Ask anybody involved in professional golf: a bad shot, bad hole, bad round, bad tournament – even a bad year – is never the player’s fault. A noise in the crowd, a ball in a divot hole, changing wind, a stupid pin position, a tough pairing or a wretched spike mark left by another player are all reasons for touring pros to get negative results.
Then, there’s the caddie. He talks too much or not enough or talks too soon or too late or can’t be on time, can’t read putts and can’t even do simple math. So, because you can’t fire the player, guess who gets the ax? Yes, sir; it’s the caddie.
’Tis the season for caddie changes on the PGA Tour. Most years, no one gives it a second thought. But lately, three of the highest-profile players have split with their longtime caddies, which has made news.
Rory McIlroy parted ways with J.P. Fitzgerald, who had been on McIlroy’s bag since 2008, when McIlroy was 19. Around the game, it was said that Fitzgerald might not have been the perfect caddie but he was the perfect caddie at the time for a young McIlroy. McIlroy won four major championships with Fitzgerald.
A couple of weeks later, Jason Day let go Colin Swatton, who had caddied for Day since he turned professional in 2006. More importantly, Swatton has been Day’s mentor and swing teacher since Day was 12. Day won the 2015 PGA Championship with Swatton on the bag.
The first headline player-caddie breakup happened when Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” Mackay ended their 25-year professional relationship, although both insist that their personal relationship was not harmed one ounce.
McIlroy and Day also say that their former caddies should not take their firings personally. Day maintains that Swatton still will be his coach and leaves the door open for them to one day reunite as player-caddie.
No one but Mickelson and Mackay knows why they separated. McIlroy and Day said their relationships with their caddies had gone the way of people who had been together too long. They wanted a new face standing next to them.
All three players have chosen people close to them as temporary caddies.
Mickelson had his brother, Tim – who is also Jon Rahm’s manager – loop for the FedEx Cup playoffs. The best man at McIlroy’s wedding, Harry Diamond, stepped in. McIlroy says he won’t play again until the spring, so he has plenty of time to find a new caddie. Day had a good friend, Luke Reardon, on the bag. Who knows what Day will do next?
Caddies get way too much credit and an equal amount of blame. In the old days of the PGA Tour, a player wanted only a caddie who would show up, keep up and shut up. Players did their own yardages and pulled their own clubs.
Somewhere along the way, caddies became more than just bag toters and adopted the roles of mathematicians, course strategists and close advisers. Which means caddies became easier to blame when things went wrong.
Good caddies work hard, collect all of the pertinent information and give their man the best chance to hit good shots and shoot good scores. Mackay was a great caddie for Mickelson because Mickelson likes a lot of information and can process it quickly. He might not be the best caddie for Dustin Johnson, who just wants wind and yardage and nothing too complicated.
But given what this trio of players has decided, the most important trait of a caddie is compatibility. Other than wives or significant others, players spend more time with their caddies than anyone else. So, they had better get along. And when that stops and the bickering starts, players decide it’s time for a change.
Caddies are expendable, and they know it. They are like coaches, and there are two kinds: those who have been fired and those who are waiting to be. But for once, just once, it would be refreshingly honest if the player didn’t blame the caddie and decided to take a long look in the mirror.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf