Kevin McAlpine, who had just passed his driving test when he caddied for the first time at Kingsbarns to earn some extra pocket money, has high hopes of steering world No 2 Lexi Thompson to a top prize worth just under £400,000 in the Ricoh Women’s British Open on the Fife course over the next four days.
McAlpine, an ex-Scottish Amateur champion and the son of former Dundee United goalkeeper Hamish, has struck up a successful partnership with the 22-year-old American, who has recorded a win and four second places in 11 events since the pair started working together in March.
That spell also included Thompson being reduced to tears after she was hit with a four-shot penalty over a ball-marking incident that was reported by an armchair viewer and contributed to her losing out in a play-off in the season’s opening major, the ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills in California.
However, McAlpine, who picked up Thompson’s bag after joining a group of fellow Scottish caddies at The Old Collier Golf Club in Florida, believes his boss is well and truly over that “unfortunate” incident and sees no reason why she can’t get in the mix in this week’s £2.5 million event on the Fife coast.
“One of best things about working for someone like Lexi is that you go into any event with a chance of winning and she knows she can win,” said the 33-year-old, who claimed his Scottish Amateur title triumph in style with an 8&7 win over Paul O’Hara at Nairn in 2006. “That’s a great feeling, no matter whether you are a player or a caddie.”
Thompson described what happened to her in this year’s ANA Inspiration, the event she won in 2014, as “kind of a nightmare”, with that incident leading the R&A and USGA to introduce a rule to protect players from being penalised for infringements that “could not reasonably have been seen with the naked eye” soon afterwards. “The media stuff about it has died down, but she still gets people bringing it up and that’s got to be hard. But, as far as I know, she is over it and accepted it. Her results since then show that she has dealt with it pretty well,” said McAlpine. “It’s one of those things. You could run back tapes of Tiger [Woods] over the years – hours and days – and I am sure you would pick something up. Some people are looking out for errors. It was a really unfortunate thing that happened and I think she has moved on from it pretty well.”
McAlpine, who holds the St Andrews Old Course amateur record after carding a 10-under-par 62 in the qualifying rounds for the 2004 Amateur Championship, is hoping he can help give Thompson, who first showed a glimpse of her potential when she qualified for the US Women’s Open at the age of 12, an edge over her rivals this week through knowing the Kyle Phillips-designed course like the back of his hand.
“I’ve seen a lot of this golf course, believe me,” he declared, laughing. “I was still at school when I did my first summer here. I’d just passed my test and I’d come down once or twice a week to earn some extra pocket money. When I first turned pro, I went to the States for the winter then came back here to work in the summer and I had four summers here. In fact, it was only two years ago that I stopped working here as I was still trying to play myself then on the PGA EuroPro Tour.
“It is surreal, really, to be back here now carrying Lexi’s bag in the British Open and we are coming into this event doing pretty well together. We work pretty good as a team, though Lexi is very independent and knows what she is doing. She knows how to play golf and she certainly doesn’t need me to tell her how to do that.”
Of this week’s venue, staging its first major, McAlpine said: “This place is fairly straightforward, to be honest. It’s not like the Old Course where local knowledge is a massive thing. The greens are big and undulating but they are a lot slower this week that what I’ve seen here in the summer. The local guys have been saying that they have slowed them up quite a bit, which might be down to the weather forecast includes wind and rain.”
McAlpine, who has used the trip home to spend some time with parents in Newtyle, north of Dundee, is set to be in the US camp, of course, in the forthcoming Solheim Cup in Des Moines, the same position Ricky Elliott, the Irishman who caddies for US Open champion Brooks Koepka, found himself in at last year’s Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.
“The Solheim Cup will be interesting,” said McAlpine, smiling. “I love match-play golf and it is one of the biggest team events in the game.
“It will be strange [being in the enemy camp], but I have a job to do and that is getting Lexi around the course that week.”
Thompson is hoping to get her teeth into this week’s title tussle – her sixth appearance in the event, having tied for eighth at Woburn 12 months ago – despite having her sleep disrupted by a temporomandibular (jawbone) joint disorder commonly known as TMJ, said she is “grateful” to have McAlpine on the bag and not just on a course he knows so well. “Basically everything,” she replied to being asked what the Scot had brought in his role over the past few months. “He has been a huge help. Kevin is like my best friend. He’s always there to hear me out and hear me vent on the golf course, and we laugh so much on the golf course. I’ve never been so relaxed out there, and he’s definitely been a good change. He knows my game very well. He’s a player, too, so it’s good to have him on the bag.”