Not many people can say they have worked with over a dozen Open Champions and The Beatles in their career, but Paul Stevens certainly can.
Growing up in Lancashire in the 1950s, Stevens, known as ‘the singing caddie’, has had a remarkable career in the game of golf, and performing on the stage.
“I got into caddying at age of 12, became a club caddie," Stevens said. "The reason being, I lived in a town called Rochdale, which was a cotton town. And my mother had an accident in the cotton mill, so she couldn’t afford to give me any pocket money. So I decided to travel to the other side of town, to Rochdale Golf Club, and started caddying for 4 shillings a round (just under 50p today), which to me was a fortune in those days.
“After I started, I had to leave caddying alone and go working in the cotton and textile industry. Caddying was like a weekend occupation at that time, and I really didn’t like being in the cotton mill, because I had started singing then, rock and roll singing."
Stevens was building a love for caddying, but his first love was performing. After winning a talent contest, the Rochdale native and his group, Paul Stevens and the Emperors of Rhythm, soon found themselves mingling with some of music's biggest names.
“That was the love of my life - singing. The top group in Liverpool at that time wasn’t The Beatles, it was a group called Rory Storm and The Hurricanes. And the drummer for The Hurricanes was a guy called Richard Starkey, a.k.a. Ringo Starr.
“I finished up winning a talent quest at Butlins in 1960," Stevens recalls. "Ringo played drums for me, and I won the heat and the final. I formed my own group, and a couple of years later we were working at the world famous Cavern Club in Matthew Street in Liverpool.
"My group were supporting four guys from Liverpool who have done very well, The Beatles. And that was probably the biggest thing in my life. I did work with the Rolling Stones afterwards, and later on the Beach Boys. So a lot of big names during the years.”
Although Stevens would never stop singing, even competing in The Voice Australia recently, he realised that golf was where his future lay, and caddying was what he wanted to do. He soon found he was good at it too.
“I was a cricket player, not a golfer, although I loved golf and started playing later," Stevens said. "But I just applied common sense, and to me that is still what caddying is all about. I’ve always believed that caddying is basically common sense, and saying the right thing at the right time. But it had got into my blood at that time and I wanted to do well, and to be a top caddie I needed to be a links caddie. So I started travelling to the far reaches of Lancashire, to Royal Birkdale.”
Stevens continued to learn from caddies around him at Royal Birkdale who had worked for Open Champions like Peter Thomson. He was one of the first handful of caddies to travel the world looking for bags, as most players at the time would have different caddies in different parts of Europe. He was inspired to do so from watching two legends of The Open at Muirfield.
“So when I went on Tour in 1972, the inaugural year of the European Tour, I decided to go to my first Open at Muirfield in 1972,” Stevens said. “I picked up John Lister who was in The Open. So I caddied for John and he missed the cut. But I’d fallen in love with The Open at that time, and rather than depart I wanted to stay around, so I applied to carry a scoreboard for the weekend. And for the last two rounds I held the scoreboard for Nicklaus and Thomson. I saw Nicklaus make one of his famous last-round charges that year, and that was my entry into the world of top caddying.
"So it had got into my blood, and I decided to go on to the continent. The next week was the French Open, and none of the caddies used to travel in those days, caddies only used to do the local events in the British Isles. So myself and a lovely guy called Ronnie Aspinall, we got into my little Triumph 1500, and we set off on the continent."
Stevens first worked for an Open Champion in Switzerland, caddying for 1939 winner Dick Burton, who then recommended Stevens to some of the top players on Tour. Stevens caddied for Peter Butler shortly after and the pair recorded a top-10 finish at The Open at Troon in 1973. Later that year, Stevens helped Butler pick the right club on Muirfield’s 16th hole to record the first hole-in-one in Ryder Cup history in a match against Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf.
“I was most certainly proud of that moment,” said Stevens, who convinced Butler to change clubs on the tee. “And I think the nicest thing that came out of it, walking to the 17th tee, Jack Nicklaus turned to me and said ‘great caddying Paul’, and that was worth more than money, and more than the case of champagne Peter Butler gave me!”
The following year in 1974, Stevens got the bag of Peter Oosterhuis, the reigning European Champion, and turned up to Royal Lytham & St Annes in his home county with high expectations in The 103rd Open.
“Peter was the best player in Europe at that time, there's no doubt about that,” Stevens said. “He’d won the Order of Merit the year before. We finished up winning it that year by a country mile, daylight came second!
“Peter was a good driver of the golf ball, good fairway wood player and had a very good short game for a big man. He had a very, very good short game. And that week everything fell into place, but for Gary Player we would have been Open Champions!”
Oosterhuis came second to Player in the Championship, but looked for a short period like he could close the gap over the last few holes. Still, it was an unforgettable memory for Stevens, experiencing the furore of The Open in the final group.
“Player played very well. And he had won the Masters that year in 1974, so I knew exactly who Gary Player was, and what he was like. I knew it was going to be a tough call to beat him. But we gave it our best shot, and it was a big thing for me to finish second. If you can’t win it, you’ve got to try and finish second. And I’ll treasure that memory for the rest of my life.
"The Open is the crème de la crème, it’s the ultimate. Especially for British people, it is the event, and to be up there in contention, I mean the 18th hole for example, you have 20,000 plus people, it’s like a football stadium. Being in the last group the last two days with all the crowds, and for me especially being a Lancashire lad as well – it was a big thing for me.”
Throughout a remarkable career, Stevens caddied for over a dozen Open Champions, including Burton, Kel Nagle, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Stewart Cink, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Bill Rogers, Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Nick Price, Tony Jacklin and Greg Norman.
Stevens, who was close friends with Ballesteros, took great pride in caddying for Watson and Jacklin in particular, two heroes of his.
"Jacklin was very very good but had started to tail off a little bit at that time (when I started caddying). I thought Tony was a fantastic player, because I caddied for him later, and he was one of the best ball strikers I’d ever caddied for. But Tom Watson was fantastic. I caddied for Bob Shearer at The Open in 1980, and we played with Watson, when he was the best player in the world, and also the best putter in the world at that time. I said to Alfie Fyles, (Watson’s famous caddie) after the first round, 'you’ve got the winner'. And sure enough, Tom won it. So to caddie for Tom later on was a big thing for me. A fabulous guy, a tremendous player.”
In 1990, Stevens caddied for Mark McNulty as he recorded a runner-up to Stevens’ former employer Nick Faldo, one of many strong finishes Stevens was a part of at The Open.
“I used to get myself up for The Open, you know. It’s the one we wanted to win. I didn’t fulfil my dreams of winning The Open Championship, but I had a lot of good finishes, 15 top-15 finishes, including two runner-ups. A fifth with Faldo, sixth with Butler, ninth with McNulty as well as the runner-up.”
All the while, Stevens stayed true to his singing roots on the road, none more so than at the home of golf.
“I managed to combine the two,” Stevens said of his singing. “I would caddie during the day and sing at night to take my mind off. I didn’t want to get steeped up, the bars were full of 7-irons and divots, all golf talk, so I wanted to take my mind away from it and concentrate when I was on the course. So I cemented my earnings by doing my singing. In St Andrews I did quite a lot. I enjoyed doing it, I loved my singing, and it relaxed me in the evenings. A lot of good times and great memories.
“I could never envisage the career I’ve had. I feel I’ve been a very lucky boy. And The Open means pretty much everything to me. I love the US Open, the PGA, I love the Masters. I love all the majors. But The Open is the tournament. In my opinion, the finest tournament in the world is The Open Championship. It’s the top of my list, top of the tree for me, The Open. I didn’t quite make it, winning The Open, but I gave it a good shot.”