Keys to successful caddie-golfer partnership 'comparable to marriage'

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News
Joaquin Niemann, right, and his caddie look over a shot from the rough on the 14th hole during the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Detroit — PGA Tour player Peter Malnati will never forget the “blind date” in May 2017.

He recalled the meeting after shooting a 6-under 66 on Friday at Detroit Golf Club, a round which pushed him through to the weekend stage of the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic.

“You can kind of tell in the beginning," said Malnati, "if the personalities are going to match."

Malnati’s account of this blind date had nothing to do with meeting his wife, Alicia. He was referring to his first encounter with caddie Chad Antus — the two have loved working together ever since.


So, what is the secret to a successful caddie-golfer partnership?

Likening the pair’s work dynamic to a relationship is not something Antus shied away from, and it’s probably the best place to start. The two spend “eight to 10, 12 hours a day, pretty much six days a week” together, he pointed out.

“Really, it’s comparable to a marriage," Antus said.

And if that’s the case, it’s important to have a type — or at least general requirements. Malnati, for instance, sees it highly valuable to have a caddie that keeps him level.

“Finding the right caddie is all about personalities,” Malnati said. “Chad is so great because he just flat out makes me feel good about myself.”

With 16 years of experience under his belt, Antus has mastered the art of weathering an emotional storm and resetting the momentum in the midst of poor play. Malnati bogeyed the eighth hole Friday, and afterward, “almost killed” his caddie out of frustration.

“I wasn’t mad at him, I was just mad, and I didn’t want to take it out on anyone else,” Malnati said. “He was so calm the whole time. He never even tried to defend himself.

“He just stood there like, ‘OK, if you’re going to kill me, kill me — but do it quickly.’”

Malnati appreciates the mutual understanding that allows outbursts, moments of doubt and all the other mental burdens he throws onto his caddie to be brushed aside quickly. None of it is personal, of course, and from Antus’ perspective, it’s simply a matter of knowing the job.

“You just kind of feel him out and see what kind of person he is, see what he responds to on the course,” Antus said. “I’m not sure that he actually relies on me or expects it, but I definitely try to do that.”

Heading into Sunday, Malnati sits tied for fifth, though nine shots off the lead. His playing partner Saturday, J.T. Poston, shot a 6-under 66.

Poston met his caddie, Aaron Flener, in May 2018. While Flener said a caddie and golfer meshing personality-wise isn’t “totally necessary,” he is currently in a situation where that’s the case. And at the end of the day, Flener is in agreement that his most important job is to be “a calming voice.”

“That’s one of the things I’m best at, probably, is just saying even-keeled,” Flener said. “My job doesn’t change no matter if we’re in 45th place or first place.”

And although friendships do often arise from a close working relationship, Flener knows his close relationship with Poston is merely a “bonus.”

“I think there are players out here and their caddies (that) aren’t best friends,” Flener said. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

"Lots of people who work together in other professions don’t hang out with each other outside of work, but they still have a good work relationship.”

While that’s true, lots of people who work together in other professions typically don’t have their disagreements played out on national television. Such was the case two weeks ago at the U.S. Open, when three-time major winner Jordan Spieth was picked apart on social media after video surfaced of him sarcastically thanking his caddie for misreading a pair of shots.

That’s why, Flener said, accountability in the relationship is key.

“It’s just about having an open line of communication all the time,” Flener said. “I understand how hard golf is. If he messes up, I get it, dude.

"I’ve messed up playing golf before.”

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.

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