- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
When he isn't carrying another man's golf bag, Josh Svendsen hauls himself around in a white Ford van outfitted with a mattress, a microwave and a hot plate—a rolling Motel 6 that doubles as his home away from home. A heated water tank links to a snaking showerhead, letting Svendsen rinse off by the rear bumper. Svendsen bought the van in 2005, after bailing on a desk job and an apartment in the suburbs in favor of a caddie's vagabond existence. Forty-seven and never married, he sees a kind of romance in a rootless lifestyle. There's no point in paying rent.
"I tried the 9-to-5 thing," Svendsen says one spring afternoon, after parking his rig outside the TPC Stonebrae, a Nationwide tour venue east of San Francisco. "I got the gist. Not for me."
He looked tired but content, fresh off a five-week whirlwind that had taken him from Pebble Beach's fabled pro-am to Puerto Rico for a minor-key event. Along the way he had lead-footed it to Los Angeles and hooked up with journeyman Tour pro Mark Hensby for the Monday qualifier of the Northern Trust Open. Hensby didn't make it through, but the two men hit it off, inspiring a partnership that sent Svendsen to the airport, where he hopped a plane to Mexico, then Colombia, trailing his employer while bedding down in youth hostels and tumble-down hotels. At the next stop, Puerto Rico, he and Hensby parted ways, player-caddie pairings being fickle, just like golf. But flights to California were out of Svendsen's reach, so he puddle-jumped to Tampa, where he failed to land a loop at the Transitions Championship; hop-scotched to Louisiana (a quick one-off in the Monday qualifier); flagged a ride to Houston (another modest payday); then found a cheap flight west, touching down in San Francisco, where his van was waiting, in time to work the Stonebrae event. In his breathless month of travel, he had cleared just over two grand.
"You don't do this for the money," says Svendsen, whose surfer-dude laid-backness lends him the air of a short-haired Spicoli. "You do it because it's in your DNA."
Caddying is a job that seems fit mostly for misfits. The hours are long, the pay uncertain and the travel relentless. For caddies on the bags of the world's top players, work may come with private jets and princely treatment. But for those not nicknamed Stevie, Bones or Fluff, the job is as often a mad scramble, filled with Priceline searches and gigs that offer freedom but no guarantees.
Svendsen is part of a dwindling contingent of migrant caddies who bounce from stop to stop on the PGA Tour. They pay their own expenses and hustle for jobs that often last no longer than their last player's hot streak—if they find jobs at all.
It wasn't always so.
A few generations back a PGA Tour bag—while prized, to be sure—could be had for a good looper. As purses swelled in the 1980s and the early '90s, competition for top bags stiffened. Then came the Tiger Boom and a prize-money explosion. To stride at the side of an A-list player was a path to a gold-plated career. A steady caddying job is even more coveted in today's sour economic climate. It's blue-collar work with white-collar potential.
Positions with alpha golfers rarely open, and when they do, connections play a role to the point of nepotism. Many young stars, from Luke Donald to Rickie Fowler, step to the tee with buddies or brothers on their bags. Caddies have a name for the PGA circuit. The MCI: the Friends and Family Tour.
When I started out, you could show up at just about any event and get hired in the parking lot," says 21-year veteran Mike Sturgill. "No way that ever happens today."