Recently, I was invited to caddie for LPGA Tour player Vicky Hurst at the tour stop at Old American Golf Club just outside of Dallas, Texas. As the developer of the V1 Game app, it was a chance to put my Virtual Caddie skills to the test in a live environment with some of the world’s best. Realistically, Vicky is a phenomenal player and did not need a ton of help out there, but I could not pass up the opportunity to walk inside the ropes and observe professional golf at the highest level to see what I could learn.
As a scratch golfer myself, I’ve always had that curiosity of how my game might stack up on the LPGA. The short answer is — they would smoke me. While I was able to caddie for three days in total, I was only able to caddie for a single tournament day due to prior obligations. On that tournament day, Vicky was super impressive, firing a 68 (-3) and finishing in a tie for 16th.
These are my main takeaways from a fantastic experience over the course of a few days.
Phenomenal Short Games
Whether it was during practice rounds, the pro-ams, or even in competition, I was blown away by the short games of all the tour players I witnessed. They would casually throw balls down on super tight lies, open the clubface, and hit shots I do not have. The confidence, the technique, the touch…all of it. Perfected through years of practice and dedication, it’s something you cannot fake while working a desk job and casually practicing once a month. The variety of shots and the ease of which they hit them made me jealous. On Thursday, Vicky was able to get up and down six times out of eight opportunities inside 75 yards (keep in mind that V1 Game counts all opportunities inside 75 yards as a scrambling opportunity). A short game like that has to free up the rest of the game with confidence that you can get out of a jam if needed. It wasn’t just the short range shots either. All of her wedges inside 100 yards were just on another level. Distance control was paramount. This is also where the majority of her practice time was spent in the practice rounds.
Putt for Dough
It’s hard to score without putting well, and Vicky did exactly that. From the Round Summary above, we see she gained +4.5 strokes on a Scratch with the flatstick. Easy to do when you make 126 feet on just 26 putts! Now, Vicky was by no means perfect. On the first hole, she left an eight-foot putt short and in the jaws, dropping a shot for her only bogey of the day and not helping my nerves that I was going to mess this up! However, she did not miss any short putts until a five-foot eagle try on the 17th hole. The ball just didn’t take the break and caught the edge. Outside of that, she made putts from 10, 13, 17, 18, 20, and 24 feet. A mid-range putting display that reminded me of Jordan Spieth. While some of those were clutch par saves, she also made four birdies on the day with three of them coming from mid-range putts.
Vicky only lost strokes to a male Scratch handicap from two distance buckets. Based on what I witnessed over the couple of days, this was no outlier for Vicky. She made bomb after bomb in the 9-hole pro-am as well. It definitely looked like her recent change to an armlock grip was paying off on the greens, even if I tried to sabotage her performance by dropping her putter after the 12th hole. After two bombs, it was just too hot to handle properly!
Playing it Safe
Probably the biggest surprise watching Vicky play was the conservative nature in decision making. Vicky only hit six drivers in 13 holes, often hitting 3-wood off the tee and relying on mid-irons for her approach shots into the greens. She is fantastic with her mid-irons so, on the surface, this made sense. She routinely hit her driving, 5, and 6-irons tight throughout the week. On Thursday, this strategy paid off as she hit 10 of 13 fairways.
She was also conservative (and smart) the one time she drove into trouble. On the 14th hole, Vicky smoked a 3W that ran through the fairway and into the hazard. The ball was playable, but sitting on the muddy lake shore. To hit the green she would have to navigate chest-high grass on a more aggressive line. This is a situation where the average amateur (myself included) is probably going to take it on and try to carry the grass to aim at the green. This fails to take into account all the risk. A shot online with the green would have to carry 40 yards and elevate quickly to avoid going into the lake using roughly a 9-iron.
Rough calculations would say one out of five times that would lead to a par, two out of five times you miss the green anyway and make bogey, and two out of five times you chunk it into the lake and make double or worse for an overall average of 5.2 with that strategy.
Laying up is safer, but does it pay off? Let’s say one out of five times, it leads to a par, four out of five times, it leads to a bogey, and it eliminates double bogey. That comes out to an average of 4.8 with that strategy.
Clearly, over the long run, Option Two is the better decision in this case. Vicky knew this and made the right decision. To top it off, after an average wedge into the green, she made the 24-footer to save par!
This is one takeaway that I will likely take into my own game. After watching Vicky play, I reflected on my own decisions and it became clear to me that I often try to force shots and hit the ball too far or bring in unnecessary risk because I don’t trust other parts of my game. For shorter holes with risky landing areas, it makes sense to just get the ball in play. Make sure to avoid big pitfalls like bunkers or penalty areas. Statistically, you want to get as short a club in your hand as possible going into the greens, but that doesn’t always require bashing a driver. Most of us can live with bogeys: Let’s eliminate the big numbers.
Sometimes Too Safe
I am in no position to be critical of Vicky’s golf game, but taking a statistical point of view, there were times when in my opinion she was too safe. The 10th hole at Old American is the best example. I saw Vicky play this hole three times and all three times, she hit 3-wood off the tee. The challenge is a bunker that divides the fairway. Using the V1 Game Course Explorer, we can measure distances between any three points on the course. In the leftmost image below, it is roughly 207 yards to cover the fairway bunker. This yardage is at the edge of how far Vicky was carrying her 3W. The effective width of the fairway is only 40 yards at this location as to the left of a bunker is a severe slope that will repel balls into some nasty rough. To hit 3W, she should aim well right of the bunker. In the three attempts I saw, Vicky hit the bunker, pulled it left where it bounced down into the rough, and missed the bunker by one yard! Clearly it was a problem spot for her. On this hole, I would have loved to have seen her hit her driver. I never saw her hit a poor driver and she has more than enough carry distance to cover the bunker.
Hitting driver actually moves her landing spot to a wider and flatter portion of the fairway as shown in the rightmost image above. It also significantly shortens the distance she would have into the hole from roughly 160 yards to less than 140. If she were to hit into the rough or into trouble, she would still have a higher percentage of being able to reach the green.
It was definitely educational to observe the way Vicky manages the course. There was a lot that us amateurs could learn from her decision making and club selection as she routinely made the right moves.
Enjoy the Ride
Probably the biggest takeaway I had while caddying for Vicky was how stress-free she seemed to be. She was friendly to everyone, she never seemed rushed before, during, or after the round. She was thoughtful. She took a picture with my son, signed a golf ball for him, and the volunteers walking with us. A true professional. Nothing seemed to bother her and she legitimately seemed to enjoy the golf. She would make long putts and just give a little shrug and a fist bump as if to say ‘how about that?’ Never too high or low emotionally, always a smile.
I contrast that with myself, and I definitely over-stress. When playing in a tournament, if I don’t get there an hour early, I feel rushed. I do things too quickly. I think too much about my score. I am fist pumping birdies and dog cussing myself for several minutes after a bad shot or hole. I can let the golf affect my mood. I get too wrapped up in my golf. Vicky seemed perfectly balanced. There is no doubt she cares just as much if not more. There is no doubt that situations were stressful. She didn’t show it. It was probably the most impressive thing I saw that week. I definitely want to be more like Vicky.
Deep down I think we all know that thinking about score or obsessing over the previous shot does not help, but it was liberating to see a player on the big stage that legitimately seemed to enjoy what she was doing.
A quick example: Thursday was the first day of the tournament and Vicky had a 12:30 tee time. We agreed to meet at 11:10. I showed up way in advance of her tee time, at around 9:30. It was a chance for me to watch some of the other players and to make sure I did not hit traffic. 11 rolled around and no word from Vicky. Then 11:10 and still no word. I sent her a text to make sure that I hadn’t missed her arrival to which she replied “on my way.”
I was already nervous to caddie on the bigger stage, but I figured she’d be rushed to get to the course, eat something, warm up, and make it to the tee on time so I was even more nervous. When Vicky showed up, she casually asked if I was ready for lunch. We moseyed into player dining, sat down and took our time eating lunch with small talk, leaving just under an hour to warm up for the day’s round.
In my head, I’m thinking “Okay, it’s a 10 minute cart ride to the range, a 10 minute cart ride to the first tee, we should probably be at the tee box roughly 10 minutes early… That leaves 30 minutes to hit balls, putt, put on sunscreen, etc…” I’m nervous. She is as cool as the other side of the pillow.
We get to the range, where she works through her bag, hitting maybe 20ish shots.
“Should we go putt?” she asked and we walked coolly over to the putting green where she rolled 10 to 15 putts.
Looking at my watch we had 15 minutes until our tee time and she was already ready to go. So much for being rushed!
My big takeaway here is if you’ve already put the work in, then your warm-up is exactly that. It’s a warm-up. Too many times I’m searching for that right feeling or trying to hit each shot cleanly to go into the round with confidence. Right before your round is the wrong time to be searching for something. Use the time to get your body right, trust your swing and ability, and enjoy the ride.
I had a blast caddying for Vicky. I think I was more nervous than she was as it’s always hard to let go of the steering wheel. I kept waiting for the moment I was going to drop her bag at the wrong time or stand in the wrong place. Luckily, I escaped unscathed, and she even said I “passed the caddie test.” It was an eye-opening experience and a ton of fun. I definitely picked up a few areas where I need to work on after following her around for a few days and, hopefully, a few ideas to roll into V1 Game to help others. If she is ever back in town, I hope I get the call. I’d gladly go for another loop!
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