Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler all used the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down as a springboard for the 41st Ryder Cup. So, too, did Mark Crane, one of two Scottish caddies on Team Europe in Minnesota.
While Craig Connolly has been here and done it before - this is the Glaswegian’s seventh consecutive Ryder Cup, including the last three with Martin Kaymer - it’s a new experience for Prestwick man Crane along with his boss, lanky Englishman Chris Wood.
“There are a few things you want to experience as a caddie,” admitted Crane, who started out with Lloyd Saltman as he came through the amateur ranks and had a lengthy spell with Richie Ramsay before linking up with Wood around two years ago.
“The Masters is one and the Ryder Cup is definitely another, especially as its almost unique in golf being a team event. There’s probably a better chance of you getting to The Masters with a player than being involved in a Ryder Cup, so this is a special opportunity, no doubt.
“The caddying I did for Lloyd Saltman when he was coming through as an amateur was crucial for me. That was my apprenticeship and it’s what has got me where I am today so I will always be grateful to Lloyd for giving me that chance.
“I caddied for him in the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down and it’s pretty cool that I’m now going to be involved in the same Ryder Cup team as two of the GB&I players from that match in Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett.”
Connolly, who is known in golfing circles as the “Wee Man”, cut his Ryder Cup caddying teeth with Paul Casey and also had a spell with Colin Montgomerie before linking up with Kaymer, who holed the putt that secured Europe’s successful defence of the trophy in the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ four years ago.
“I’ve spoken a little bit to Craig, who is a good friend, and he’s told me about a few of the things to expect,” added Crane. A lot of the guys who’ve been there and done it tell you the same thing, which is to do what you normally do and don’t get caught up in the occasion.
“Like everyone else on the team, you are there to do a job so you have to stay focused. There’s a chance it will be hostile and abuse could be aimed at you and your player, but that’s part and parcel of being the away team at a Ryder Cup and you just have to try and take everything in your stride.”
Since the pair started working together, Wood has won the European Tour’s flagship event - the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth - and now finds himself among six rookies on Darren Clarke’s team at Hazeltine.
“It’s pretty special that Chris and I are sharing this journey for the first time together,” he admitted. “I knew he had a lot of potential when I started working with him and I think it was just down to injury that he hadn’t fulfilled it until now. It’s now his time and my time as well. He’s a cool and calm customer and I’m sure he will be relishing this oportunity.
“Though he doesn’t really show it, he wears his heart on his sleeve and is a reallty strong competitor. He’s a great guy to work for and it will be fantastic to share this moment with him. I think he’s feeling the same for me.”
The pair got some useful team experience together in the EurAsia Cup earlier this year and now Crane is hoping they can be on another winning side on the outskirts of Minneapolis on Sunday night.
“I think to have the EurAsia Cup earlier this year was massive, not just for the players but the captain and caddies, too,” said Crane. “It was a great experience and a lot of them are now going to be on the same team at Hazeltine.
“What people sometimes forget is that it’s a long time since players and caddies have been involved in a team event from the amateur days. That whole week can only help everyone involved this week.”