Anyone following former US PGA Tour player and Canadian Open winner, Nathan Green, at recent major Australian tournaments might well have wondered: What’s with the caddies?
“There’s aren’t too many pros with a 12-year-old on the bag,” says Darren Green, Nathan’s brother and the head pro at the Toronto Golf Club on Lake Macquarie, 120 km north of Sydney.
Darren, was referring to Jake Riley, a pupil at the nearby Rathmines Primary School, who caddied for Nathan at the NSW Open.
“It was a just reward for Jake’s hard work,” Darren said.
Jake is off a handicap of seven and came second in the Australian under 12 championships in Adelaide in December.
But bestowing caddieing kudos goes far beyond the achievements of one young hopeful at the go-ahead Toronto Golf Club.
The club has extended the honour to several top juniors.
Nathan’s caddie for the Australian Open was Jacob Dundas (14), who also plays off seven, already has an impressive resume of achievements including Toronto junior club champion.
Giving young golfers a rare inside-the-ropes first-hand experience of the pro tour is part of the Toronto Golf Club’s junior coaching program.
The idea took root on Nathan’s return to his home club, Toronto, two years ago, after 18 years on the pro circuit – 12 years of that in the USA.
Since Nathan’s departure, the Toronto Club had been given a total revamp with a new clubhouse, renovated pro-shop, a high technology centre fitted with state-of-the-art range simulator as well as a massive make-over of greens and fairways
With a young family and a coaching position at Toronto, Nathan is now restricting his tournament golf mostly to Australia – major pro-ams and tour events.
But every tour pro needs a caddie and first off was Darren’s son Reece, who caddied for his uncle in the 2016 Australian Open.
Family or not, the job had to be a gimme for Reece. He is now just 15, junior club champion two years in succession and an A grade pennant player.
Darren and Nathan would like to see other juniors gain similar experience as they rise through the ranks.
“What better opportunity to learn course management and perseverance when things aren’t going your way,” Nathan said.
Nathan brushes aside any suggestion that he might be denying himself the expertise of an experienced caddie.
“Some caddies over-caddie”, he said.
Nathan describes himself as a “minimum information golfer” meaning he doesn’t want a stream of detailed analysis from a caddie.
“Juniors have a simple perspective,” he said.
“They’ll give you the distance and a view on a putt.
“And if they don’t know, they’ll tell you.”
After so long on the pro circuit, Nathan is hungry for new challenges.
He’s found that in coaching; about which he holds some very definite opinions.
“I have seen too many peculiar swing actions work well to always want to change things too much,” he said.
“You are often better to work within a golfer’s strengths rather than encourage a full technical overhaul.
“A repetitive action that produces predictable ball flight – that’s what makes a good golfer.”
Of course getting a grip on the fundamentals as a junior is a big bonus.
The Toronto junior training program has about 60 youngsters on its books – four of them girls – and every Friday afternoon between 20 to 25 turn up – some as young as six.
Darren has developed a relationship with schools in the district, but has resisted club coaching being part of a school sports program.
“It’s more about making schools aware of what we do so we get the keen ones,” he said.
“Otherwise you get some kids who don’t want to be here.
“Having kids distracted and skiving off is a recipe for failure and someone getting hurt.”
Darren admitted the big challenge is keeping young children engaged.
“It’s tough trying to get kids at 6 to 10 to keep participating and staying with the game until they are 16 or 17 – young golfers eager and able to participate in serious competition,” he said.
“Then you’d like to think you can develop them into great players.
“For me, it’s participation that really matters.
“Good, or not so good, as long as you are playing the game.”
And Toronto is well placed to encourage youngsters to buckle down as well as enjoy learning.
There could be no more beguiling coach for sparking junior interest than the club’s assistant pro, Justin Martin, a university-trained school teacher.
One day might find him demonstrating golf fundamentals to a six-year-old; the next running a golf-themed children’s birthday party, where instead of pinning the tail on the donkey, young wannabe golf pros compete with a clown chipping golf balls into a bucket.
For the Toronto Golf Club it comes down to whatever it takes to keep youngsters in the game – and sticking with it.
After all, where else can you graduate from a golf birthday party to caddieing in the Australian Open — and maybe one day being part of that august playing line-up.
(Story by David Ransom)