty relaxed and seemed to spend more time talking about NFL football, Major League Baseball and college sports, than discussing serious golf issues!
19:00 – Back to the hotel for some time in the sauna and steam room, before a good stretch. That’s followed by a quick dinner and another early night.
SATURDAY, 14 JULY
18:00 – Arrive in St Anne’s and check in to the Chadwick Inn. First impression? It’s got a bit of a Fawlty Towers feel about it and the last two mornings I’ve woken up expecting to see Basil Fawlty either hanging outside my bedroom window or listening at my door!!
21:00 – Early night, as we’re not here to get intimate with the local pubs. Grant and I have a job to do and it’s a great opportunity for both of us.
Garth Milne is caddying for SA’s Grant Veenstra, and will be sending us his thoughts and opinions on golf’s greatest tournament right through until Sunday.