MEDINAH, Illinois Often overlooked while their players hog the limelight in the cacophony of sound and color that characterizes the Ryder Cup, caddies relish the unique team atmosphere of the biennial competition.
Jimmy Johnson will carry fellow American Steve Stricker's bag this week for a third successive Ryder Cup and he treasures his previous experiences of being a member of the U.S. team room, at Valhalla in 2008 and at Celtic Manor in 2010.
"It's awesome," Johnson told Reuters on the eve of the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club where the U.S. will host holders Europe. "There's no other feeling like it in golf. It's just totally different.
"It's amazing how all the players and caddies bond for this week. It's really a unique experience and you can't get it playing a single sport.
"We all have dinner together. There are guys that I never have dinner with on the road but this week I will have dinner with them every night. You get to know the guys better. It's really great."
Johnson, one of the most experienced 'loopers' on the PGA Tour who is highly respected by his peers, will never forget his first Ryder Cup with Stricker.
"That celebration up on the balcony at Valhalla really sticks out in my mind," the sun-bronzed Texan smiled as he recalled the aftermath to the rousing U.S. victory by 16-1/2 points to 11-1/2 in Louisville, Kentucky.
"Everybody was on the balcony overlooking the crowd with spraying champagne and everything. That was my first one as a caddie so I don't know if it could taste any sweeter but it was pretty cool.
"That first Ryder Cup was everything I imagined it to be. It was at home, and we won. It's a little tougher playing on the road than you would imagine."
RAUCOUS FINAL DAY
Johnson also has vivid memories of the raucous final day of the weather-disrupted Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales where Stricker was sent out in the first singles match against Britain's Lee Westwood.
"We got rained out on the Sunday so everybody was anticipating that Monday finish and Stricker was playing Lee in that first match," said Johnson, who previously caddied for former world number one Nick Price of Zimbabwe.
"When we walked on to that first tee at Celtic Manor, it was like going into the Roman Colosseum. It was electric."
Asked if he had ever experienced similar noise at a golf tournament, Johnson replied: "The only time I heard a crowd as loud as that was when I was caddying for Nick Price in Phoenix the one year.
"I was giving him the yardage on the par-three 16th and he couldn't hear me. I had to point out and show him the numbers. There were very, very similar experiences. Stricker couldn't hear me on the first tee at Celtic either.
"I love the all that noise at a Ryder Cup when we play at home because the Americans get behind you so much it's like being Tiger Woods every day. The whole crowd is behind you and your team. It pushes you forward."
Johnson, who competed on the Southern African professional circuit as a player for 16 years before taking up caddying in 1995, is quite happy to take a back seat when Stricker and Woods dovetail seamlessly in Ryder Cup team play.
"Stricker and Tiger really get into it with each other when they play together and you pretty much just sit back as a caddie," he said. "When you are asked, you say something. Otherwise let them go. They know what they are doing.
"I am there to help in any way I can. If I don't have to say anything or if I have to talk all day long, it doesn't matter. I'm just there to do the best I can."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)