In the first instalment of his new blog, Matteo Delpodio’s caddy Chris Keeping gives a unique insight into the life of a bagman…
Like every profession, caddying has its ups and down. On Friday, Matteo and I experienced more than our fair share of both.
Starting the second round of the Madeira Islands Open on one over par, we had a level par round in mind to secure the right to play the weekend. Breezy would be an understatement at this Severiano Ballesteros-designed course, but we’d played the Pro-Am and battled our way through a more than respectable opener, so spirits were high standing on the first tee.
Five holes later, however, we were five over for the round, and staring into the abyss.
Things weren’t going well, to say the very least. We were hardly speaking by now, and he’d reverted to his native tongue. A gutsy drive and perfect four iron lay-up down the par five sixth left a simple wedge to the green. Could we turn it around here with a much needed birdie? Not with three putts, we couldn’t.
I had a rough idea how Matteo was feeling, and I was probably feeling even worse. The top players earn millions, but lower down the scale professional golf can be a tough world, and money is often tight. This week’s event was a good chance to bank a few euros and climb the Challenge Tour Rankings. It was also Matteo’s first European Tour event outside of Italy and so was meant to be a joyous occasion, but we were now staring down the barrel of missing the cut and going home penniless.
A decent par at the long seventh steadied the ship. Walking up the eighth fairway, I had to find something to say to try to spur the poor lad on. The job of a caddy is always tough at these times, but too many guys just give up and stay quiet. It was time to change things.
I asked about Matteo’s beloved vegetable garden. He looked a little perplexed, but told me his girlfriend had planted some more salad leaves this week, as the weather in Turin was perfect for growth. I asked what his girlfriend’s name was. “Georgia,” he replied. I then asked how he thought the conversation might go tonight on the phone, when he told her about his day at the office. He looked forlorn at the prospect of having to face a bitterly disappointing conversation with his loved one.
So I told him to change that conversation. “I want you to call her tonight saying you’d blown it on the front nine, but the transformation on the back was incredible.”
We promptly birdied the eighth.
A career best up and down on the ninth kept the momentum going. He smashed a huge drive down the tenth, leaving a two iron to the back pin. Not many people hit a two iron as well as Matteo, and this was no exception. Cutting through the wind like an Exocet missile, the ball landed right on line with an uphill eagle chance. He looked at me and said, “We could do with an eagle.”
No arguments from me, although a birdie wasn’t a bad consolation.
A good up and down at 11 secured a par, and three good hits up the next gave us a birdie chance. Matteo took the bull by the horns, and rattled it straight in. He was pumped up by now and, with his wild hair blowing in the wind, looking like he might sprout horns of his own.
The scoreboard told us that the cut was going to be plus four. We were now on that mark.
The 13th is a beautiful hole, but it’s also got a bite of a bite. The vicious right to left wind was swirling around, making club selection tricky. Eventually we settled on punched five iron which cut through the wind beautifully, landing pin high. He rolled the putt in like he was on the practice green before a Saturday morning medal. We were now three over.
We’d hit a three wood every day this week on the horseshoe 14th, and with the usual wind behind it looked no different today. He flushed it, but the swirling wind took it straight out to sea. A driver was decreed the right club for the reload, and we found the ball where the three wood had landed all week. Caddy error.
But a gritty bogey still kept us in the hunt to slide under the cut mark.
A tidy par at the short 15th was followed by a rare pushed drive down the 16th, which I found tucked away on the bank on the right. A punchy five iron was chosen, and a decent strike left a long birdie putt which would take us two under the cut mark with two to play, and give us some much-needed breathing space. Instead, two putts for a safe par left us right on the mark.
Matteo’s long irons are immense, and a good four iron up the 17th left him with a tempting uphill putt from just off the green. I stressed my eagerness for another birdie by telling him it was a very makeable putt. He obviously thought so too, rattling it straight in. That’s my boy.
We were now three over going down the par five 18th. We’d nearly eagled the hole the day before, so I was positive we could finish without any problems – until he hit his drive left, which left us no chance of going for the green in two. A perfect lay-up left us a 79 yard wedge over the water to the pin. It had been a long, stressful day, but I was sure he was capable of one final good swing.
Instead, a tired shot ended with the ball clinging for dear life onto the edge of the bank at the front of the green. I handed him the putter, and told him run over there and mark his ball pronto.
He gave the birdie putt a good go but it fell a few inches short, leaving a tap-in for par.
We’d done it. We embraced on the 18th green, let out a huge sigh of relief and shared our first laugh since the opening hole.
Matteo had turned a potentially disastrous round into one he and I will both remember for a long time to come. He was now looking forward to his chat with Georgia, and rightly so.
Bring on the weekend.