Bones 'absolutely overjoyed' for second act of career

By Ryan LavnerJuly 6, 2017, 6:30 pm

As expected, Jim “Bones” Mackay received plenty of intriguing offers after spending a quarter century as the most high-profile caddie in golf.

None sounded more appealing than TV work.

Just two weeks after his sudden and surprising split with longtime boss Phil Mickelson, Mackay joined NBC Sports as an on-course reporter. The multiyear deal will put Mackay, 52, on the ground at some of the biggest events in golf, beginning in two weeks at The Open at Royal Birkdale, and continuing throughout the rest of the year at the FedExCup Playoffs and Presidents Cup. He will work a full schedule (about 20 events) in 2018.

“This is a great day for me,” Mackay said. “I’m absolutely overjoyed.”

The self-described “golf rat” has long been fascinated by the inner workings of TV. In November 2015, he and fellow caddie John Wood, who loops for Matt Kuchar, worked together as on-course reporters at the RSM Classic on Sea Island. Initially, NBC’s lead producer Tommy Roy said, using the two caddies was a “hook,” a reason for viewers to tune in during a typically slow week on the golf calendar. But Roy quickly realized that both Mackay and Wood offered unique, succinct takes on the rounds unfolding in front of them. (Roy’s only critique of Bones: No chewing gum on camera.) “They both just blew me away,” he said.

Mackay and Wood came away with the understanding that if they ever decided to leave the caddie yard, a job offer would be waiting for them.

And Mackay became available first.

Soon after Mickelson and Mackay announced that they were splitting after 25 years, Roy phoned Mackay to discuss the possibility of working together again.

“And the more we talked,” Mackay said, “the more amazing it sounded in terms of what I was going to do with my professional life moving forward.”

For Roy, the move was a no-brainer: Having eavesdropped on Phil and Bones’ illuminating conversations inside the ropes, and after lengthy dinners together on the road, Roy knew Mackay possessed two of the most important qualities of a great broadcaster: He was a strong, smart communicator and a big-picture thinker.

“The conversation was rarely about Bones and Phil and their little, myopic world,” Roy said. “It was always bigger picture, and the storylines that were happening in the event. Bones thinks like a producer. Those things usually take time to get ingrained in you, and he already has that.”

The addition of Mackay, one of the sport's most well-known figures, breaks the mold in golf broadcasting, as he is the first caddie to be used in a full-time tournament role. TV executives often are criticized for retaining the same bland analysts who are decades removed from competition. But Mackay’s hire opens the door for other fresh and interesting voices, whether they’re caddies, swing coaches, sports psychologists or – gasp! – even writers.

“It could be a game-changer,” said one golf broadcaster.

Will the Bones experiment work? The belief here is that he will prove to be a resounding success. Not only has he amassed a wealth of knowledge over the past 27 years about the PGA Tour’s players, caddies and courses, but he is already approaching the TV side with the same meticulousness that led to an extraordinary run with the most unpredictable star of his generation. After all, this is a guy who used to towel off his boss’ rain gear, who attended his brother’s morning wedding and then carried Phil’s bag in the afternoon, and who painstakingly scouted new venues on achy knees. So is it any surprise that Mackay is already poring over his yardage books from Birkdale and pitching ideas to Roy?

Yes, there is so much for him to learn. The role of on-course reporter is more complicated than merely calling shots – it involves talking with a producer yapping in your ear, keeping up with the frenetic cadence of live golf and being ready to join the telecast at any moment. But Mackay has promised to pepper his new co-workers with questions over the next few weeks – “I’m gonna drive these guys nuts” – as he prepares for his official debut on July 20.

“I’m embracing this entire thing,” he said, “and I can’t wait to get at it and hopefully get better in every single area.”

Who knows? Maybe Bones’ second career will be just as memorable as his first.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.