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'Bones' Mackay and Tour Caddies Are Finding More Fame - and Scrutiny - Than Ever

At the PGA Championship, one caddie was widely praised for guiding his man to a win while another was criticized for a club choice that may have cost his man that win. Such is the life now.
Caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay and Justin Thomas discuss a shot at the 2022 PGA Championship.

Jim "Bones" Mackay and Justin Thomas look like another powerful caddie/player pair, as evidenced by the PGA Championship two weeks ago.

The player-caddie relationship has certainly evolved over the years to the point of serious business. This is quite evident these days as such interactions get more air time and their conversations are examined.

Gone are the days – mostly – of club caddies serving the needs at various tour stops, and pro golfers being content with somebody new each week, doing most of the work himself.

For years, we have come to see some caddies become nearly as prominent as their players, back to the days of Angelo Argea (Jack Nicklaus), Herman Mitchell (Lee Trevino) and Bruce Edwards (Tom Watson).

Later versions have seen Steve Williams (Tiger Woods), Jim “Bones’’ Mackay (Phil Mickelson) and Joe LaCava, who has had a 30-plus year run in the game spanning the likes of Fred Couples and now Woods.

With that fame – and, let’s be clear, the potential to make a lucrative living – comes scrutiny. And there was a good bit of that in the aftermath of the PGA Championship, won by Justin Thomas in an aggregate playoff over Will Zalatoris.

Or course, the tournament never would have seen that playoff if Mito Pereira had managed to make a par 4 at Southern Hills’ closing 18th hole. He made a double-bogey 6 to not only blow his chance of winning in regulation, but to miss out on the playoff as well.

Almost immediately afterward, Pereira was second-guessed for his decision to hit a driver off the tee after using that club to find a creek. So was his caddie, Scott McGuinness, who might have interceded. Why not a 3-wood?

Meanwhile, Mackay, who caddies for Thomas, was being praised for the way he helped guide his player to victory, including a Saturday-night driving range pep talk in which he stressed to Thomas that, despite the 74 he shot that day, he should lighten up on himself, that he was playing just fine.

All of this makes for excellent fodder, but in the case of Pereira and McGuinness, it is important to step back and consider a few things before throwing this on the back of the caddie – who may have actually handled the situation as best he could.

The duo only began working together in March at the Valero Texas Open, so the PGA was just their fourth event together. Previously, McGuinness had worked for Scottie Scheffler, who made a switch last fall to Ted Scott and has been on impressive run this year that includes a victory at the Masters, three other wins and a playoff loss on Sunday at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

“His whole game was just a little bit off today,’’ McGuinness said afterward. “He wasn’t tense, he was in great spirits. He hit a huge drive on 17 and it (his putt) was one roll away from winning a major. So close.’’

A day earlier, Pereira came to the 18th hole, unleashed a big drive and had 214 yards left to the par-4 hole. He knocked a 5-iron to 25 feet and made the birdie putt for a three-shot lead. He hit a driver off the tee.

So perhaps McGuinness was not about to suggest dialing it back a day later. After all, hitting a 3-wood meant having likely in excess of 240 yards. Making par would hardly be easy.

And as McGuinness had told a day earlier about working for Pereira: “He’s a guy to mostly leave alone and he works it out on his own. I’ll do my best to feel it out, to change the subject every now and then, say some stupid stuff, get him thinking about something else. But he mostly regulates it all.’’

It seems easy from afar to suggest McGuinness should have intervened. Perhaps not so easy in that moment. And Pereira, playing in just his second major, seemed to rush that tee shot, later saying he wished he had aimed the ball farther to the left.

Mackay, meanwhile, was in position to say the right thing at the right time, something for which he was praised by Thomas.

“I’m fully confident in saying that I wouldn’t be standing here if he didn’t give me that talk,’’ Thomas said afterward. “I just needed to let some steam out. I didn’t need to bring my frustrations and anger home with me. I didn’t need to leave the golf course in a negative frame of mind. I played pretty well for shooting 4 over and I felt like I’d played terrible.

“And he was just like, 'Dude, you’ve got to stop being so hard on yourself. You’re in contention every week we’re playing.’’’

Mackay has been through a few of those scenarios in a 30-plus year career. He didn’t hit any of the shots, but helped Thomas overcome a seven-shot deficit, matching the largest in PGA Championship history.

Hail, Scottie

He did not make a birdie in regulation on Sunday, but Scottie Scheffler continued his excellent run in 2022, eventually losing in a playoff to Sam Burns at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

Scheffler, 25, had his struggles but was so close to joining some rare company. Since 1960, only three players had won five times in a season prior to June 1. Arnold Palmer did it in 1960 and 1962. Johnny Miller in 1974. And Tom Watson was the last to do it in 1980.

He was also bidding to come just the third player to win their first five PGA Tour titles in the same season. Bobby Locke, who was retroactively awarded a win in 1947, did so six times that year. Joe Kirkwood Sr. had five victories in 1923.

Scheffler now has four victories and a playoff loss in his past 10 PGA Tour starts.

Making the Cut

Justin Thomas missed the 36-hole cut at the Charles Schwab Challenge, an understandable result after having won the PGA Championship just five days earlier. Phil Mickelson missed the cut a year ago at the same tournament after winning the PGA, and there is a long list of players who return from a major championship win struggling to get refocused.

Thomas had the longest active streak of cuts made on the PGA Tour at 21. It dated to last year’s PGA, where Thomas missed the cut at Kiawah. And it does not include the Olympic golf tournament, nor the Hero World Challenge. The longest current streak on the PGA Tour is now held by Jon Rahm with 11 in a row.

And it is great reminder of one of Tiger Woods’ most underrated achievements: 142 consecutive cuts made. Starting at the 1998 Buick Invitational, Woods made every tournament cut on the PGA Tour until he finally missed at the 2005 Byron Nelson Championship.

For his entire pro career, Woods, 46, has missed just 20 cuts on the PGA Tour, the most coming in 2015 when he missed four, including three at major championships. For an interesting comparison, Thomas has missed 32 cuts as a pro at age 29. (Mickelson, who is 51, has missed 110.) Scottie Scheffler, 25, presently No. 1 in the world, has missed 14 as a pro.

All players benefit from the fact that there are typically a handful of “no-cut’’ events each year that count toward these totals. Thomas had six of them that counted toward his 21 – the WGC-FedEx St Jude; the BMW Championship, the Tour Championship, the CJ Cup, the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

The longest cut streak since Woods’ ended in 2005 – he had broken the record of 133 set by Byron Nelson from 1941 to 1949 – was Steve Stricker, who made 49 in a row from the 2009 Masters until he missed at the 2012 Players Championship. Ernie Els got to 46 in a row in 2007 and Adam Scott got to 45 in 2015. Getting to 30 consecutive cuts made is now exceedingly rare.

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All of which puts Woods’ feat in even great perspective. Nobody has been able to get to half of Jack Nicklaus’ longest streak of 105 (third all time behind Woods and Nelson), let alone Woods.

At the PGA Championship, Woods was struggling to make the cut during the second round and had fallen one shot above the cut line after a double bogey at the 11th hole. He made a long par putt at the next hole and then two birdies over the close holes to make it despite being in a good bit of pain.

Asked afterward the difficulty of grinding to make the cut when his mentality had always been about winning, Woods said:

“Well, you can’t win the tournament if you miss the cut.’’ He added: “There’s a reason why you fight hard and you’re able to give yourself a chance on the weekend. You just never know when you might get hot.’’

Fore! Things

1. It wasn’t that long ago that there was a debate over whether Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns should have been on the 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Scheffler was the last captain’s pick. Seems they will both be a big part of things next year in Italy – as well as at this year’s Presidents Cup.

2. That was tough to watch Harold Varner’s finish on Sunday at the Charles Schwab Challenge. He’s been in contention several times for his first victory on the PGA Tour, unable to cross the line. On Sunday he was tied for the lead on the back nine. He had a par putt on the 12th hole that turned into a four-putt and a triple-bogey 7. He played his last seven holes with two triples, two doubles and a birdie to shoot 45 and a final-round 78, dropping to a tie for 27th.

3. Seven more players were added to the British Open field by virtue of their finishes at the Mizuno Open on the Japan Tour and the Dutch Open on the DP World Tour. Scott Vincent won the Mizuno in a playoff over Anthony Quayle, with both securing spots at St. Andrews. Brad Kennedy and Justin De Los Santos were the others. Three spots from the Dutch Open went to Viktor Perez, who won in a playoff over off Ryan Fox and Adrian Meronk. Four tournaments previously accounted for 12 spots in the Open. The Canadian Open, John Deere Classic and Barbasol Championship will also offer spots, as will the Irish Open and the Scottish Open on the DP World Tour.

4. Maronk also became the first golfer from Poland to crack the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Whoop It Up

Justin Thomas is one of several golfers who uses the Whoop device to measure various aspects of health and fitness. The company released some of the results after Thomas won the PGA Championship and it is interesting to note the relative calm the device measured heading into the final round.

According to Whoop, Thomas recorded a 100% sleep performance and 89% green recovery score which suggested he was full rested. Among the other findings. Thomas had 2.5 hours of REM sleep (90 minutes is typically considered good if sleep for 7-8 hours). He had 1:50 of wave sleep, which is more than 13 minutes more than the 30-day average.

Perhaps most impressive: Thomas had 9 hours and 50 minutes in bed, which is 1:24 more than his 30-day average.

Thomas had a late-tee time on Sunday, but nine-plus hours of sleep is mighty impressive.

LIV and the Official World Golf Ranking

Don’t expect the players competing in the first LIV Golf Invitational Series event next week – the field is expected to be announced Monday – to be playing for world ranking points. While the goal is to offer them at all events, the process is not speedy, and there will clearly be challenges concerning tournaments that are scheduled for 54 holes.

While there are various events throughout the world with scheduled 54-hole events that receive points, they are also part of tours that also have 72-hole tournaments. There is no provision, so far, for a league or series consisting of just 54-hole tournaments.

While LIV Golf has aligned itself with the Asian Tour – and its International Series of enhanced events under that banner will receive ranking points – these tournaments are not incorporated into the Asian Tour schedule, another potential stumbling block.

“I don’t know that we will get it for the first event because of the nature of how long it takes for application to go through the process once needs to undertake,’’ said Atul Kholsa, the chief operations officer for LIV Golf. “But we are hopeful that we can get them for this year onwards.’’

Kholsa joined LIV late last year after working as an executive for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Commissioner Greg Norman expanded on the world ranking situation.

“We do a draft version, then we submit that in to the OWGR technical committee,’’ Norman said. “The technical committee reviews that. If they review that and come back to us and say we’ve got to make some adjustments, we’ve got to make some adjustments. Or if they say, this is perfect, now we submit it up to our board. That’s the process you have to go through and it takes time.’’

A potential problem is the makeup of the OWGR. Aside from Peter Dawson, who is the former CEO of the R&A and now the independent chairman of the OWGR, all of the other committee members have roles with various established tours, including the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.

U.S. Open Countdown

There are 17 days until the first round of the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, with a top 60 Official World Golf Ranking cutoff following the RBC Canadian Open on June 13. Last week, the United States Golf Association announced that 27 players were added to the field via the OWGR as of May 23.

Multiple winners of PGA Tour events in a season also earn an exemption if not otherwise exempt.

A significant number of players will earn their way into the field via nine final 36-hole qualifiers on June 6, with one in Canada and eight in the United States.

There is also an exemption category for DP World Tour players in lieu of no U.K. final qualifier. The top 10 aggregate points earners among players not already exempt from the Betfred British Masters, the Soudal Open, the Dutch Open (which concluded Sunday) and the Porsche European Open which is this week, will also earn exemptions.

Social Matters

> Justin Thomas, putting things in perspective after missing the cut at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

> Another great moment in Jordan Spieth-Michael Greller interactions.

> Bryson DeChambeau continues to work his way back from hand surgery.

> Scott Stallings, after qualifying for the U.S. Open via a final qualifier in Dallas.

> Justin Thomas, the day after winning the PGA Championship.

Next Up

The PGA Tour heads to Ohio for the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. The tournament founded in 1976 by Jack Nicklaus near his hometown of Columbus is now in its 47th year.

As usual, the Memorial has attracted a strong field, including defending champion Patrick Cantlay, who last year defeated Collin Morikawa in a playoff – after third-round leader Jon Rahm had to withdraw due to a positive COVID-19 test. Rahm was leading by six strokes at the time.

Among others who have committed are Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau (hand pending), Cam Smith, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth.

Called an “elevated’’ event, the tournament is classified as an invitational, with just 120 players, and has a purse of $12 million.