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.