Life on the fairways with Chris Selfridge

Mark McGowan

Tom McKibbin and Chris Selfridge

Mark McGowan

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It’s an incredibly challenging thing to have a sporting career cut short by injury, but instead of disappearing into the wilderness, Chris Selfridge is carving out a successful career as a caddie on the DP World Tour.

A highly rated amateur, the Moyola man entered the professional ranks in 2015 before persistent wrist injuries meant he had to shelve a promising career on tour three years later. This brought a period of confusion for Selfridge who was searching for his next move, before an opportunity to caddie for his close friend Michael Hoey on the DP World Tour presented itself.

Six years later and the 31-year-old has established himself as a caddie on the DP World Tour, looping for Ryan Fox and Tom McKibbin in the past, while opportunities on the PGA Tour beckon this season on a freelance basis.

It may be a different route, but Selfridge is enjoying a career on the fairways.

“Becoming a caddie started out when I was working an office job in Belfast and I didn’t really know what was next for me. I was thinking about going back to university and getting a masters’ and I was a bit confused,” he explained ahead of the Ras Al Khaimah Championship where he is on the bag for Matthias Schwab of Austria.

“Michael Hoey managed to get some Tour status for the following year and he was a close friend from my playing days. I went down to Australia for a few weeks caddying for him and doing some travelling so that was very appealing and I fell in love with caddying and have been doing it ever since. It was an accident of sorts, but I knew from having caddy friends that it was a viable career option and something that would fit my personality well.

“Caddying for Michael was a soft introduction to caddying, the travel was easier because I was travelling with him and we would get an Airbnb together and be more social because we were friends. The experience was great, and he played really well that year, making a lot of cuts and a few top-20s. I learned the ropes pretty quickly and it all worked out.”

Following his successful stint with Hoey, Selfridge was once again left wondering where to turn during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

The DP World Tour had just introduced a six-week UK swing which once again gave Selfridge the opportunity for a big break. This time, for New Zealand star Ryan Fox.

The Castledawson native acquitted himself well alongside the Kiwi and an initial six-month stint turned into 18 months, where the pair played major championships together and the Tokyo Olympics.

“It happened during Covid in the six-week UK swing starting in July 2020. I got in touch with Ryan’s caddie who couldn’t travel with the restrictions, so I offered my services for six weeks and we organised it,” Selfridge recalls.

“It went pretty well – we had a couple of top-10s and solid play but no wins or anything special, so I did a few majors as well and ended up working for him for 18 months. Our best finish was a fourth – that was my second season caddying [for him] – so it was nice to be in with chances to win. He’s a great person, great fun to be around and a real competitor on the golf course. He wasn’t scared of the big stage so that was a great experience for me and got to do the Olympics for him in Tokyo which was unique during Covid.”

Now a looper with a flourishing reputation, Selfridge was back enjoying a career in golf after injury threatened to make him fall by the wayside.

The former University of Toledo student who won back-to-back North of Ireland Championships and the Irish Close as an amateur, first hurt his wrist at the 2015 European Tour Q-School when he had a card within his grasp.

“I was warming up for the third round when I was in fifth place and would probably have been odds-on with the bookies to get my European Tour card,” he recalled. “But I damaged a ligament in my wrist. I wasn’t that bothered because I knew another year on the Challenge Tour would do me the world of good. If there was a good time of the year to get injured, then that was it because I had five months off and that injury did clear up.

“But at the end of 2016, I woke up one day and my elbow wasn’t right,” he said. “It turned out it was tendinitis and I got it treated. I’m not quite sure even how I hurt it – it might have been hacking out of rough the previous day perhaps – but it just got worse, and I had to pull out of a few tournaments. Then in the first round in Kazakhstan I hurt the wrist ligament again and had to withdraw after the first round and that wrote off the rest of 2016.”

Selfridge, desperate to keep his dream alive, kept plugging away but to no avail and only to his detriment.

“I tried to play too much, and I regret that now,” he laments. “I should have taken a medical. I should have taken time off. I should have fixed the problem. It just got worse and worse and because I wasn’t able to put in the volume of practice, my stroke average went from 70 to 71 to 72 and all of a sudden, you’re still playing quite well but the best you can do is finish 40th.

“It’s my fault in the end. I should have known. I also felt invincible. It took me a few months and about 10 missed cuts to realise, ‘hang on a minute here – I’m actually getting worse!’ I was able to practice my short game and hit drivers but just wasn’t able to put the reps in on the mid-irons, the shots that take divots, and it took a lot of poor results for me to realise, ‘how can I expect to play well when I can’t even practice?’”

In the end, quitting the game was a relief but he is climbing the ladder back to the top as a caddie.
Ahead of the 2022 season, Selfridge dropped down a level to the Challenge Tour to link up with then teenage sensation, Tom McKibbin.

It was a partnership that soon blossomed; the Northern Irish duo winning promotion to the DP World Tour via the Challenge Tour’s season-long Road to Mallorca at the first time of asking, before parting ways after last year’s Singapore Classic.

For Selfridge, dropping off the main tour for McKibbin was a no brainer and a risk worth taking for a player whom he feels can achieve absolutely everything in the game.

“I saw him grow up and knew how good of a player he was. We had the same coach, Johnny Foster, who has done a phenomenal job. I just remember thinking ‘how good is this kid?’ He didn’t even have a Challenge Tour card at the time he turned pro, and I was amazed at how good he was.
“It was about helping him become a more refined tournament player, improve wedges, speed on the greens etc. He made amazing improvements at those things. He was weak out of the rough which he has massively improved. It felt like he hit the ball already like a top-100 player at 18 years of age.

Chris Selfridge with Harry Diamond, Rory McIlroy and Tom McKibbin at Hero Dubai Desert Classic (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

“He was playing at a level he was too good for, and it was about getting through that. It was a big decision for me to go back to the Challenge Tour and help him, it was a risk for me to step away from the main tour and but I had opportunities to go elsewhere, but I just believed how good he was and it was 100% worth the risk. I’m proud of the work I put in and what we did together.
“It didn’t work long term and as disappointing as that was for me to be let go in the new season after the work I put in, it was a business decision. There’s no hard feelings and I almost get on better with him and his team.

“Dave McNeilly is a great fit and there is no ceiling as to how good he can be. Tom just needs to stay fit and make sure he keeps going. I wish him all the best. He’s a fantastic player.”

Job security as a caddie is seldom, but Selfridge is a much-touted bagman with offers coming from all corners. He finds himself in a unique situation this season, as a freelancer, which will bring about opportunities to further his career on the PGA Tour.

“At the back end of last year I ended up caddying for Matthias Schmid, he plays mainly in America but he wanted to keep status on the DP World Tour. We had some success with a second, a fourth and a 13th together, so he’s playing mainly in America with his own full-time caddie. So, I will help them out as and when required in Mexico, Florida and Puerto Rico on the PGA Tour.

“I’m freelancing a bit on the DP World Tour with Matthias Schwab who lost his card in America last year, it’s unusual but I’m willing to do it for now. It’s exciting to be working on the PGA Tour so who knows what will happen.”

Life as a caddie is very intense. Selfridge does the bulk of his work, often putting in 10 or 12-hour shifts Monday through to Wednesday, scoping out the golf course before a tournament begins.
“Monday to Wednesday is very intense, if you’re at a new venue you have to learn the golf course so it does help when you return to a place that you know,” explains Selfridge.

“You’ve so much prep to do with the player, he’ll do nine holes each day and maybe two- or three-hours’ practice and one day that will be longer than that, so you’ll be walking the course, checking lines, bounces, layup areas, blind shots etc. I really enjoy it.

“My wife comes to a few tournaments; she was at the Dubai Desert Classic, so she followed Rory McIlroy which is more appealing than watching me caddie! It’s all about preparing for the tournament and trying to get the right amount of rest after ten-hour days on your feet.

“There’s a Caddies’ Association which is helpful for travelling and shuttle buses because we are responsible for meeting the player at the course, we don’t stay with him or travel with him – you might have the odd dinner together if he asks you. So, you sort everything yourself, but it comes through the Caddies’ Association which has people organising things for us so having that is very beneficial to us all.”

From the outside looking in, it can seem that a caddie is little more than a bag carrier for the player, but Selfridge has always valued the role of a caddie. Even during his playing days when finances were tight, he would try to have a caddie by his side.

“The job is very important, and I have always believed that. When I played, I had a full-time caddie back and forth when I could. If finances were against having a full-time caddie, I would pick one up for the weekend, so I have always valued it from the mental side to be able to talk through the shot. You are the golfer’s right-hand man in the heat of the moment.

“If you do a good job, you have some security but it’s not something that’s discussed very often. If you are a good caddie and you work hard you build up a good reputation and people will get in touch. This is my sixth year caddying now and I’ve been let go and been picked up so there’s no level of job security like the real world.”

Last season, Ireland had six players at the Final Stage of DP World Tour Q-School. Nobody secured cards for this year and there have been two events where Ireland have had no representation.

In 1997, Pádraig Harrington was one of ten Irishmen in the Dubai Desert Classic field, now we are at a stage where one is the maximum we can muster for some of the lower ranked events on tour.
Selfridge has noticed a diminishing Irish presence on tour since he started caddying at the top level but hopes to see more fresh faces over the next five years.

“Irish players at the top level is a bit of a funny one,” he said. “Obviously having top players like Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Seamus Power and Tom coming behind – we seem to do well at the top level, players who are elite and capable of great things. Seamus wasn’t too far away from the last Ryder Cup and who knows how many Tom can play in the future.

“We are struggling with a lack of presence on the DP World Tour. Last season we had John Murphy and Gary Hurley coming through Q-School which gets you a card but doesn’t get you into big events so it’s a difficult card to be honest. It’s really tough. It just seems we are lacking.

“I don’t know why because we clearly produce the top players, but we need players coming through. Mark Power is a phenomenal player, as is Alex Maguire who both turned pro. It seems like they should be more than good enough to be on tour over the next few years.

“I guess players take longer to develop, John Murphy had a difficult time but I am sure he will be back on tour. We lack the numbers which is disappointing. I can’t give any secrets but hopefully in the years to come we will get a bigger presence.

“It seems there are more Scots, maybe ten or twelve so it would be great to get to a place where we had more Irish on tour. Paul Dunne is another one, he was doing really well until injuries hit him, it shows you what can happen – and it can happen to anyone – and it can set you back so much. He was on the fringes of a Ryder Cup team and hopefully he can get fit again because there’s no lack of ability but he’s great under pressure.

“Hopefully in three to five years we will have more DP World Tour players.”

The above feature appeared in the 2024-2 edition or Irish Golfer. To view the full edition click below

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