Film distributors! If you are releasing a documentary about golf, put it in theaters on Father’s Day weekend, not the weekend before! Do I have to think of everything?
Despite that missed opportunity, Jason Baffa’s documentary “Loopers: A Caddie’s Long Walk” should appeal to golf enthusiasts of all ages and handicaps. While I don’t know if it will hold much interest for those who don’t play the game, it’s one to catch with Dad (or Mom) on a rainy day, or before or after a trip to the driving range.
In no other sport does an athlete get to have an ally with them on the field of play. Can you imagine if Aaron Rodgers had a buddy alongside him on the field, helping him decide which receiver to throw to? But caddies are a tradition in golf that date back almost to the inception of the sport.
Back in the day, caddies weren’t held in particularly high esteem, working-class Sherpas for upper-class golfers. Caddies were expected to follow three unwritten rules: 1. Show up 2. Keep up and 3. Shut up. In the film, one longtime caddie at Augusta National remembers how he was forbidden from entering the clubhouse, relegated to the area known rather disdainfully as “the caddie pen.” In archival photos, it’s glaring that all the golfers are white, and the caddies are African American.
But the relationship between golfer and caddie has evolved over the years both financially and personally, especially at the championship level. As the money in golf has skyrocketed over the years, so has the pay for caddies, and top pro caddies can earn a cut of championship money that reaches seven figures.
It’s the personal bond that “Loopers” is more interested in, though. For a golfer, the caddie can be a welcome adviser and friend on the course, helping a golfer decide which club to select and what shot to make. Fuzzy Zoeller recounts how he won the Masters at Augusta in 1979 on his first try entirely because of the advice of a local caddie throughout the round. “I was like a blind man with a seeing eye dog.”
In the modern era, the film dives into the friendship between championship golfer Jordan Spieth and caddie Michael Greller, including an iconic moment at the 2017 British Open where Spieth had to hit a shot over a grassy knoll in the rough, unable to see the pin, relying entirely on Greller’s advice. Spieth ended up winning the Open.
“Loopers” also looks at the longtime friendship between Ben Crenshaw and his caddie, Carl Jackson, who were together for 39 years, and then retired on the same day. We also see caddies that made the transition to become pro golfers, often working-class teens like Greg Puga who benefited from their exposure to a sport they otherwise could not have afforded to be part of.
Bill Murray provides the engaging, relaxed narration for the film, perhaps atoning for “Caddyshack,” which presented caddies as a bunch of horny, drunken reprobates. Murray was a caddie himself, and lists caddying along with Second City and “Saturday Night Live” as one of the “great schools” he attended.
“Loopers” is probably of minimal interest to those with no interest in golf; it’s not quite up to the level of an ESPN “30 By 30” documentary that transcends its subject matter. But for golfers and golf enthusiasts, it’s the chance to view their beloved sport from a slightly different perspective — standing a few feet behind the player, faithfully holding the bag.