In good times and bad, caddies play larger role

By Will GrayAugust 1, 2017, 10:45 pm

AKRON, Ohio – The third-person plural has become a trending topic this year on the PGA Tour.

A sport defined in large part by its individual nature has seen its scope expand recently, with the spotlight on player-caddie relationships growing brighter by the minute.

Jordan Spieth’s insistence on using “we” was never more evident than two weeks ago at Royal Birkdale, where Michael Greller proved invaluable down the stretch.

But caddies are again a topic of discussion this week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where Rory McIlroy is expected to arrive Wednesday with a new man on his bag after splitting with longtime looper J.P. Fitzgerald.

The mid-season timing is certainly curious given that McIlroy will enter next week’s PGA Championship as one of the favorites on a course where he has often dominated. But it shows that while the nature of “we” means sharing the spoils when times are good, it can also cloud things considerably amid a downturn.

“It boils down to this. The pro, the player, is always going to blame anybody else but himself,” said Dave Stockton.

Stockton came up in a far different generation on Tour, winning the PGA Championship in 1970 and 1976. He now serves as a short-game guru to the stars, which gives him an up close look at a player-caddie bond that’s a far cry from the one he enjoyed with the estimated six caddies he used during his career on Tour.

“I think it’s more of a partnership. The one thing I hear is ‘our team.’ Spieth does it, a bunch of them talk about their team,” Stockton said. “When we were out there, my team was my wife and I. That was it. That was our team.”

WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

The modern-day team is receiving more attention than ever because, well, it’s become more important than ever for many of the top pros.

It’s a shift that has been seen even by players who have spent the past two decades inside the ropes. Lee Westwood had his regular caddie, Billy Foster, by his side for a practice round Tuesday at Firestone Country Club, where the Englishman reminisced on how times have changed since he turned pro in 1993.

“I think you get a lot more players bringing friends out now rather than just hooking up with people when they get out here,” Westwood said. “I think caddies are more professional in everything they do, really. They have a lot more responsibility now than they did at the end of last century, or when I came out here. It was more just carrying a golf bag, and I think they do a lot more now. They’re consulted by the players a lot more.”

The days of “show up, keep up, and shut up” are long gone. As the dynamic between player and caddie continues to evolve, it’s clear that the role of looper is becoming more critical rather than the other way around.

A good caddie can afford top players with a 15th club in the bag, but it also means that high-profile changes like McIlroy’s split with Fitzgerald can cause shockwaves.

“I think nowadays with social media and all that going on, you’re part of a massive brand,” said Paul Lawrie, who turned pro in 1986. “Especially with Rory, because he’s got what, 3 million followers on Twitter? So the slightest thing and you’re under scrutiny. But that’s just how it is. You sign up for that, to be part of the team.”

Of course much of the recent caddie scrutiny started in June, when Phil Mickelson surprisingly split with Jim “Bones” Mackay after a 25-year partnership. Theirs was a rare bond inside the ropes, and one that Mickelson held in high esteem from the start.

“When I came out on Tour, there weren’t as many quality individuals like Bones that were great caddies but also had their stuff together,” Mickelson said. “And now, everybody does. You don’t see a lot of caddies like you did 40 years ago, out partying and doing things. You see them rested, walking the course, really impressive individuals.”

There remains no perfect formula for creating golf’s third-person plural. McIlroy will reportedly embark on the friend-turned-caddie route starting this week with childhood pal Harry Diamond. A similar choice has sparked a resurgence this year for Tommy Fleetwood, while Mickelson turned to his brother after Mackay’s departure and others like Spieth have taken a more conventional approach.

While tactics in choosing a caddie may vary, it’s a bond that continues to receive more and more attention. And with the scope of the role continuing to expand for top players, it’s a trend that likely won’t reverse anytime soon.

“I tell people really the caddies now are in better shape than the players were when we were playing,” Stockton said. “The relationship to the player has changed dramatically, and I think for the better. They’re very serious, and there’s no stone unturned. And that’s kind of it. If you’re going to beat everybody, you kind of have to do that.”

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm