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Jul. 14, 2023

The World of Professional Caddies

 Looking up at the sky, the wind skits and dances erratically. Cold rain falls from the leaden clouds. The numerous delicate traps on the golf course have their threats quickly magnified by the unpredictable natural conditions.

While continuing to play hard, a glance at the leaderboard shows the other players edging up their scores. Anxiety, fueled by invisible, unseen rivals, grows as time wears on.

 One of the most fascinating and difficult aspects of the sport of golf is the responsibility that falls on each player to make decisions in an environment filled with uncertainties. Each golfer is forced to make decisions regarding the clubs, shots, and target selections that can make the difference between victory or defeat.

 There is only one person who can support that golfer while he or she braves such lonely challenges during play. The Rules of Golf, which have been developed over many years and are still being revised, have long provided for the following:

Rule of Golf 10.2a Advice
During a round, players must not:
• Give advice to anyone in the competition who is playing on the course,
• Ask anyone for advice, other than the player’s caddie,

There's no other person in the world than your caddie to turn to for advice while you're playing that round.

 Unlike most amateur golfers who leave their bags with so-called house caddies who work at golf courses, most professional golfers on tours team up with professional caddies who also work at tournament sites. These are the professionals who provide the players with emotional support and help them plan their route of attack on the course.

 Hideki Matsuyama, who has been competing on the PGA Tour, the world's premier professional golf tour, for 10 years, has had two such "personal" caddies in his career. The first was Mr. Daisuke Shindo, his senior at Meitoku Gijuku Junior & Senior High School and Tohoku Fukushi University. Then, from 2019, Matsuyama flew across the ocean with Mr. Shota Hayafuji (honorifics are omitted below), his former middle and high school, and college junior, to win the Masters in 2021.

 Matsuyama himself says that "a caddie plays a big role" for a golfer. When reading the putting line on the green, he relies on the steadfastness of his caddies, saying, "It is always better to look with four eyes than with two eyes”. It is simply insufficient for a professional caddie to just hand a player the requested club, or wipe a head covered with mud or grass, or hold out an umbrella. Being a companion to the golfer during play constitutes a sort of minimal duty, but it is the work beyond this that determines the superiority of the caddie.

 Before the decisive shot, Matsuyama receives a wide range of information from his caddie Hayafuji on the course. About the distance to the pin flag, the edges surrounding the green, the distance to the penalty area, the shape and slope of the green, the wind direction, the line to the hole. By comprehensively considering the surrounding conditions, they will together explore the art of course strategy to determine where to launch the ball and where to drop it to get that bit closer to the hole.

 So what’s the routine for professional caddies to get the vital information players need in tense situations on a daily basis? In reality, it is the preparation they do outside of the time spent parading around the course with the players that is critical to their success.

In professional golf tournaments, where the first day of competition is every Thursday, the caddies have three days to prepare, from Monday to Wednesday. Caddie Hayafuji visits the venue before Matsuyama plays his practice round and begins checking out the 18 holes as soon as possible. With a pen and a memo with details of each hole drawn on it, he walks the fairways alone, meticulously examining the distance, slope of the greens, and condition of the course.

 The four days of the tournament may seem short, but the road to the 72 holes is long and arduous. In order for the players to remain at the world's top level, it is essential to have reliable professional caddies who, just like expert consultants, can help them formulate their medium- to long-term strategies. They not only deal with the most pressing issues but also suggest strategic routes one step ahead of the game while charting the best path to the hole-in and, ultimately, the hole-out.

The bond between the sophisticated professional caddie and the professional golfer is reminiscent of the relationship between NTT DATA and its clients, with whom Matsuyama will sign a contract starting in 2021. Since its establishment, the company has been closely monitoring changes in the social environment and clarifying the potential needs of its customers while showing them the path they should take.

The phrase "VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity)," which refers to the uncertain times ahead, has become increasingly popular in recent years due to the spread of unknown viruses and the innovative development of digital technology that are overturning the current paradigm. In the world of business, where innovativeness is increasingly a requirement, clients can only be empowered by partners who have the foresight and drive to support them, just like a first-class caddie who supports the golfer in the face of uncertain weather and other contingencies.

Work as a partner armed with sensitive antenna and perceptive perspectives that match the needs of clients amidst the demands of an ever-changing society. Just like a reliable consultant, a professional caddie's ability to gather fresh information determines the value of their role. During pre-golf course checks, caddie Hayafuji often picks up subtle hints on how to attack the course and strategy through conversations with other caddies who have competed on the PGA Tour. There are ways to attack the greens that suit the shape of the greens and the pin positions of the day, and in rare cases, he shares with Matsuyama the outlandish idea of intentionally hitting the first shot into the fairway of the adjacent hole to indicate the best angle to hit the green with his second shot.

Matsuyama, who is now a seasoned golfer who has invested more time in his physical conditioning, has been increasingly relying on his caddie Hayafuji, since they know each other so well, with the pair sleeping and eating together for a long time, in plotting strategies of attack for each course. Of course, the more difficult the golf course that a player faces, and the deeper the trust between the two, the greater the responsibility that is placed on the caddie's advice.

Both professional caddies who support professional golfers in their long and arduous 72-hole battles, and NTT DATA, which identifies and delineates the contours of tomorrow’s society, exploring customer growth areas together, spare no effort in striving to keep their sights high.