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Meet the husband and wife team with a 100 per cent European Tour record
As a player-caddie team, Chris and Keri Paisley have played one, won one. Mark Townsend chatted to the South Africa Open champions.
Chris Paisley is only playing on this year’s European Tour through the now defunct Access List. In 2017 there were six straight missed cuts in the heart of the season before a late flurry to secure his privileges for this term.
Now he’s on the shortlist for January’s Golfer of the Month alongside Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Li Haotong after playing his last four tournaments in 66 under. The start of the scintillating run came in South Africa as the 31-year-old finally got over the line on his 118th start on tour.
Even more spectacular was the fact that he had his wife Keri on the bag, a non-golfer and a first-time caddie.
Better still the Hexham star went straight to the stellar fields of Abu Dhabi and Dubai where he finished 5th both times before opening up with a 65 in Malaysia, a tournament he wasn’t in at the start of the year.
We spoke to both player and caddie to find out how they pulled it off and to hear about Paisley’s rise from both sides…
Chris Paisley: I wasn’t going to play South Africa so I told my caddie Sean that I would see him in Abu Dhabi and he booked a holiday in the Alps.
I said I would get a local caddie or even get Keri on the bag. Thomas Aiken has had his wife on the bag and they have won, David Drysdale’s wife caddies for him now so we thought we would give it a go. I saw it as a bit of a warm-up week, but Keri was adamant that we were going to win and we were going to give it a go.
Keri Paisley: I don’t play golf, so I could never tell him what club or what shot to hit but I do obviously know him very well and I’ve travelled with him for the last three years and I’ve seen him play in every single tournament. I can tell when he’s getting too fast, or too frustrated or he’s not drinking enough water as he should be so it was nice in South Africa that I could make him take three deep breaths or make him aware of it.
Chris: We would get the yardage and I would then verbalise everything and explain what I wanted to do and it was all very decisive. With a proper caddie it is more of a proper discussion and you might not agree on a shot, with Keri it was this is what we were going to do. One of Keri’s goals was to make sure I was happy and committed.
She doesn’t know how far I hit it, but she made sure I was thinking things through properly.
Keri: Friday was so hot and humid, and we were out in it. The last three days were very tough days physically. I messaged Sean on Friday and told him ‘you earn every single penny that you make’. It’s so much more than just carrying a bag. I messaged Sean again on the Saturday night and told him he can definitely have his job back.
I actually didn’t know about the whole through line thing and someone was asking me in Malaysia about how it all worked, and I had no idea what they were talking about.
I think it’s good I didn’t know because otherwise I would have worried about. We were with the other caddies on Thursday and Friday and I said please don’t let me make your job more difficult, if it was my turn to have the flag or whatever you just put the flag in my face.
I had the same speech for Branden Grace’s caddie, Zack, on the Sunday. He said, “Don’t sell yourself short, you’ve done an amazing job this week.” That meant a lot to me.
Chris: I thought I might be worried about what Keri was doing but she has watched so much golf and after a few holes I had no concerns. Caddying is very hard work and there are things like the through lines or various nuances and she knew all that. She had a hard time keeping up a few times but otherwise there were no worries.
Keri: The first two days I just loved it because there wasn’t really much stress at that point. Chris was going through his game plan but then, as the weekend came around, he was in the final group. But I wasn’t nervous as in my heart wasn’t pounding.
His coach messaged me on Saturday night and gave me some advice for him for that final round. And I said: “He’s got this. Don’t worry, don’t stress, Chris is going to win this tournament tomorrow.”
And I really believed that with every fibre in my body because he was playing such good golf and he was just so consistent and he was so focused on doing it so I wasn’t nervous in the sense that I was waiting for him to hit a loose shot or start making a lot of silly mistakes, I was more nervous that I was going to mess up.
Chris: It was fairytale stuff. Branden was amazing, the crowds were quite rowdy, and he kept reminding them that there were two people playing. At 18 he just stood aside and said, ‘just enjoy the walk’ and I’ll never forget that. He understood how good it was for me and he let us have our moment.
Keri: It didn’t feel like we were about to win a tournament, I think we were both in the moment and in the whole week we made a conscious effort not to get too far ahead of ourselves.
What Branden did was just very classy of him and that moment, that walk, is something neither one of us will forget. It is something we will always treasure. I’ve always dreamt he would win obviously but I always thought I would run on the green and give him a kiss and say job well done, but I never dreamt that I would be part of it. It’s still so surreal and I’m not sure it’ll ever sink in that it’s something we’ve done together.
Chris: Sean and I are really good mates, and this is our fourth season together and he was genuinely happy for me. He got a bit of stick from the other caddies and I’m sure there was a part of him that was a bit annoyed that he missed one tournament and I won it, but he was great and dead happy for me.
Keri: I’m not going to caddie anymore. I’m going to retire on 100 per cent I think.
Chris: I’ve been overwhelmed with all the congratulations. Everyone I saw in the next few weeks would come and chat about it and that was really nice. A lot of the guys see how hard I work and how I go about my business quietly and they appreciate how hard it is to win. I’ve definitely been taken aback by all the reaction.
Keri: It really felt like we had a lot of people behind us that week. It wasn’t until the Thursday in Abu Dhabi that Chris could sit down and go through his messages and Twitter and I remember him telling me that he was sitting in the hotel room with tears in his eyes.
Chris: The improvement has been loads of little things; my swing has clicked into place the last few months, I’ve worked on my putting a lot in the last few years and I’ve changed my Callaway clubs and put in their new ball and all those played a part – and Keri on the bag worked pretty well.
I have also changed the way that I practise. We’ve introduced pressure into my practice sessions rather than just hitting balls. We do test drills where, if I didn’t complete it, I would have to do a forfeit. There was too much of a disparity with my mind-set in practice and it was all too stress free and I wanted to raise my intensity.
I’m quite shy so if, I was doing a five-ball test on my Trackman and I didn’t do it, I would have to do 10 push-ups there on the spot. So, the embarrassment factor was pretty real and it genuinely made me pretty nervous.
The worst was having to hit it between two targets with my driver and I would be on my last ball and I’d feel so nervous. The strangest thing I had to do was a 50-yard sprint down the range, you can get away with the push-ups but when you’re sprinting past someone that looks quite odd.
Keri: I think Chris really wanted to push himself this year and not just be satisfied with keeping his card. I think he has been happy in the past to finish 3rd. This year he really wanted to win but he has made a very conscious effort for that not to be his only goal.
People ask what we did on Sunday night in South Africa, did we go and celebrate? You know we didn’t, we got on a flight to Abu Dhabi and on Monday it was a whole new week and another tournament.
Chris: I had almost become content with just keeping my card. After a couple of good results, I would get a bit comfortable and I would drop off and then realise I needed to play well to keep my card and I would. In Denmark last year I finished 3rd to keep my card and after that I dropped off again.
My goals were a bit too low so this year I’ve set them really high so when I won I saw it as just part of the steps along the way to get in things the top 50 in the world or have a chance of getting in the Ryder Cup team.
I’m also a bit of a perfectionist so I’m quite hard on myself and that can beat you down and you start over-trying and trying to fix your swing. Deep down I thought I would always come back but things can spiral out of control a bit.
Trying to keep your card is a horrible negative pressure, now I feel like I’ve got a carrot in front of me rather than worrying about what’s behind me.
Keri: You definitely have a lot more lows than highs in golf and the lows are really hard. And while the focus of those low points is on Chris I feel it just as much as he does, and I try and do what I can to get him out of it.
I remember at Wentworth in 2016 and he just couldn’t keep the ball on the fairway and missed the cut by miles.
The next week we went to Sweden and he had a bad last round and I remember sitting with him in Austria the following week and he said “What am I doing here? I don’t even know why I’m playing this tournament?”
And those times are really tough, and I think it’s my job to help him get out of that. We just went out sightseeing that day, we just totally got away from golf and then we got back that night and looked at his course book and I said ‘let’s just make golf easier this week. Why go for par 5s? Let’s just hit it on the fairway, hit a second shot and hit it on the green and we’ll try and make golf as easy as we can’.
He actually went out that week and finished 10th. So that’s a long-winded answer to say I feel the lows with him, it’s very tough.
Chris: My next start is the WGC in Mexico which I’ll get into through being in the top 10 of the Race to Dubai so that’s a tournament that wasn’t on my radar a month ago! And then I’ll try and get in the top 64 for the Match Play and the top 50 gets in the Masters so that is now another goal. We’ve seen it with guys like Tommy Fleetwood winning in Abu Dhabi last year which then got him into Mexico, and he was 2nd there, and then he’s at Augusta.
There are always a couple of players every year who go on a little run and then the points are so much higher that it can catapult you to new levels.