There’s a “spy” in one of the camps at this year’s Ryder Cup. Ricky Elliott may hail from Portrush but is not on Darren Clarke’s side at Hazeltine. Instead, he’s caddying for Brooks Koepka, having picked up that bag soon after the American underlined his potential when winning the Scottish Hydro Challenge in Aviemore to secure promotion to the European Tour.
It’s an unusual position for Elliott to be in but no means unique in the biennial contest. Take Sonny McMullen, for example. The Scot caddied for American Chi-Chi Rodriguez in the 1973 match at Muirfield, having been on Englishman Peter Townsend’s bag for the two stagings prior to that before also working for two other leading lights in the days when it was still Great Britain & Ireland, Peter Oosterhuis and Tony Jacklin.
“I started caddying in 1967 with Peter Townsend at the Northern Open and I was the first British caddie to have a weekly wage,” said McMullen, now 81 but still playing golf at Easter Moffat in Lanarkshire.
“Townsend took me to America in 1968 and, after a couple of seasons with him, I then caddied for Chi Chi Rodriguez, Curtis Strange, Gary Player, Peter Oosterhuis and Tony Jacklin on and off. I was the first British caddie to work over there and was in America in total for about 18 years.”
Many of the highlights of a colourful career came in the Ryder Cup. “It is the best tournament by far,” he added. “The buzz is fantastic. I caddied in five Ryder Cups – Townsend twice, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Oosterhuis and Jacklin – and I’d say the first one at Birkdale in 1969, when Eric Brown was the GB&I captain and Sam Snead was the American captain, provided the greatest memory.
“It finished all square when Jack Nicklaus gave Jacklin the putt on the last green. The Americans weren’t very happy about it. It was definitely missable, at least two and a half feet and left to right.
“The best to work for was Chi Chi at Muirfield in 1973. The GB&I players were only getting £1,000. Chi Chi said to me he’d pay me more than the whole GB&I team was getting – and he did. I was doing a professional job and I was there like everyone else for wages. A lot of caddies later on didn’t want to caddie against GB&I.”
McMullen felt the event had turned into a “farce” due to the Americans winning most of the time before seeing the tide turn since it became Europe. The visitors are bidding for an unprecedented fourth successive victory in the event in Minnesota, but McMullen is worried by Clarke’s side containing the most newcomers for an away match since the 1999 defeat at Brookline.
“You can’t go into the Ryder Cup with six rookies, I don’t care what anybody says,” he insisted. “These guys think they’ve had pressure in the Open, but the pressure in the Ryder Cup is 1000 times worse. He’ll have to pair an experienced player with a rookie, and so you can’t play your big guns together to try and guarantee points.”
McMullen’s other sporing love is football and is a proud Albion Rovers fan. “My grandfather used to say, ‘they must be expecting a big crowd as they’re putting a three-piece suite into Cliftonhill’,” he joked. “I was very friendly with Davie White. When he was manager of Rangers he was getting £80 a week. Willie Henderson and Jim Baxter were only getting £20 a week. Davie asked for a motor, he got a second-hand Audi. These days, managers and players have top-of-the-range BMWs worth £170,000.”