What if your job description included carrying 48-pounds on your back, four days per week, for five hours per day?
For the past 38 years, professional caddie Russell Craver sees doing exactly that as anything but a burden. In fact, Craver’s knack for strategizing with the game’s best players on the world’s most storied courses has been his ticket to experiencing golf on nearly every continent.
Craver’s career began in 1977 when he caddied for Curtis Sifford at the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The 59-year-old Craver’s latest caddie chapter finds him carrying the black, white, and red-colored bag of English golfer Roger Chapman on the Champions Tour.
The caddie world has come a long way since Craver’s maiden 18 holes. What hasn’t changed is Craver’s passion for golf and doing whatever he can to help his boss surge to the top of the leaderboard.
What’s different about caddying now compared to when you first started out?
I began caddying long before there were yardage books and lasers targeting pin placements within a fraction of an inch. I used to walk off yardages myself and kept a log charting what to expect once the tournament began.
What’s a typical day since you began caddying for Roger Chapman?
Leading up to a recent tournament in Minnesota, Roger had never stepped foot in the state, let alone played the TPC Minneapolis. I checked out the course and playing conditions long before Chapman arrived in Minneapolis.
Once the tournament actually starts, I show up two hours prior to Chapman’s tee time. I check the pin placements and anticipated weather conditions. Once Chapman arrives, we go to the practice range and putting green to warm up.
What is your best memory as a caddie?
I was fortunate to caddie for Larry Nelson when he won the PGA Championship in 1981 and the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 1983. I remember Nelson’s U.S. Open victory being especially dramatic because he climbed from seven strokes down to defeat Tom Watson by a single stroke.
What is your funniest caddie moment?
I was caddying for Australian David Graham at the Byron Nelson Classic, and I almost slid into a lake. We had a ball drop that was a little too close to the water and I started falling in. Graham and Steve Elkington needed to pull me out by the pants.
How would you compare the pay of today to when you first started?
The caddy salaries and potential tournament paydays have really improved. The total purse for a Champions Tour event almost always exceeds a million dollars. That means the winner takes home over $200,000. In addition to a full-time caddy’s salary, we typically earn 5% of our player’s payday and 10% if our boss wins it all.
What is travel like for a caddie and what are your tour expenses?
Since 9-11, one dimension of the PGA and Champions tour that has become tougher is travel. I’m on the road about 27 weeks per year. I pay for all my own travel and hotel expenses. Flying to international events can be exhausting, although one of my best travel experiences occurred during an International event.
When I was caddying on the Nationwide Tour, we played in a Pro-Am with the CEO of Air New Zealand. He must have taken a liking to me because he upgraded me to first class for my flight home. That was pretty nice considering it was a 14-hour flight.
Looking back, what stands out about your career?
I have no regrets as I look back on my career. When I first started, often there would be five caddies staying in a single hotel room to save money. I guess an aching back is the only thing I’d trade over the course of my career. What’s been great is I’ve had a chance to see the world as a caddie. Over nearly 40 years, I’ve traveled all over the U.S, as well as Japan, Australia, Europe, and all points in between.
Any regrets or things you would have done differently in your caddie career?
There are about a dozen of us left from when I first started. Looking back, this has been a great job. With all the fond memories I’ve had and the amazing people that I’ve met, I wouldn’t change a thing.
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