HOYLAKE, ENGLAND – If golf fans watching ESPN’s four-day coverage of The Open Championship this weekend pay close attention, they might see the caddies of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other stars making gestures with their hands just as the player is about to hit a fairway shot.
Chances are they are sending a signal to Andy North, Dottie Pepper, Judy Rankin or Bill Kratzert, ESPN’s on-course reporters who walk along with leading groups and provide detailed information for viewers.
If one of the reporters is saying what club the player is hitting, that information might have come from the caddie.
“It’s following in the lines of trying to give the viewer something that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to know,” said Pepper. “A lot of times they hear the yardage and see the graphic and they’re like ‘well I wonder what he’s hitting, or she’s hitting?’ And if we can get that as on-course reporters, then it’s a great thing for us to be able to tell the viewer.”
Pepper said caddies have a system of holding up fingers for the on-course reporter, who might be 50 yards away but by experience usually has a good idea of the club. The caddie confirms it.
“They have their little system of holding up fingers when it’s three through pitching wedge,” she said. “Three fingers down if it’s an 8 iron, or one finger down if it’s a 6 iron, or three fingers up if it’s a 3 iron.
“It’s helpful. And from my standpoint, it helps me from a decent distance away to be able to pick up the ball quickly because a longer iron is going to tend to come off more shallow than a short one, so it kind of helps my eye as well.”
Pepper said she knows most of the caddies and touches base with them when she knows what group she will be following on a particular day.
“A lot of the guys will help you, some of them won’t,” she said. “Some of them will ask if you even want them, and my standard response is ‘if it doesn’t get in your way.’ If they can flash a signal when their player gets settled over the golf ball.
“It’s sort of just standard communication that’s kind of evolved as television and graphics evolved,” she said. “They needed more information and the best place to get it is those guys who are right there hands-on.”
The Open Championship begins Thursday at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England. ESPN’s telecast begins at 4 a.m.