Close up of golf club hitting golfball on green.

The P-1A visa category is reserved for those “internationally recognized” individual athletes or teams that seek to enter the United States temporarily for the sole purpose of performing in a competition, event, or performance. The P-1 visa category also allows for “essential support personnel” to accompany the athlete to the United States in P-1S status, a derivative designation of the P-1 category. Eligibility for the P-1S category hinges on the integral nature of the relationship between the P-1 and the P-1S as well as the essential need for unique services that cannot be readily provided by any U.S. citizen.

The P-1S category is heavily utilized by essential support staff of professional golfers. Specifically, professional caddies are frequent P-1S visa holders as they provide essential and integral services to professional golfers both on and off the course. The relationship between a pro golfer and his or her caddy usually lasts for years at a time and often begins before the golfer turns pro. The caddy provides advice related to course conditions, shot strategy, and green variance during competitions. Often the caddy also serves as a coach when it comes to swing correction and club choice for a particular shot.

Over time the caddy-golfer relationship can become incredibly critical to the success of the golfer’s game. This is especially true given that many golfers and caddies have grown up together, often playing golf at the same club in their home country and serving as one another’s closest personal confidant and friend while traveling the world—one course at a time.

Naturally, golfers who travel to the United States get some down time between tournaments and rounds affording them the opportunity to meet Americans and, occasionally, to marry a U.S. citizen. Not only do these romantic relationships provide fodder for superstitious commentators hoping to blame any missteps in the golfer’s game on this new significant other, they can also pose a threat to the golfer-caddy relationship in a much more technical fashion.

So, what really happens to the golf “bromance” (or “womance”) when a golfer marries a U.S. citizen? Well, nothing really—until the golfer decides to apply for a green card based on his or her marriage to a U.S. citizen without notifying the caddy. Without effective communication related to the golfer’s green card application, the marriage can spell disaster for both the caddy’s P-1S immigration status and ultimately the golfer’s game if the caddy cannot remain in the United States.

Once the golfer’s green card is approved, the caddy (and any other P-1S support staff) is “in the bunker” when it comes to his or her legal status. The caddy’s P-1S visas must be connected to a valid P-1 athlete. Logically, once the golfer’s green card arrives, he or she becomes a lawful permanent resident and can no longer hold P-1 non-immigrant status. This places the caddy in the rough where other visa category options are concerned. The caddy who can no longer maintain P-1S status will often have to scramble to obtain a new non-immigrant visa to remain in the United States as an integral part of the golfer’s team. The unintentional loss of the caddy’s immigration status can spell disaster depending on the time of year and golfer’s tournament schedule.

The most obvious alternative for the caddy is the O-1 visa for athletes of extraordinary ability. The O-1 visa category requires proof that the individual applicant has acquired a “level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who have arisen to the very top of the field of endeavor.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) accepts a laundry list of evidence to prove such status but many acceptable types of evidence are not geared towards athletics.For example, acceptable evidence includes proof of judgment of the work of others in the field, original contributions to the field, and authorship of scholarly work. While USCIS has made allowances for such issues, the list of acceptable evidence to qualify for the O-1 visa does not lend itself easily to the role of the caddy.

In fact, the way in which the sport of professional golf (along with many others sports) is set up seems to make it nearly impossible for a caddy to provide such evidence—which is why most of us can’t name the caddies of the last three winners of the Masters Golf Tournament. By design, the golfer serves as a quarterback— for lack of a better analogy—shouldering losses publicly and hoisting trophies (or donning jackets, as the case may be) triumphantly. On the other hand, the caddy remains an unsung hero, appearing in the background of an action shot in Sports Illustrated but very rarely featured as the subject of a major news story or published article, which just so happens to be one type of evidence accepted for an O-1 application. Caddies rarely publish any professional advice regarding golf and many don’t feel the need to. It is also nearly impossible to prove that a caddy has made some sort of original contribution to the sport—even if he or she fixes broken swings of prolific golfers regularly.

As a result, obtaining the O-1 visa can be very difficult for support staffers, like caddies, especially since USCIS tends to reject the argument that the pro golfer’s wins can be, in part, attributed to the caddy as an integral part of the game. In light of the additional evidentiary issues above, USCIS’s stance on this issue has the potential to effectively deny any caddy from qualification for the O-1 visa. This can have drastic consequences as, unfortunately, the O-1 is likely the only option for a caddy who has been left at the altar.

Ideally, a golfer who is planning to get married and to file a green card application will inform his or her support staffers of the decision. However, caddies should inquire whether the golfer plans to file the green card application before or after the wedding in order to be able to prepare to apply for an O-1 visa by collecting evidence that USCIS would consider acceptable. To lay the foundation for a strong O-1 application, a caddy should consider taking the following proactive steps:

  • hosting clinics for golfers at his or her hometown golf clubs (preferably with some news and media coverage);
  • starting an advice blog or column giving professional advice and tips related to the sport; and
  • taking opportunities to talk to the media (when cleared through the pro golfer).

The O-1 category may not be a fit for everyone—but it also may be the only cure for the caddy’s immigration woes.


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