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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Watch: Pieters snaps club ... around his neck

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 1:19 pm

After opening in 3-over 75, Thomas Pieters was in no mood for more poor play on Friday.

Unfortunately for Pieters, he bogeyed two of his first three holes in the second round of the BMW PGA Championship and then didn't like his second shot at the par-5 fourth.

Someone - or some thing - had to pay, and an innocent iron bore the brunt of Pieters' anger.

Pieters made par on the hole, but at 5 over for the tournament, he was five shots off the cut line.

It's not the first time a club has faced Pieters' wrath. 

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Woods would 'love' to see Tour allow shorts

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 12:59 pm

Players on the European Tour are allowed to wear shorts during practices and pro-ams.

The PGA of America permitted players to show some leg while prepping for last year’s PGA Championship.

Tiger Woods would like to see the PGA Tour follow suit.

"I would love it," he said Thursday in a Facebook Live with Bridgestone Golf. "We play in some of the hottest climates on the planet. We usually travel with the sun, and a lot of our events are played in the summer, and then on top of that when we have the winter months here a lot of the guys go down to South Africa and Australia where it's summer down there.

"It would be nice to wear shorts. Even with my little chicken legs, I still would like to wear shorts."

Caddies are currently allowed to wear shorts on Tour, during events.

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Feasting again: McIlroy shoots 65 to lead BMW PGA

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 12:04 pm

Updated at 9:42 a.m. ET

Rory McIlroy made seven birdies and no bogeys on Friday for a 7-under 65 and the second-round lead at the BMW PGA Championship.

After opening in 67, McIlroy was among the early groups out on Day 2 at Wentworth Club. He made three birdies and no bogeys on the par-35 front nine on Friday, and then went on a run after the turn.

McIlroy made four consecutive birdies, beginning at the par-5 12th. That got him to 12 under, overall, and gave him a clear advantage over the field. With two closing par-5s, a very low number was in sight. But, as he did on Day 1, McIlroy finished par-par.

"I've made four pars there [on 17 and 18] when I really should be making at least two birdies, but I played the other par-5s well," McIlroy said. "It all balances itself out."

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

McIlroy has made 14 birdies and two bogeys through two rounds. At 12 under, he has a three-stroke lead over Sam Horsfield.

"The work has paid off, to some degree," McIlroy said of his practice with swing coach Michael Bannon. "I still feel like I'm hitting some loose shots out there. But, for the most part, it's been really good. If I can keep these swing thoughts and keep going in the right direction, hopefully this is the type of golf I'll be able to produce."

This event has been feast or famine for McIlroy. He won here in 2014, but has three missed cuts in his other three starts. This week, however, he’ll be around for the weekend and is in position for his first European Tour victory since the 2016 Irish Open and his second worldwide victory of the year (Arnold Palmer Invitational).

"I have the confidence that I'm playing well and I can go out and try to just replicate what I did the day before," McIlroy said about his weekend approach with the lead. "On the first tee box tomorrow I'll be thinking about what I did today. Trying to just keep the same thoughts, make the same swings. I went a couple better today than I did yesterday. I'm not sure I'll keep that progression going but something similiar tomorrow would be nice."

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Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead

By Will GrayMay 25, 2018, 1:29 am

Jason Dufner officially has some company in the headwear free agency wing of the PGA Tour.

Like Dufner, Kevin Na is now open to wear whatever he wants on his head at tournaments, as his visor sponsorship with Titleist ended earlier this month. He finished T-6 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his second tournament as a free agent, and this week at the Fort Worth Invitational he's once again wearing a simple white visor with a picture of a goat.

"I bought it at The Players Championship for $22 with the 30 percent discount that they give the Tour players," Na told reporters. "It's very nice."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Perhaps a change in headwear was just what Na needed to jumpstart his game. Last week's result in Dallas was his first top-35 finish in his last six events dating back to February, and he built upon that momentum with an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over Charley Hoffman after the first round at Colonial Country Club.

While many sports fans know the "GOAT" acronym to stand for "Greatest Of All Time," it's a definition that the veteran Na only learned about earlier this year.

"I do social media, but they kept calling Tiger the GOAT. I go, 'Man, why do they keep calling Tiger the GOAT? That's just mean,'" Na said. "Then I realized it meant greatest of all time. Thinking of getting it signed by Jack (Nicklaus) next week (at the Memorial)."