Ladies European Tour Life Member Sophie Gustafson is one of the organisation’s most prolific and successful players, with 16 LET titles amongst her 26 career victories and four Order of Merit titles, earned from 1996-2011.
An eight-time European Solheim Cup team player as well as a vice-captain in 2015, last year, she decided to stop playing competitively to caddie for Beth Allen, which is turning into another incredible success story.
Last July, Allen earned her maiden LET victory at the ISPS HANDA Ladies European Masters on their first week working together, going on to finish the season ranked fifth on the 2015 LET Order of Merit.
In 2016, Allen has six top 10 finishes and a second win with Gustafson at the Lacoste Ladies Open de France at Golf de Chantaco. She ranks second on the LET Order of Merit behind Shanshan Feng with a realistic chance of catching Feng come the season-ending Omega Dubai Ladies Masters.
Here, Gustafson talks about her new career as a caddie and what she has learned along the way.
Sophie… how are you enjoying caddie life?
I find it to be great fun. It’s so much more relaxed than playing, more in a mental way than physical obviously.
Why did you decide to become a caddie?
It wasn’t so much of a decision to become a caddie as it was a decision to stop playing on tour. That was a really tough decision. I had been playing for so long and that’s basically all I know. Granted, I’ve got a good education but sitting in an office day in and day out doesn’t appeal to me. When I knew I didn’t want to play anymore I knew I still wanted to be part of the game and still part of the competition. The only way to do that is to be a caddie. I had played with the thought in 2008 when I was struggling with my game but it was too early to give up playing at that time.
When I told Beth and Flic in the bar in China I was thinking of quitting and that I might become a caddie, Beth basically hired me on the spot. It took a little time for me to actually pull the trigger to quit but when I did, I started working for her. We ended up winning our first event together and it’s just been rolling on after that.
How do you help Beth on a daily basis?
I’m not much different from other caddies when it comes to preparations and such stuff. We all walk the course and plot out the best way to play it. I’ve got caddie friends that I learn from every day how they prepare for an event. I believe my strength with Beth is on the course, especially when the heat is turned up towards the end of an event. I know how she feels since I’ve been there and can communicate with her in a way that will make her perform to the best of her ability. I can calm her down when needed and give her a kick up the ass when needed. Seeing shots and reading putts; I think I’ve also got an advantage with having played so much golf myself on a high level.
What has been the toughest adjustment in going from player to caddie?
The salary cut ;)
What has given you the greatest satisfaction so far?
Guiding Beth home to win the ISPS HANDA Ladies European Masters last year. She had a heartbreak there the previous year and to be able to figure out a way for her to turn that around was great.
Compare the feeling of winning a tournament as a player to winning as a caddie?
The feeling of winning an event as a player is more raw, I find. Your heart races much more, your mind wonders much more but the satisfaction is also much more. As a caddie, of course you are excited and it’s fun to see your player’s name on top, but at the end of the day, it’s her win. You might have been a very close team on the course but when the last putt is in, it’s the player who won the event, not the caddie.
As a four-time winner of the LET OOM, how much would you love to help Beth win the LET OOM this year?
That would be so incredibly cool. Unfortunately I won’t be in Dubai to see it happen (if it does happen). I will however do whatever I can to help her get in to a good position to be able to give it a good shot that week.
If Beth qualifies for the US Solheim Cup team in the future, would you switch sides to caddie for her in the competition?
No. My roots are too firmly planted in the European team.
Do you think you will ever play on tour again?
I don’t see myself going back on the regular tour. The Legends Tour in the States has an age limit of 45, so I might give that one a go in a few years if I feel like it but at the moment, I’m happy where I am.
What was the best advice you ever received from a caddie and why?
Commit to it! (the shot).
It sounds so easy but when you break it down to what it really means it could make a world of difference. There are a lot of times when you and your caddie discuss clubs, wind, slope and so on. And often you are between clubs which means you have to lean on one or take a little off another. It’s so crucial that you commit to what you have decided. If you stand over the ball without being 100% focused and committed to what you are trying to do, you are most likely going to fail. You have to commit 100% to what you have decided even if it turns out you have made the wrong decision. 99% of the time a fully committed shot with a bad club is still better than a non-committed shot with the right club.
This interview followed the 2016 Lacoste Ladies Open de France.