Brian the former bagman one of the characters at the 2018 World Cup of Golf

Brian McConnell with one of his Super Stroke putter grips at the World Cup of Golf

Melbourne golf writer CHRIS VOGT has a talent for spotting the great stories behind the scenes at big golf tournaments

 

“Bring your coffee over and I’ll tell you about caddying.”

And so began my conversation with Brian McConnell, as we sat outside Metropolitan’s shiny clubhouse. The Irishman is here as rep for Super Stroke, manufacturer of those giant putter grips favoured by many of the Tour pros. This work takes him around the world, but it was his previous job that gave him a first taste of life beyond the UK.

“In 27 years with British Gas [in public relations] I’d never travelled more than 30 miles. What I did do with my spare time was play golf with friends at Woburn.” Having pals with membership at that historic club opened an unexpected door; soon he was caddying for ladies when tournaments were held there.

“I just fell into it, right place right time.”

McConnell worked the Ladies Tour for a spell, then went to a men’s tournament on the Portuguese island of Madeira. He arrived with nothing to do.

“Then a young French player turned up, looking as lost I was. So we paired up. I stayed with him for 3 years, got to travel, enjoy the life. Suddenly I was in Perth, Johannesburg. But I learned not to tell passengers what I did for a living. Say you’re a caddy and they chew your ear off. So I used to invent mundane professions for myself.”

He also learned a lot about caddying. “There are two types of caddy: a ‘yes’ man and a ‘no’ man. “What you thinking?” he’d ask when sensing the player was unsure. “Be calm, be sure, and never think in terms of what you’d hit, how you’d play the shot. But most of all, you’ve got to know your stuff. Otherwise you’re just a bag carrier, although there are a few players who want nothing more than that.”

Nicknames became a thing on tour.

“Most caddies have nicknames, ‘cos often they’re running from something. An ex-wife, the taxman. Mine was Silver Fox. I never knew most of the caddies’ real names.”

It was during this time McConnell was approached by French company Bolle, who offered to pay him to wear their sleek sunglasses. “Carrying the bag of a Frenchman probably had something to do with it.”

Soon he was distributing the product among his fellow caddies as Bolle seized an opportunity. His PR background again. Then Bushnell, maker of rangefinders, engulfed Bolle. So he worked for them while trying to maintain the caddying.

“But I got busier, so a decision needed to be made. At one point my player asked, ‘“Do you work for me or them?”’ Then I knew”.

A chance encounter at Muirfield during the 2013 Open led to McConnell’s current role with Super Stroke.

“I was approached by someone who knew my background.” Once again, right place right time. “I didn’t know the company or their product, but I watched the final round at home and (eventual winner) Phil Mickelson was using one, this big fat putter grip. I joined Super Stroke, and these days we have a big share of the market.”

McConnell is content with his work, but recalls with fondness the caddy’s life. Much more than a bag carrier, for sure.

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