The Silent Partner: Caddying Is about More Than Bags and Clubs. the Intimate - and Lucrative - Relationship between a Pro Golfer and His Caddie

By Noonan, David | Newsweek, July 16, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Silent Partner: Caddying Is about More Than Bags and Clubs. the Intimate - and Lucrative - Relationship between a Pro Golfer and His Caddie


Noonan, David, Newsweek


After his win last week at the Canon Greater Hartford Open, his second victory of the year and the 19th of his career, Phil Mickelson, the No. 2 golfer in the world, told a national television audience what PGA Tour insiders have known for years--he's got one of the best caddies in the game. "Bones and I really mesh well on the course," Mickelson said of Jim (Bones) Mackay, who's been with him since he started on the tour in 1992. "He's one of those guys that, under the gun, when it's a critical time, he thinks his clearest."

It was a well-deserved tip of the hat to the most unsung and unique characters in big-time sports, a rare public acknowledgment of the crucial role played by caddies in professional golf. When Allen Iverson has the ball, he doesn't stop and ask an assistant whether he should pass or shoot. When Barry Bonds is at the plate, he doesn't step out of the batter's box between pitches and consult with the batting coach. But when a pro golfer plays a round of tournament golf, his caddie is at his side every step of the way, the ultimate partner, answering questions about yardage, offering opinions about which clubs to use, actively participating in the dozens of decisions that have to be made during 18 holes of professional golf.

With $185 million up for grabs this year, the prize money on the PGA Tour has never been bigger and the quality of the golf being played has never been better; there is no margin for error. To negotiate the tour's pressure-packed fairways and win his fair share of the loot, a golfer needs every possible advantage, and a good caddie is as indispensable as a good set of clubs. Great as he is, even Tiger Woods credits his caddie, Steve Williams, with helping him play his best. In the two years since Williams replaced Mike (Fluff) Cowan (dismissed, many believe, for being too high profile), Woods has won 20 tournaments, including five majors.

The relationship between golfer and caddie is unlike any other in the sports business. The caddie is the golfer's employee, friend, psychiatrist and fan, all rolled into one. "People talk about it like a marriage," Mick-elson told NEWSWEEK. "We're both working for the same thing. It's not like I'm try-ing to boss him around or he's trying to boss me around." And after nine years together, they've reached a level of mutual understanding that any couple might envy. "He knows what I'm thinking," Mickelson says.

Mickelson and Mackay are friends, but they are also business partners, and their financial fates are linked. For his efforts, Mackay receives a percentage of Mickelson's winnings as well as a weekly salary. The average weekly salary for a tour caddie is about $800, but it can be hundreds more for top caddies. The industry standard for caddies is a 10 percent cut for first place, 7 percent for a top 10 finish and 5 percent of any other winnings. Based on those percentages, Mackay's estimated share was close to $400,000 last year, when Mickelson won four tournaments and total prize money of $4,746,457. "I have no problem paying a large check to a guy who has worked hard and helped me perform my best," says Mickelson. Mackay, who is incorporated, also receives money for wearing a Titleist hat, through a deal Mickelson has with the company. With top caddies getting nearly as much TV time as their players, sponsors are anxious to have them sporting their logos.

The effortless two-man rhythm Mickelson and Mackay have developed over the years was evident as they worked their way around the Cottonwood Valley Golf Course in Irving, Texas, in May while preparing for the Verizon Byron Nelson Classic.

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