Documentary is a history lesson, gorgeous travelogue and insightful look into the role of caddies
By Tod Leonard | San Diego Union Tribune (June 6, 2019)
Near the end of “Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk,” narrator Bill Murray brings up a notion few of us think about when we’re tuned into professional golf on the weekends.
“Golf is the only sport in the world,” he says, “where an assistant, an ally, a coach, a therapist, a family member — definitely a friend — is allowed on the field of play with the athlete.”
At its essence, that unique circumstance and relationship between caddie and player is the theme for the documentary film that gets its nationwide release Friday, including at ArcLight La Jolla.
Southern California filmmaker Jason Baffa and writer and film editor Carl Cramer — whose previous three works were about surfing — ambitiously set out to cover the full scope of caddying, from its place in history, to defining its terminology, to capturing the bonds that create major champions.
They do it in a brisk 80 minutes, and packed in are segments so compelling they leave you wanting much more — like maybe a Netflix miniseries.
Those interviewed in the film run the gamut from pro caddies Steve Williams and Michael Greller to the men who donned the white coveralls for decades at the Masters. Writer Rick Reilly chimes in with some nice quips on British local loopers, including, “There are two things a caddie doesn’t care about: breasts on a man and what you shoot.”
Murray, who fell in love with the game as a caddie in his boyhood, plays his narration as respectfully as a golf clap, though we do get the requisite clip of Carl Spackler in “Caddyshack” in the closing credits.
History buffs will enjoy the early stages, told whimsically in an animation sequence by Damian Fulton. Among the tidbits is that Mary, Queen of Scots, was an avid golfer, and the game may have had a role in her execution.
For those who have played in the British Isles or hope to one day, there are gorgeous visits to St. Andrews, Carnousite, Ballybunion and Lahinch. Pebble Beach and Bandon Dunes get reverential treatment. The caddies in Scotland muse about their gruff reputations and their love for what they do.
A multiple-generation caddie, Teddy Julian strolls past the cemetery on the first hole at Ballybunion in Ireland and points out that he’ll be buried there one day.
There are other short segments — again, all deserved far longer — on Greg Puga, the L.A. caddie who qualified for the 2001 Masters as the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion; on the Evans Scholars Foundation that has put more than 10,000 caddies through college since 1930; on a father who caddies for his autistic son in the Special Olympics, and on Nick Faldo’s success with Fanny Sunesson, the “girl” caddie nobody wanted.
For a Masters junkie, the film’s heart and soul are the stories from Augusta.
Laid out is the tale of Willie “Pappy” Stokes, who as a teenager walked the grounds of Augusta while it was being built. He’d watch heavy rain storms and determined all of the greens inevitably tilted toward Rae’s Creek.
Stokes, who won five Masters with four different players, including Ben Hogan, became the mentor for those who would follow. They included Nathaniel “Ironman” Avery — on the bag for all of Arnold Palmer’s Masters victories, and the gregarious, chain-smoking Willie Peterson, whose boss, Jack Nicklaus, was far more stoic as they won five Masters as a team.
The caddie story at Augusta is a poignant one. They were treated as second-class citizens, never allowed to go in the clubhouse, though that is far from unique in the caddie world.
For nearly the first 50 years, the Masters committee demanded pros use local caddies in the major tournament. That changed after the 1982 Masters, when a miscommunication after a rain delay caused some caddies to miss their tee times.
Some players, Tom Watson among them, saw their chance to change the tradition and pushed for their own caddies to work at Augusta. The Masters committee obliged, ripping away the year’s biggest paycheck and devastating many local caddies.
Ben Crenshaw, however, never ditched Carl Jackson, and it’s Jackson who is credited with a swing tip that led to Crenshaw’s improbable second Masters triumph in 1995.
Teary is the footage from 2009 in which Crenshaw plays his final competitive hole at Augusta and Jackson, in his full white coveralls, waits at the back of the 18th green before they embrace.
“Golf,” Crenshaw observes, “cannot be a complete journey unless you have someone at your side.”
That “someone” is the caddie, and you’ll never appreciate them more than after you’ve seen the film.