That year Duffy tasted the caviar lifestyle: private jets, upscale hotels. He worked the Masters, where Palmer opened with three birdies on Thursday. "You never heard roars like it," Duffy says. "It sent shivers down my spine. The whole time I felt as if I was walking on air."
That was then. Palmer's playing days were dwindling. The gravy train ended. Now 43, Duffy was hanging out in Tampa, waiting to hear whether Brad Adamonis would have him for the day.
"I love golf. It's what I know," Duffy says. "Golf gets in your blood, and you feel as if you can't live without it. But sometimes you think, This game has made some people fortunes, but it has also ruined a lot of lives."
Without access to an A-list player, a caddie's best chance at riches is to catch an unknown and ride him to the top. But even Cinderella stories can have sour endings. Caddies sign no contracts and have no guarantees. A deal sealed with a handshake can be undone with a text. It's not uncommon for an up-and-comer to gain his Tour card, then fire his caddie in favor of a childhood buddy. The carriage often becomes a pumpkin just as it arrives at the ball.
Yet for caddies, the calculated risks of their profession still beat the numbing comforts of mainstream careers. Their distaste for convention is apparent even in the most strait-laced and clean-cut of their breed. Take Reynolds Robinson, a married father of two with a home in the Orlando suburbs who decided in his mid-30s that a dull desk job was too much to take. In 2004, after 13 draining years as a corporate accountant, he punched his final time clock at PricewaterhouseCoopers and printed out a revised CV, a new career objective etched on top: ASSISTING MY PLAYER TO A POSITION IN THE TOP 30 OF THE WORLD RANKING.
Robinson says, "Guys would come up to me and say things like, 'I wish I'd had the guts to do what you did. I worked my whole life in a job I didn't like. But I had a family. I couldn't give it up.' And I'd say, 'I have a family too. That's why I left my job.' "
From Robinson's point of view, he's still in business. In his first three years on Tour he grossed $45,000, $48,000 and $53,000, about half of what he took home at PricewaterhouseCoopers. But the steady increase was grounds for optimism. In the first three years, he says, most businesses operate at a loss. "This is an investment in the future for me and my family, and it's what I love to do," Robinson says. "In this life you only get to go around once."
Alas, Robinson only went around once in Tampa. His man, Len Mattiace, didn't make it through the Monday qualifier. Neither did Gordon, Sturgill's player. And Adamonis fell a few shots short with Duffy on his bag. Disappointing. But there's always next week.
By mid-April, Robinson and Sturgill were in San Antonio for the Valero Texas Open while Svendsen and Duffy moved on to California, working the Nationwide tour's Fresh Express Classic. For Svendsen, it was simply another shift in the capricious currents of a caddie's life. Svendsen had been through them before. In 2007, on Troy Matteson's bag, he had made it to the big show and accompanied his man for two full seasons, including an '08 campaign during which Matteson pulled in $1.2 million and Svendsen netted around $85,000. The following year the ride ended. Matteson hit a cold snap, and Svendsen was looking for another gig.
"There was no bitterness," Svendsen says. "When you're a caddie, you work at the discretion of the player. When the time comes, you say thank you for the opportunity. I'm always grateful to have had the job."