Pictures: Chad Fanaroff
He used to have to tell her where to put the golf bag around the greens, but Tjaart van der Walt and his wife Vicki are clearly in a different league as a caddie-player team now – and it was especially evident after Van der Walt’s brilliant 65 in the third round of the Lion of Africa Cape Town Open.
The couple reflected on their golfing partnership over toasted sandwiches and coffee on their regular bench outside the tournament office at Royal Cape Golf Club ahead of the final round of the tournament.
“It started in 2009 in the United States,” remembered Vicki. “It was something of a necessity, but I was also tired of going brain-dead outside the ropes and clapping prettily.
“Luckily, we both speak Afrikaans – we called it our ‘bytaal’ (secret language) – and I managed to get the hang of the mechanics of things,” she added.
She ended up on Tjaart’s bag in Cape Town as a result of the end of the line for another caddie – “I got fired,” said Tjaart laconically of a man who had to make a decision between working with him or for a family member.
“Also, the team around me were helping me made decisions after I was really drained after the Dunhill Links on the European Tour,” he said, “and they were full of insights like ‘You should have done this, or done that, sooner.’ And one of those things was that I should maybe just have Vicki on the bag till the end of the year.”
So Vicki went with him to the ISPS Handa Perth International – and they promptly missed the cut.
“But he’s been working so hard on so many things, something was going to fall into place at some point,” she says.
And it did with a vengeance in that third round at Royal Cape.
To those who watched, it’s apparent that the relationship between them on the course is so much closer than a normal caddie-golfer one would be. “No-one knows me as well as Vicki does,” acknowledged Tjaart.
“She really knows when to give me encouragement, and when she needs to give me some space. And, perhaps even more importantly, she knows how to handle my nutrition on the course. She can see when my concentration is flagging and make sure I do something about it.”
There is more to caddying than that, however. “I’m not a player myself,” said Vicki, “but I have been with him through all those hours on the range with coaches, and obviously a lot sinks in. I’d never tell him what club to take, but if he says he’s between two clubs, I can talk to him about each of the clubs. And I can help him with swing thoughts when I think it’s necessary.”
As Tjaart lined up putts at Royal Cape, it was clear he was bouncing a lot of his thinking about lines off her. “She’s become quite good on the greens,” he said.
Vicki was quick to add, “I only confirm what he’s already thinking.”
That kind of closeness highlights the possible problems of a wife caddying for a pro: “It’s hard on her,” said Tjaart. “A normal relationship is difficult enough, and heaven knows golf is hardly an easy environment for anyone, so she has to suck up a lot.”
Despite that challenge, it’s very clear the caddie-player relationship is a good one – and they’re a great couple too.