Phil and Bones: Two Was Always Better Than One
Posted by: mike July 3rd, 2017
By Ted Johnson
After 25 years, Phil and Bones parted ways. Those outside golf might say, “Say what?” Those who know the game consider this a People magazine cover story on level with “Brad Dumps Jen.”
Partnerships like that of Phil Mickelson, five-time major winner, and Jim “Bones” MacKay are very rare. Pros and caddies can be a volatile mix, but to see one last for a long time – 25 years is an eon on the PGA Tour – serves as the foundation of one’s belief in long-term friendships, a “Bromance on Grass,” if you will. Don’t feel sorry for anyone, because Mickelson has hauled in more than $70 million in his career, and MacKay has been paid a good chunk of that.
It was the way they worked that proved so fun to watch on broadcasts. MacKay knew that Mickelson wanted all kinds of factors given to him – green speed, wind direction, carry distance, distance to the cup, and more. He processed it all, and in so doing manufactured some of the most memorable shots in recent golf history.
The most famous, of course, came in 2013 from the pine straw at the turn of the daunting par-5 13th at Augusta National. Millions watched as Mickelson drew a 6-iron and smacked his second shot between two tree trunks and had it carry more than 210 yards over Rae’s Creek to the green. It was the sort of daring, physically challenging shot that leaves those nearby wondering, “How’d that…?” “He did…what?”
That was Mickelson, but it was also MacKay there by his side, telling him how much room there was behind the pin and other things. In short, the caddie knew his man and never let a single doubt enter Mickelson’s mind.
Of course, in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, there was a time when MacKay might have exerted a little doubt. Leading by one, Mickelson’s tee shot on the final hole sailed well left, bouncing off a hospitality tent and back in play. But it was a risky second shot off a so-so lie, and there he tried for the Phil miracle – a hard slice from nearly 200 yards away towards the green. It failed, and led to a double-bogey-6 that gave Geoff Ogilvy his first and only – so far – major.
Hindsight makes it easy to ask MacKay why he didn’t say to Mickelson, “Let’s punch out, get on the green in three, and if you miss the par putt we have 18 holes tomorrow to win”? Seems easy enough, but that isn’t Phil. And his famous words afterward: “I’m such an idiot.”
That one stands out. Mickelson has won three of the four majors, needing only the U.S. Open to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods with that honor. He has six second-place finishes in our Open.
Who Came First
A working relationship this long begets the question, who came first? Well, Mickelson, of course. MacKay had already caddied for Larry Mize and Scott Simpson prior to picking up Mickelson’s bag for the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. But he saw right away that Mickelson had star power. He wasn’t wrong. At the same time, MacKay can give all the right numbers or reads on the greens, but Mickelson still has to hit the shot. Words are easier than actions.
MacKay kept it all together. Those inside the ropes saw his affect, and MacKay was voted the Tour’s top caddie in 2011 and continues to hold incredible sway.
Avid golf fans, however, knew they were more than that. Sometimes they seemed inseparable. For example, MacKay’s wife is a good friend of Amy Mickelson. And Mickelson, it’s been reported, would do things like carry his own bag when they were together on non-tournament days. On the flip side, even when Mickelson wasn’t playing MacKay would scout a course for insights and tips should they need them at a later date.
A Pair of Knees
I was on the practice range last February for the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am when MacKay walked by. I introduced myself and said hello. We talked about his two new knees, courtesy of an operation in October 2016. It was less than four months but there was “Bones” walking the bluffs at Pebble.
Now, what many don’t know about this tournament is that the elevated tees and greens make walking quite strenuous. The grounds are invariable soft and often wet. It’s not uncommon during the tournament to hear of an amateur contestant or caddie slipping and blowing out a knee. But there was MacKay with his man.
Caddies can be like valets, which calls to that age-old line, “No man is a hero to his valet.” After 25 years on Tour, maybe the oil between the gears – their mutual respect, in other words – simply dried up. Maybe, to borrow line often used in other pro sports, the player has tuned out the coach. Or in this case, the coach/caddie decided he’d done all he could with this particular player.
Either way, MacKay can have a pick of bags, that is, if he wants to stay on Tour. He has two teenagers at home in Arizona. Maybe it’s time to give the kids the yardage to their homework and read their putts in math class. He’ll always have a job on Tour.
As for Phil, it will be interesting to see how he does. He’s close enough to 50 he can touch it while sitting down. Maybe he wants to slow down and MacKay is the one pushing for more. But the pressure will be on the player. A steep post-MacKay fall off would only reinforce that age-old tenet: Two is stronger than one.