AWAY from the glitz and glamour of professional golf, Tom Watson is unwinding on Hamilton Golf Club’s couch fairways.
The Japan-based professional golf caddy has found the club a haven, a place to take a breather, and mix with locals keen to hear tales from his hectic previous 10 months.
Raised in Warburton, a town on the Yarra River, Watson bought a house in Penshurst with his mother two years ago and is spending his precious two month vacation this year in the Western District’s quite surrounds.
I meet with the wiry 33-year-old on a perfect Hamilton afternoon under clear blue skies and the affable Watson is happy to chat.
His is one of the more unique stories in a profession that is often overshadowed by their high profile bosses.
Watson got his break as an 18-year-old at the exclusive Capital Golf Club in Melbourne where he spent seven years training as a golf professional.
It was while working at the club that he became friends with Brendan Jones, a friendship which kick started his career as a caddy.
“I was good friends with Brendan Jones, who is a top 50 in the world player from Australia,” Watson says.
“I caddied with him when he was an amateur and we played together in amateur golf a lot.
“When I finished my traineeship as a professional golfer he offered for me to go to Japan with him as a golf coach and caddy.
“I thought, yeah why not I’ll give that a go.
“He started playing really well; we won eight times together in about a four year stretch.
“He played the PGA Tour, we played with Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, it was just all of a sudden which was fantastic.”
This partnership ebbed and flowed for four years with the pair competing in every major tournament bar the US Masters.
During this time they were paired with golf’s biggest names including a fit and firing Tiger Woods, who Watson describes as “intense”.
“We played the British Open, the US Open, the Australian PGA Championship, we were paired Tiger a few times, it was good fun,” Watson says.
“When we were paired with Tiger he was extremely intense, he didn’t really say much so you don’t get to know them on any sort of personal level and it’s all business.
“It’s definitely great to watch and you learn a lot.
“You definitely get goose bumps standing on the tee, even though I’m a caddy and I’m just carrying the bag, you still feel that you’re part of it.
“It’s good fun.”
While Watson’s falling out with Jones wasn’t a Tiger Woods and Steve Williams scenario, he describes their parting as “ugly”.
“Like anything you have your moments when it doesn’t go well,” Watson describes life as a caddy.
“It can be really depressing.
“Your player isn’t playing well, he’s not happy, you rely on your bonuses to make money and when he isn’t making cuts you’re actually losing money each week.
“I went through a stage when I was caddying for Brendan and he had about a four month stage where he didn’t make a single cut and I probably spent about $20,000 in that time.
“It puts a strain on the relationship and it does get hard.
“We had a few issues and that was the end of it there, but I still stayed on in Japan.
“I started learning the language, I lived in Tokyo for five years studying more of the language and speaking it.
“I started to caddy for more of the Japanese players and did it all in Japanese.”
The fall out between Williams and Woods is one that is discussed amongst the industry; Watson says getting flicked is part and parcel with being a caddy for a high profile golfer.
“I think it was pretty ordinary how (Williams) handled it,” he says.
“Okay, Tiger hasn’t been the most perfect human being in the last couple of years, but I think for Steve to come out and say what he did, and a lot of caddies have agreed with me we’ve all had discussions about it, to say that he wasted two years of his life, I mean he had a fantastic run with him and I think he has just got to have a look at how good he really had it for such a long period of time.
“Its part of the job getting sacked, there is no security in the job.
“There are no contracts signed.”
In addition to the personal relationship a caddy must have with the golfer, he or she must have a deep knowledge of strategy and playing conditions.
“I think caddying has never been given enough credit and I must admit when I first started doing it I just did it for a bit of fun and I figured it was a slum of a job but it’s not,” Watson says.
“There is good money in it now and there is a lot involved.
“You’ve got a yardage book, which has measurements all over the place, measurements to a certain bunker, exactly where the wind is, it can get very technical.
“Then you’re telling the crowd to shut up, if he is playing well you’ve got to calm him down or if he is playing bad you’ve got to say something at the right time and also if he is angry know when to back off.”
While the top earning caddies are in the PGA, living and working in Japan suits Watson.
He is comfortable there.
Watson has spent the past five years in Japan as coach and caddy on both the Japanese men’s and ladies professional golf tour.
He has access to 35 professional tournaments a year in the country, opposed to three in Australia.
Watson works for two or three different players a year.
Before meeting with me, Watson had accepted a position caddying for the 2011 US Open winner, Korea’s So Yeon Ryu.
“After working for Brendan Jones full time for four years I had enough of working for one player,” he says.
“It just got too ugly so I just mix it up a bit now.”
Watson himself is no mug with the clubs, he plays off scratch and as I witnessed can belt a ball, he drives 290 metres plus.
During the week, including the Saturday competition, he can be seen on the Hamilton Golf Course smiling and joking with the members, he has found the perfect retreat.
“I love Hamilton purely for the members and I like the country life,” he says.
“Having been around the glitz and glamour or so to speak, I love the sense of coming back to reality because it is reality here and I like that.
“As a golf course they do a great job for two ground staff, the condition of the golf course for two ground staff is really exceptional.
“That’s not the reason why I play here, it’s purely because I enjoy the members, there aren’t many golf courses these days that have a real family atmosphere, and this course does.”