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PGA Tour caddy John Wood shares secrets from the course.

Next to his immediate family, A PGA TOUR PROFESSIONAL SPENDS MORE TIME with his caddy than with anyone else. Yet the relationship receives scant notice until it breaks up — such as when Tiger Woods fired his longtime caddy, Steve Williams, in July.

John Wood wasn’t remotely considering the job security of a caddy in 1996, when the native of Sacramento, Calif., was managing a hometown bookstore. But now he’s in his 15th year on tour and his sixth with Hunter Mahan — a member of two U.S. Ryder Cup and two Presidents Cup teams with three career tour victories and seven top-10 finishes in 2011. Wood gave American Way some insight into the life of a caddy and the demands of the job.
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Photograph by grant harder

American Way: How does a bookstore manager wind up a tour caddy?
John Wood: I played in high school and college, and everyone knows everyone in the Sacramento golf scene. In Kevin Sutherland’s second year on tour, he asked, “Would you like to try to caddy for me?” I thought I might never get the chance again, so I decided to try it for a year or two. And I just fell in love with the job, and the travel too.

AW: You didn’t have any experience?
JW: Other than knowing the game and looping for friends on some mini-tour events, no. But Kevin was patient in letting me learn. And you pick up a lot just by watching guys at work like Joe LaCava [Fred Couples’ caddy for two decades, now with Dustin Johnson] and Bones [Jim Mackay, Phil Mickelson’s longtime caddy].

AW: What does the work really entail?
JW: It basically comes down to knowing what my player wants. From little things — will he want something to eat or drink? — to the key strategic moments. You have to be overprepared; once past the yardage to the pin, you need answers to four or five other questions he might ask.

AW: Lots of homework?
JW: Absolutely. I still get out there before every tournament to develop a game plan, even if it’s a course I’ve seen 100 times.

AW: What is your relationship with Hunter like?
JW: It’s wonderful to work for a player when you have the freedom to tell him anything. Hunter knows that when we come to the 72nd tee with a chance to win, no one — other than his wife — wants him to do as well as I do.
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AW: Who watches the scoreboard during crunch time on a Sunday afternoon?
JW: I always do; Hunter, sometimes. But you never want to put a number in their heads. Players will make par until you tell them they have to make par. So you rephrase it — “We should probably play it safe here” or “This is probably a good time to be aggressive.”

AW: How’s your game?
JW: Rusty. I love being out there, but when I get time off, I don’t want to be on a golf course. I go snowboarding, hiking, camping or watch San Francisco Giants baseball games. That’s one thing I use out on the course if something goes wrong. I just say, “It’s OK, Hunter — the Giants won the World Series!”

Up Your Game
Want to play like a pro? John Wood offers some tips from the Tour.

• If you’re trying to lower your scores, you have to work on the short game.
• Have a game plan for practice; honestly critique your game and work on your weak points.
• Out on the course, work around your weaknesses. If you’re not a good wedge player, find a way to get to the hole that avoids wedge shots. Instead, emphasize your strengths.
• Avoid the big numbers. If you get into trouble, get out of trouble — not into more trouble.