The player-caddy dynamic is a unique feature of golf not found in any other sport. Not merely a transporter of the bag, nor just a savant of each course, caddies serve a versatile role. Are they assistants or playing partners?
Particularly at the professional level, caddies offer far more than just a helping hand and an “Attaboy!” The good ones study the physical quirks and limitations of their player. Better ones will study the tools they need to keep in the bag to assist with any mental limitations. But what does this four-hour, 18-hole discussion look like, especially with a crowded leaderboard on Sunday? Are caddies blind loyalists? Proverbial “yes” men? Or are they realists who carefully craft criticism to cultivate their player’s confidence? To find out, we need look no further than one of the most jovial (and recently successful) duos on tour: Max Homa and his caddy Joe Greiner.
Fresh off Max’s T-34 finish at the Waste Management Phoenix Open & a T-7 finish at Pebble Pebble, weeks of the anticipation culminated with a gutsy hometown win for Homa at Riviera this past Sunday. But his Genesis Invitational victory was not without challenges. Nothing really worth it ever is, though.
We spoke to Max about his whirlwind experience and to understand a little more about his perspective. His weekend round saw a ton of notable shots. Saturday, it was a greenside bunker shot that slammed the brakes on the slippery 10th green. Sunday, there was a crisp iron shot threaded narrowly through the trees on the par-5 11th, followed by another sly bunker shot to tie Tony Finau for the lead on the 71st hole. How did he pull off such well-executed shots in the exact moment needed?
“You just have to speak things into existence. Like, ‘I’m going to hit this shot well.’ or ‘I’m going to make this putt,’” said Homa.
And sometimes that positive self-talk is vital not because you make the putt — but because you’ve just missed one. On the 18th hole on Sunday, right after his birdie to tie the lead, Homa stuck it to three feet and had only a short birdie putt to win the tournament. And that’s when the most important moment of the day happened: he missed.
Well, the most important moment of the day happened next: Homa tapped in his par and closed out with a bogey-free, 5-under 66 in the final round. There were no blemishes on the scorecard, but this par felt like a gut-punch. And caddy Joe Greiner was right there with a firm slap on the shoulder and some immediately encouraging words. Because there was still more golf to be played.
How do you pick your player up after missing an easy putt for the outright win? If positivity is so reliable, imagine the dangers of self-deprecation — something many amateur golfers are familiar with — and the power it takes to steer your player clear of that negativity.
The history between Greiner and Homa is rich: they have been working together in a professional capacity since 2013, and they’ve best friends since they were 6.
“Joe is probably the most important person to me. I am really fortunate to have him,” Max has said.
One admirable aspect of their relationship is their mutual respect and gratitude for one another. Another is Joe’s unrelenting support for his buddy — he’s not just trying to earn a paycheck, he really wants to see his friend succeed. When Max hits a juicy shot, Joe is the first voice you can hear on the mics to praise him. And when a shot goes awry or an easy putt lips out, Joe is there to keep Max in the right frame of mind.
Another piece of their puzzle is the genuine acknowledgment and appreciation Joe feels in return. “Max makes me feel very valuable. He listens to most of my advice,” Joe said in a PGA TOUR Exclusive. “When I tell him things, he really takes it to heart and I appreciate that.”
A caddy is the only person besides the player themselves who has the power to directly influence a player’s headspace.
Said Homa: “Joe is just so mild-mannered. So, if it’s a rollercoaster day, I just feed off his calmness. And he has a knack for saying the right things at the right time.”
One can only assume that being such close friends with your player could lend a hand in recognizing mental triggers and how to combat them.
So how exactly did Max break out of a negative headspace — or avoid the downward spiral altogether — following that missed 3-footer on 18? The answer might be Joe.
“Just by his support and lack of panic, not making me feel down at all just seeming so stoked to go to a playoff.”
In the field of somatic psychotherapy there’s a technique known as co-regulation, where one nervous system soothes another. Essentially, two people use breathing and grounding techniques with or without physical touch to assist in regulating the nervous system. This is especially helpful in stressful moments when we feel most reactive and dysregulated, but have another body nearby to help calm us down.
The rest is history, as they say, and made for phenomenal Sunday television: Max’s drive on the first playoff hole, the tricky 10th at Riviera, wound up inches from a tree. With Tony Finau in the driver’s seat, Max’s luck seemed to be running out. But with smart club selection, some encouragement from Joe, and an incredible hooded swing of a gap-wedge, Homa pitched up onto the green and saved par — and saved his chances at a W.
On the next hole, that mental perseverance paid off. With a simple par, Homa outlasted Finau for his second tour victory.
And what words of wisdom did Joe whisper to him after they won?
“Good sh*t, I can’t believe we did it.”
Judging by Homa’s recent triumph and even the way he’s responded to bad shots, it’s clear the two have been honing their harmony for this exact moment.
Feeling seen, heard, and even treasured is an integral part of Joe’s professional relationship with Max. It’s an appreciation beyond just carrying someone’s clubs. And that appreciation can transform the player-caddy partnership into a true symbiosis. Gratitude, confidence, and humility seem to be the most effective qualities of the mental approach of successful golfers.
Sunday’s success is proof of the power of positive reinforcement over criticism and shame. As Homa puts it, putting that positive thinking to work just makes him “a happy dude.” And with Joe at his side and a trophy to take home, it looks like it’s paying off.