How a Veteran Caddie Preps for Royal Birkdale
For over nine years, Mark "Fooch" Fulcher has been on the bag of Justin Rose. Together, they have become one of the most recognizable and accomplished player-caddie teams in golf, highlighted by their U.S. Open win at Merion, a Gold Medal at the Rio Olympics, and their recent runner-up finish at the 2017 Masters.
As one of the PGA TOUR's most veteran caddies, Fooch knows what it takes to prepare for the 2017 Open Championship and put his player in the best position to win. To gain some insight into the preparation that goes on behind the scenes, we sat down with Fooch to discuss scouting the Royal Birkdale, setting a game plan, and working with his boss, Justin Rose.
How would you describe your relationship with Justin Rose on a professional level?
First and foremost, he's my boss—I never lose sight of that. Obviously, over the 9 years that I've been working for him, we've developed a friendship as well, but the reality is that I understand the quality of work he requires from everybody around him. He surrounds himself with some really talented people, and I want to add to that each day we're on the job.
"The reality is that I'd walk through fire for Rosie."
And how about on a personal level?
When you spend a long time with somebody and you go through some battles on and off the course, you develop a bond. The reality is that I'd walk through fire for Rosie. He's been a good man to me. He's enabled me to see things, do things, and achieve things that I never could've imagined. And I think the whole team feels that about Justin. Being part of this perceived "Team Rose"—which is very much a feeling that exists within each of us—we all appreciate that his golf is what produces all these great experience for us.
With such a close relationship, how much influence do you have on Justin's club selection and what type of shot he's going to play?
It's funny you ask that. Some caddies have a lot of influence, and you can often hear that exchange on TV, but others have very little influence. I think we're somewhere in the middle. When Justin's playing really well, he pretty much knows what to do. We'll still communicate on pretty much every shot, but I'd say that on 80% of shots, he's pretty clear on what he wants to do. But there are occasions, obviously, when he wants an opinion. The two of us together probably have nearly 50 years experience in professional golf and that knowledge enables us to make the right decision together.
I think the key thing is to ask the right question. Your decision-making isn't always going to be right, but if you ask the good questions, you often get the best answers.
Do you have any sort of philosophy as to how you ask those questions?
The basic one—and it sounds boring—but if you can look at every golf shot as an individual challenge and ask the question specific to "solving" that shot, you'll usually arrive at the best possible decision. Once you've made a decision, go with what you've chosen and don't second-guess it.
When does Open preparation begin for you as a caddie?
Pretty early. I know we're at Carnoustie next year, so I'll start doing some research about the course... I love The Open flyover videos that come out quite often. You can learn an awful lot online now. In the old days, you had to do it personally. I will probably still make a trip like we did for Erin Hills—I like to see the course and get a feeling of it.
There's an expression we use, "If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail." And it really is that simple.
With the challenge of The Open Championship, how much additional preparation goes into your game plan?
Both Justin and I like to prepare very well. This year, we didn't play the Scottish Open, so we came out to Royal Birkdale that Monday and Tuesday. We feel that by the time we get to Thursday, we're going to be able to handle anything that's thrown at us. We hope that by the time we get to The Open, we're pretty dialed into handling most situations.
Although with The Open, you're also kind of keeping your fingers crossed that you don't get the bad end of the draw...
"Quite literally, if you imagine each bunker as a small garden pond and a 1-shot penalty, you wouldn't be far off from reality at Royal Birkdale."
As a caddie, how important is it to have experience on links golf courses?
Experience is always important, but if I'm honest, I think experience might be more valuable at a place like Augusta because you go there every year. So the more experience you have at a place you go back to every year, the more you'll learn all the tiny nuances about the courses.
The Open is different because the last time we were at Royal Birkdale was in 2008. I'll go back to my old books and look at everything imaginable—and so will Rosie. From there, we will put together a solid game plan. But you have to kind of learn the courses all over again... and I think that's the fun of it.
Rule Number 1 at Birkdale is to stay out of those bunkers. If you regard every bunker as a small pond, you're doing a nice job. Quite literally, if you imagine each bunker as a small garden pond and a 1-shot penalty, you wouldn't be far off from reality at Royal Birkdale.
You'll see some players challenge this golf course, and sometimes you have to. But if you start with the philosophy of avoiding pot bunkers like they were water hazards, you're probably going to be OK.
"One huge advantage that normal golfers don't get is that we have TV towers and grandstands. If you go to a links golf course without there being a tournament, it can be as barren as the moon."
Once you get to the course, what specific things are you looking for on your first loop?
With links golf courses at The Open—and this is one huge advantage that normal golfers don't get—is that we have TV towers and grandstands. If you go to a links golf course without there being a tournament, it can be as barren as the moon.
At The Open Championship, you've got easily visible lines of sight. There's no doubt that having those features makes it easier. Justin enjoys going out there to pick out his angles on his tee shots. He'll play both nines and just soak in every detail. His work ethic is as good as I've ever seen.
With links golf, how do you prepare for dealing with strong winds?
The most significant single thing you have to think about out there is the wind. You can literally go from a driver-wedge on a par 5 to a driver-4 iron on a par 4. The wind direction is the premium element to consider on a links golf course. It's open to the land, it's near the sea, you're going to have a prevailing wind, and you need to be ready for that to change.
I'll obviously look at the weather forecast, but on a links course, you also have to be mindful of the tide changes because they can affect the wind. I have a wind map, a detailed yardage book, and a compass in the bag with me as well.
As you develop a game plan, do you pitch one to Rose or do you work on it together?
If I go there before him, yes. But Rosie's course management is about as good as I've ever witnessed. I've always said to him that if he doesn't want to be a golfer, he would make a great caddie. And that's good for me because I can go out and come up with a strategy for us and know that if I've missed something, he will pick it up. We bounce off each other pretty well, so we've got two eyes for one job.
"Rule Number 1: don't go in the bunkers. Rule Number 2: if you go in a bunker, get it out of the bunker."
Now that you're back at Royal Birkdale, what are your impressions of the course in 2017?
If it's not the finest golf course on The Open rotation, it's the second.There's an argument that Muirfield is the best, but personally, I think Royal Birkdale is the finest. This golf course is very strategic because there's going to be a percentage of the field, like DJ, who will be very aggressive out here. They're going to try and carry bunkers and accept whatever lie they may find in the rough. For us, Rule Number 1: don't go in the bunkers. Rule Number 2: if you go in a bunker, get it out of the bunker.
We're going to play the course as it's demanded, but you also have to be able to change if needed. Over the course of the first two rounds, we will be able to assess our tactics. If there are things we can change, we'll change.
Speaking of change, do you anticipate any major equipment changes for Justin at Royal Birkdale?
Yes, we have made some changes to Rosie's equipment already. We've actually been working on it for a couple months. We normally play a 4-wedge system, which would be a PW, 52°, 56°, and 60°. For the links season, we've gone with just three wedges: a PW, a 54° MG wedge, and a 60° MG wedge. In place of that additional wedge, we put in a UDI 1-iron, which is a driving iron.
To be honest, the 1-iron is going in specifically for this week. We know that on this golf course, we might only hit 2 or 3 drivers. But now, we know that if we can get into a rhythm with a driving iron and firm fairways, it will work very well for us. It is a significant change, but it's something we've done particularly for the links season.
Since adding the new Rose Proto irons to his bag, what has Justin's feedback been?
He loves them. They're a little bit smaller than what he had and they've been really effective out of the rough. In Ireland, they played very well. And for Rosie to put a set in straight away and keep them in his bag just goes to show what a high-quality product TaylorMade has produced.
In the nine years that I've worked for Rosie, the standard of production has just been going up, non-stop. Whether it's the ball or the new driver or the irons, the quality just continually goes up. There's no question as to why he's stayed with TaylorMade and the Rose Proto irons are just another example of the beautiful clubs they can make.
How important do you think his TP5x golf ball will be when dealing with windy conditions this week?
Again, I've been with Justin for a long time and the ball is probably the singular most important piece of equipment that players use. You have to like the ball to play well and this ball we're using is as good as I've ever seen a ball in the wind.
For me as a caddie, when I know we have an 8-10 mph wind, I also know exactly what the TP5x is going to do... it makes my job so much easier.
Lastly, what would winning the Open Championship mean for you and what would it mean for Justin?
Ever since I was a kid, I would stand over the ball and think "this putt is for The Open." I'm sure it was the same for Justin as well. Being a part of winning The Open would obviously be very nice, but for me personally, there is nothing I want more than to see my boy become the Champion Golfer of the Year. He would make such a worthy winner. I'd be immensely proud of him.
The Masters was close. The Olympics was the best 10 days of my life. Merion will stay with me forever. But for Justin to win The Open and for me to be part of it—I'm not quite sure you can put that into words...
See all the TaylorMade equipment Fooch will be carrying for Justin Rose at The Open Championship here. Team Rose is set to see off on Thursday at 9:58 AM local time.
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