The mental health toll of playing professional golf during the pandemic isn’t confined to the men and women swinging the clubs. It impacts the folks carrying those clubs, too.
John McLaren, a caddie who has worked more than three decades for various tour pros including Luke Donald, Tony Johnstone, Scott Dunlap, Duffy Waldorf and, for the last years, Paul Casey, says the anxiousness and exhaustion of traveling during the COVID pandemic from his home in the U.K. is causing him to step back from looping in 2022. McLaren’s work with Casey at the CJ Cup last week in Las Vegas was his last tournament in the U.S. He intends to caddie for Casey at the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship next month and at the Dubai Desert Classic in January, where Casey is the defending champion, before stepping away entirely.
“The accumulation of the last 18 months of travel, the testing, the uncertainty has taken its toll, not only on me, but how I am at home with my family,” McLaren told PGATour.com. “And once that starts to have an impact on my young children and my wife, whom I very much love, then the questions start to arise about the sacrifices relative to what needs to be gained.
“Each weekend I”d be sitting basically with my fingers crossed, hoping that I was going to test negative so that I could get home,” he added. “And then the flip of that, obviously when I got home, I’d have to do more tests and isolating at home, etc., while planning to come back to work for Paul, thinking, well now I hope I don’t test positive with my family and children because then that’s then going to make Paul’s life not as comfortable and easy because he’s not certain his caddie is going to make it back.”
McLaren, 55, is known by the fun nickname “Johnny Long Socks” for the colorful pairs he wears on the course. He was initially hesitant to discuss the matter with Casey. However, the two have a good relationship off the course, and Casey understood the situation.
“This is a genuine moment where you’ve got two guys who are really good friends and one guy going, ‘I need to take a break,’ and the other guy going, ‘OK, I fully support that,’” Casey told PGATour.com. “In this current environment we’re in, it just doesn’t seem to happen. And nobody seems to speak about it, either.”
Part of the reason the decision is being made now is connected to logistics. McLaren’s work visa for the U.S. expires in February so he’d have to do a fair amount of work to get it renewed. So it was that McLaren had to decide if it was worth effort or not. Ultimately, he decided it wasn’t.
“The issue in the end is you start to recognize some minor changes in your own personality that you aren’t fully aware of why they’re there,” McLaren said. “I knew I felt different, and it was more about taking command of that situation rather than being a victim of it all.”
McLaren will be remembered for his hard work on the course, friendliness off it with fellow players and caddies, and, well, his being a pseudo fashion trend-setter.
“I’m proud of it,” he told the Associated Press in assessing his career. “It’s really hard work. I do set myself up to fail by being arrogant, thinking I can make a difference. But it’s been fulfilling.”