By Jim McCabe
Much has been made of the “newness” to the Phil Mickelson-Jim Mackay partnership for 2017 — each having had surgeries in the fall. (Two hernia operations for the player, two knee replacements for the caddie.)
Thankfully, though, the medical folks didn’t have to tinker with the exuberance each has for golf and for the PGA Tour. That remains exceedingly high, which is refreshing since so many of the game’s best players sometimes act like it’s a burden and not a gift to be playing on such a stage and in front of so many fans and supporters.
Against a backdrop of the longest winless skid in his PGA Tour career — it’s at 71 tournaments headed into this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open — Mickelson has bounced into 2017 with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. He’ll be 47 in June? Well, guess what? “Phil’s motivated to play a long time,” Mackay said.
Which suits the caddie just fine, because at 51, guess what? “This is what I love to do,” he said. “I like so many guys out here (on the PGA Tour).”
Presented with a hypothetical — if Mickelson were not playing the Tour, would you be out here? — Mackay paused for a few moments. Finally, he said, “Most likely, yeah, I’d be caddieing, because I love it so much.”
He loved it from the very beginning when he fell into a caddie gig with Larry Mize. He loved it so much that he paid his own way to the 1993 Ryder Cup, just to hang with the team. A modest goal of working at least once for Curtis Strange was realized at a Dunhill Cup at St. Andrews, but Mackay upped the ante a bit more when in 1992 he got Mickelson’s bag.
“I obviously wanted to win a major, and I definitely wanted to work for him in a Ryder Cup,” Mackay said.
With the count at five majors and 11 Ryder Cups, consider Mackay’s goals surpassed. But other numbers provide a staggering confirmation that this relationship is special. Mackay has been on the bag for all but one of Mickelson’s 533 professional starts on the PGA Tour. Toss in the cups and all of those Skins Games and Shell Wonderful World of Golfs and other silly-season stuff, well, “I figure I’ve caddied for him in at least 600 tournaments.”
That’s a lot of walking and a lot lugging, but Mackay has enjoyed every step of the way and is up for plenty more. Which is a good thing, because so is the boss.
Teammates who are always on the same page.
Jim McCabe has covered golf for his hometown Boston Globe and Golfweek. He can be found on Twitter @JimMcCabeGolf or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.