For the past three decades Belfast-based David McNeilly has caddied for many of the greatest golfers on the planet – five of whom have won a total of 16 Major Championships.
Those for whom he has worked include: Nick Faldo, Nick Price, John Daly, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen, Alvaro Quiros, Niclas Fasth, to name but a few.
In an insightful and candid exposition the former RBAI pupil – currently on the bag of Italian teenage sensation Matteo Manassero – chronicles his journey from his unconventional entry into the world of caddying, following his dismissal from Carrera Cigarette factory in Carrickfergus, to his “acrimonious” break in 1985 with Nick Faldo, and his total “devastation” at being unceremoniously dumped by Padraig Harrington in 2004.
McNeilly offers us a bird’s eye view of life on and off the fairways in the company of some of the most temperamental human beings in the world of golf and reflects on his own personal relationships with these individuals.
Close quarters experience qualifies McNeilly to opine with authority – perhaps more than most – on Ireland’s leading world-class golfers. For McNeilly the stellar golfer is Rory McIlroy, adjudged by him to be “the most in-demand golfer on the planet.” He is unequivocal in his analysis of Darren Clarke’s character – summing him up in one word – “explosive,” while expressing his surprise at the achievements of Graeme McDowell, whom he calls a “journeyman professional.”
McNeilly on Faldo:
McNeilly paints a picture of life on tour with Nick Faldo – for whom he worked for a number of years prior to his Major Championship breakthrough.
He speaks bluntly about his “acrimonious” break with Faldo in 1985, following the Englishman’s decision to change his swing. This change coincided with the arrival of David Leadbetter who according to McNeilly “was trying to find his way, in coaching terms.” Of Leadbetter he says, “Faldo’s eh, perhaps maybe a little bit of a guinea pig.”
McNeilly spells out in graphic terms what life was like in the raw with Faldo: “The abuse that he gave me on the golf course publicly, I absorbed and learned from it. He actually made me into the caddy that I am. He was apologetic after the round. I think anyone else could have crumbled, I was young and loved what I was doing.
“He was so single-mined. He wanted to surround himself with people who were important to him, and naturally his caddy was going to be very important to him.
“If you weren’t in his inner circle….you were gone. You were of no value to him. That’s the way he operated…I think maybe – who knows – that’s the reason he became the best golfer in the world.”
Despite McNeilly’s highs and lows with England’s greatest golfer, their friendship remains intact, so much so that Faldo invited him to be his ‘caddies captain’ at the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla in 2008.
McNeilly on Nick Price:
In the wake of the split from Faldo, McNeilly hooked up with South African-Zimbabwean Nick Price, and speaks fondly of his days with Price.
He has no reticence in stating that he was “more talented than Faldo” adding “Nick Price was a much more instinctive natural player.”
McNeilly on Padraig Harrington:
After a fruitful spell with Price, McNeilly ceased touring and returned to Northern Ireland where he settled down. In 1998, however, he went back on the road with Zimbabwean Mark McNulty. A year later he teamed up with Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who was yet to make his mark on the international scene.
Despite the most serious setback to his career as a caddy, to this day, McNeilly speaks fondly of his 5 years in the company of Harrington, who unceremoniously dumped him – giving preference to his brother-in-law as a caddy.
Of his time working with Harrington he says: “It was great fun. He is always up for a laugh. Golfers can be blame machines. He always accepted responsibility. He was very easy to get along with. He wanted you to speak your mind.”
A huge rupture, however, developed in 2004 between Harrington and McNeilly. When asked what had happened McNeilly says:
“I think you are probably asking the wrong person here on that.” McNeilly who was in a devastated state of mind, reveals the sequence of events:
“At the time we were over in Macau. He came to the hotel room, and he then broke the news. I was absolutely just devastated….I was just so shocked. I actually didn’t believe it. I didn’t think it was going to happen.”He said ‘We have probably got another two or three weeks…and then it is over.’
“I think because I had worked with him for so long and had the success I had, I had it in my head that it just wasn’t going to happen.
“What Padraig did to me, ok, I probably don’t have any respect for how he handled me at the time, but It doesn’t make Padraig Harrington a bad person. “I know Padraig is a great guy and even now we still have great craic together…He had his reasons for doing it.”
In his analysis on Harrington’s subsequent success without him on the bag – McNeilly continues:
“In my opinion Padraig Harrington has got as strong a mind as anyone who ever lived…Padraig is not the most naturally gifted golfer, but he has got the most out of his game..because of the strength of mind that he has. I think he has got the strongest mind in golf.”
McNeilly on Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy:
In the course of this interview McNeilly, who caddied a few times for Darren Clarke, speaks of him as an “explosive character” and adds:
“You know fine well when Darren is having a bad day…and you better not be in the wrong place…and just get well away.”
On the success of Graeme McDowell – McNeilly is particularly admiring:
“What Graeme achieved in golf is quite surprising. He was pretty much like a journeyman professional – a very good golfer. It just goes to demonstrate with a real strong mind, and he had the confidence when the opportunities came his way, he took them. You have to have a very strong mind to do that. Most people would not have finished the job off.”
McNeilly is in awe of Rory McIlroy‘s talent and temperament both on and off the course:
“When Rory is on his game, nobody can beat him. He plays that calibre of golf that makes him the most in-demand golfer on the planet today…He is probably the number one golfer in the world.”
David is such a nice guy you would really wonder any golfer would drop him. I think he and Rory would take Norn Irish golfing to another level.
Eamonn, this is an interview that should travel – that should be heard by a wider audience. Here we have the thinking of a man who has been up close with some of the game’s great players. And, as he speaks with such knowledge and insight, the question about a book becomes obvious. David you should write it. Harrington is my favourite player, McIlroy a brilliant talent, and we can all identify with David’s description of Clarke. I play the game very badly, but love it. I also watch most of the European and PGA Tour events on the box, and have noticed young Manassero emerge. Could David yet accompany a winner on his way to a Major victory?
eamon great stuff. This is a story which should go further. So interesting and what a guest.
I am from Augusta, Georgia and had the pleasure of meeting David during the 1984 Masters. He and Faldo won at Hilton Head the following week where David promptly “lost” Faldo and returned to our
local pub here in Augusta for quite a few pints.
Great interview and it would make a good book David……..