Asia Journal: Who’s Your Caddie? In Macau, Not Who You Think

As if golf on the Chinese island of Macau weren’t surreal enough, green-ribboned as it is among the casinos and construction cranes. No, there’s more.

Caddies in Asian golf are nothing like we’re used to in the west. In this day and age, if anyone knows what a caddie is, they think of the PGA TOUR version, that stone-silent, vigilant valet of a player’s equipment and psyche. They get famous occasionally, like Kiwi Steve Williams did during his long tenure with Tiger Woods. But mostly, they stay in the background and hew to the Three Ups of pro caddiedom: Show Up, Shut Up and Keep Up.

Then there are the canny Scots of legend, also silent, who untighten their critical visages rarely, and then only enough to light a cigarette. You don’t ask these Easter-Island-faced sages for a club. They hand you 6-iron. And you best not argue.

But in China? Neither of these archetypes. In China, I had Apple.

Chinese women in their teens and early twenties often get jobs as caddies at resort golf courses. Mission Hills, the 12-course golf fiefdom between Shenzhen and Dongguan on the mainland, has small armies of them. They climb on the back of the carts the way firemen used to hang onto the back of hook-and-ladder trucks, and they won’t let you do ANYthing. Just hit the shot; they will take care of the rest. If you try to rake a bunker to save them the 100 meter sprint from across the fairway to do it, they will grab the rake from you and take over, their faces clouded as with the fear of ritual execution should Party bosses see them shirking.

Meet Apple, my caddie in Macau.

Almost all the caddies in China are pleasant and helpful. Unlike most, Apple also spoke very good English.

“Why is your name Apple?”

“Oh!’ Tittergiggle. Covering mouth with hand. “My friends, they call me that. I had an earring; it was like an apple. So they call me, and it sticks.”

Apple liked to read putts, and she was good at it. We developed a fruitful partnership, largely because putting was the only thing I was doing well that day. If she said start it three inches outside right of the cup, I did. More often than not, it went in. Shy as she may have been in general, she defended her reads.

“Inch or so left here, Apple?”

“No. No no no. Left half. Must keep in hole.”

Plunk. I gave up second-guessing.

Because I knew you wouldn’t believe me, that’s why.

As the round wore on, I saw a rare opportunity. How many Americans get the chance to learn about the life of a young Chinese person? Of course, one does not ask personal questions in Asia. But I pushed the envelope.

“Do you think you will be a caddie for a long time, Apple?”

“No. Quit in July.”

“Why?”

“Get married.” She smiled broadly.

“That’s wonderful! And your intended, what does he do?”

“My…inten?”

“The man you will marry.”

“Oh!’ Another big smile. “He sells..real…real…the land.”

“He sells real estate?”

“Yes!”

“And do you think you will have children?” She blushed.

“I hope.”

“And you will miss your friends here.”

“Yes. Not too much. But yes.” By this time, we had reached the next green. “Right to left, but only a little.”

I stroked the putt, and the ball hung on the edge.

“I said only a little. You need to listen.”

Off to the next hole, the next putt, the next chapter in Apple’s modern Chinese life. — Adam Barr

Copyright 2012 Adam Barr

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