As far as vocations are concerned, the new job requirements for Jim “Bones” Mackay resemble the list of fabled, baseline expectations from his old gig as a longtime PGA Tour caddie.
Show up, keep up, shut up.
Well, that’s 67 percent true, anyway. Mackay certainly will ignore the last part since beginning his new role as a broadcast analyst for Golf Channel/NBC this week at the 146th British Open in England (“To excel on TV, Mackay must be candid,” July 7, http://bit.ly/2tx3odk).
It’s an appropriate place for a rebirth: Mackay was born in England before moving to Florida while in grammar school. While walking and talking are nothing new, elements of his new job as roving course reporter have proved to be novel. His broadcast experience before arriving at Royal Birkdale was limited to an appearance two years ago at a third-tier Tour event with minimal ratings.
Mackay, one of the professional game’s most recognizable faces after 25 years as Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson’s caddie, is a rookie all over again. On the bag for all but one of Mickelson’s 42 career wins on the PGA Tour, Mackay has familiarity with his new job, but it’s a role reversal of sorts, too.
Despite their friendship and years as a celebrated duo, it’s debatable how much the stubborn Mickelson heeded Mackay’s words on the course. This week as the first former caddie to land a fulltime gig with a U.S. broadcast outlet, Mackay has everybody listening.
“I’ll have some nerves out there,” Mackay said as the week unfolded. “I never really got nervous as a caddie, but I have so much to learn.”
Like with golfers hitting shots, there’s no rewind button or mulligans in live sports broadcasting, as Mackay was reminded in the first round, when he was sent out to shadow some of the week’s big-name players. Mackay was long known for his fastidious pre-event prep work – he even turned up at the U.S. Open last month, even though Mickelson was a longshot to play and ultimately skipped the event. However, memorizing the biographical details of 156 players is a tall order.
On Thursday, Mackay was assigned to the group containing Englishman Paul Casey, who despite rising as high as No. 3 in the world rankings, never has won a major championship.
“He’s an extremely good player, but as we saw with Phil Mickelson, some of these guys don’t win their first major until they get into their 30s, and then they go on a tear,” Mackay said.
That would require a tear in the fabric of time, actually, because Casey turned 40 on Friday. A couple of hours later, as world No. 1 Dustin Johnson stood over a short putt, Mackay said: “Putts of this length, he tends to be very good. He putts them with a lot of confidence.”
Predictably, it lipped out of the hole.
Understandably stiff at the start, speaking too quickly and in machine-gun bursts, Mackay soon slowed his tempo and found a groove, just as many top players have done over the years after jittery debuts with a club in hand.
That Mackay ultimately ended up drawing a paycheck as a member of the media is hilarious in its own right. Many reporters who have covered the tour have gotten an earful from Mackay regarding something they penned about Mickelson, who has a few quirks. Mackay must have had his boss’ name marked with a Google alert, because he seemed to remember every perceived slight.
As far as being a fount of inside information – presumably his No. 1 asset as an analyst – Mackay could be quite the opposite as a caddie. For example, several times, I tried to get Mackay to confirm a story from a reliable source regarding a memorable round played perhaps 15 years ago featuring Mickelson and a brash college kid named Bubba Watson. The latter had just won his first Masters title when the old story resurfaced.
Mickelson used to play occasional practice rounds with members of the Georgia golf team, and Watson, an unknown player with an unusual swing and eye-popping power, turned the match into a festival of trash talk. At one point, as the jibes and boasts increased, Watson told Mickelson that he’d wash his jet if he lost the match. Despite being asked, Mackay refused to disclose any of the day’s details on the record.
Well, until he started his new job.
He related the story about two hours into his first day at Golf Channel, drawing big laughs from his new on-air peers, including Hall of Famer Johnny Miller. The testosterone-fueled match’s final outcome?
“Bubba might owe Phil a clean plane,” Mackay said.
As Miller and play-by-play veteran Dan Hicks developed a more conversational tone with the network’s newest hire, Mackay’s quarter-century of inside-the-ropes knowledge shone through, especially when addressing the nuances of the links game, such as how much the heavy, seaside winds can be a factor.
“A lot, a lot,” Mackay said. “When I was working for Phil, he would ask me to read putts in 30-mph winds, and I was always stunned at how much he told me the wind affected it.”
He added some interesting observations regarding a handful of top players, including a pithy review of Watson’s quirky personality.
“The thing you always noticed with Bubba, even at a young age, is that he had a chip on his shoulder,” Mackay said. “He was out to prove to people that he was good, and with his somewhat unconventional swing, that he could still dust people off out here. You don’t see many shot-makers like him in the game these days.”
Promising observations, and hopefully, we’ll hear plenty more of it. Although, in a backward way, we might see less of Mackay than ever before, given his ex-boss’ popularity as a ratings needle-mover.
Longtime caddie John Wood, perhaps Mackay’s best friend on tour, put it this way in a conversation with Hicks: “He got so much air time as a caddie, he might have it cut in half with you guys.”
For viewers, it might be a welcome tradeoff.