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’s shoes are all reasons for Tour players 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, since you can’t fire the player, guess who gets the axe? Yessir, it’s the caddie.
‘Tis the season for caddie changes on the PGA Tour and most years, no one gives it more than 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 be 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 been Day’s caddie since he’s been a professional. More importantly, he’s 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 swear that their personal relationship was not harmed one ounce.
McIlroy and Day also say their former caddies should not take their firings personally. Day maintains that Swatton will still be his coach and leaves the door open for them to one day reunite as player-caddie.
No one but them knows why Mickelson and Mackay separated. But McIlroy and Day both 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 their temporary caddies. Mickelson’s brother Tim – who is also Jon Rahm’s manager – carried Phil’s bag for the next three tournaments. Now that Mickelson has been eliminated from the FedEx Cup playoffs, they will get some time to figure out what to do next.
McIlroy’s best man at his wedding, Harry Diamond, carried the bag for three tournaments and now that McIlroy’s FedEx Cup season is done, he says he won’t play again until next spring. Which means he has plenty of time to find a new caddie. And Day has a good friend, Luke Reardon, on the bag at least through this week’s Presidents Cup. Who knows what Day will do next on a temporary or permanent basis?
Caddies get way too much credit and an equal amount of blame. In the old days of the PGA Tour, all a player wanted was 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 advisors. Which means caddies became easier to blame when things went wrong.
Good caddies work hard, collect all the pertinent information and give their man the best chance to hit good shots and shoot good scores. Mackay was a great caddie for Phil 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 caddie 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: 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.