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Slice of life: Caddying all about sweating the details

Published: Friday, June 13, 2014 11:26 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 10:25 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Jeff Krage for Shaw Media)
Caddie Matt Samuelson catches a golf ball Friday during the Fox Chase at the St. Charles County Club.

ST. CHARLES – Learning the intricacies of being a caddie caused information overload for Matt Samuelson when he started his summer job six years ago.

Lugging golfers' bags all over St. Charles Country Club wasn't exactly a picnic, either. Back then, Samuelson was a foot shorter than he is now, and he only weighed about 100 pounds.

Samuelson, a recent St. Charles North graduate, is up to 5-foot-11 these days and better able to withstand the physical rigors, but it's his advanced command of caddying's nuances that have allowed him to climb the ranks as one of the club's most polished caddies. 

It starts with a simple philosophy.

"Your goal as a caddie is to make the player do as little work as possible, so you do everything," Samuelson said. "It was a little harder to get used to, like the little things, keeping his clubs clean, getting the flags on the green. Once you get used to things, it's not really a hard job, but you need to get a routine down."

Just as golfers' success can vary greatly from round to round, caddies encounter drastically different experiences based on an array of variables – most notably, the weather, the golfer's mood and, let's cut to the chase, the golfer's tipping habits.

But those potentially generous tips are less likely to come a caddie's way if he or she isn't as attentive as golfers expect. That means sweating the details and developing intuition early in a round for the extent of interaction a golfer seeks from the caddie.

Samuelson, whose family belongs to St. Charles Country Club, said he's developed strong rapport with many of the members. Still, there are some temperamental golfers who make for juicy chatter when the caddies huddle between loops but not for much fun during the course of a four-hour round.

"You always get some [difficult] people but for the most part, the members out here are fantastic, and I've known them for my whole, entire life pretty much, so it's really cool to caddie for them and just be a part of the groups," Samuelson said. "But every once in a while you get those guys and you're like 'I should probably talk less this round' or just got to make sure everything is done well."

Samuelson typically caddies three or four days a week and works from April through Labor Day weekend. He'll be off to Oxford, Ohio, in the fall to begin college at Miami University.

Friday was an especially bustling day at the country club as a special event with a noon, shotgun start kept the caddies scurrying. Keeping busy is golden for a caddie, as is mild weather like Friday.

"Today's a beautiful day, but there are some days out there where you get 90 and humid and you might lose a pound or two," Samuelson said. "The member who I was caddying for last week, she had a pedometer on, and it was about six miles for her to walk. And the bag is anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds, usually more on the lighter side, but every once in a while you get those bricks."

Samuelson has been an "honor caddie" for more than four years. Honor caddies are the most advanced after being promoted from 'B caddie' and 'A caddie' status. Honor caddies receive a flat rate of $36 per round but caddies are often tipped 100 percent or more, especially at upscale courses such as St. Charles Country Club.

Samuelson said some of his friends express jealousy at how much he's able to make.

"They looked at me and they asked so how much do you make a day and I said 'Usually about $70,' and they said 'You work about six hours a day?' and I said 'Yup, and no taxes.' [One of them] was just like 'That's what I make in a week in like triple the hours.' It's nice."

While Samuelson usually caters to individual golfers, he occasionally serves as a forecaddie, with responsibilities including tracking balls for the entire group. Other duties during a regular round include reading greens, estimating yardage to the pin and fielding miscellaneous questions; he recalled one golfer asking if it was OK to remove his shoes and try to hit the ball out of the water. 

Samuelson is often matched up with the same players multiple times, some of whom request him specifically. Samuelson was a solid golfer for the North Stars and said he clicks well with some of the club's more proficient players.

Caddies often feel a sense of ownership in their players' rounds, Samuelson said.

"I like caddying for good players," Samuelson said. "I was a 5 handicap myself last year so it's easier for me to relate to the better players, like 'OK, this is what I might do.' … If a 20 handicap's going to ask me [about club selection], the ball could still go anywhere. But if they hit the shot well and it ends up over the green or something, yeah, I feel bad. But that doesn't happen too often."

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