Golf's big break-up: Mickelson, caddie are splitsville

Phil Mickelson and his left-hand man, caddie Jim Mackay, plot a shot at this year's Players Championship.(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson and his left-hand man, caddie Jim Mackay, plot a shot at this year's Players Championship.(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Credit: Steve Hummer

Credit: Steve Hummer

The on-course divorce, of course, was surprising and stunning. Phil Mickelson and his caddie/appendage, Jim “Bones” Mackay issued joint statements Monday declaring that after 25 years they would be walking their separate ways.

It was the golf version of Penn splitting with Teller, of Batman putting Robin up for adoption, of ham declaring it had filed for legal separation from rye.

The union was even more remarkable given that, typically, players go through caddies like Larry King does wives.

Theirs was a relationship that encompassed some of their most intense professional and personal experiences – whether it was the two of them sharing Mickelson’s Masters breakthrough in 2004 or his caddie helping Mickelson bear the worry after Amy Mickelson was diagnosed with breast cancer or Mickelson’s wife introducing Mackay to his future wife.

The sight of these two not in tandem at the next Masters will take some getting used to. Their pairing had become part of the tradition there, replacing the long-lost one in which every player used club caddies that week. For the looper who played college golf in Columbus and lived in Athens for the better part of six years, the Masters always held special rank. For the player, this was the tournament that he would win three times, the first dispelling every snarky comment that he couldn’t win a major. Mickelson made no secret of his affection for the Augusta proving ground.

Mackay once waxed profoundly to the Augusta Chronicle: “There’s something very special sitting here thinking about caddying for Phil at the Masters when we’re both quite old. I think that would be the coolest thing ever. I’m five years older than Phil. If I was 60 and caddying for Phil at the Masters, that would be a blast.

"This is a terrible thing to say, but it would be kind of cool walking up the 18th fairway and having a heart attack and getting carried out of there. That's the way to go."

That might still happen during some distant reunion, but apparently not again while Mickelson, 47, holds the slightest chance of actually becoming the tournament’s oldest champion.

Though they were sentimentally on the same page about the Masters, the two are best known for their back and forth before Mickelson hit his most historically daring shot out of the pine straw on the par-5 13th in 2010 to four feet. Mackay was the angel of caution on one shoulder that Mickelson famously ignored.

Why the sudden split after all these years? Some pointed to a tense exchange between them over club selection at the Players Championship this year. That seems more a symptom than a cause.

More likely, it simply was a mutual recognition that not even the best player-caddie pairing is meant to last a lifetime.

At a certain level the money in being a golfer’s valet is rather stunning. A recent Forbes story listed the top 10 caddie earners from the last year, led by Rory McIlroy’s guy – J.P. Fitzgerald – who earned an estimated $1.65 million. His player hasn’t won a tournament since 2013, and Mackay, significantly, was not among the top 10 on the Forbes list. If Mickelson – who skipped the recent U.S. Open to attend his daughter’s high school graduation – cuts back on his schedule more as he glides toward 50, he might be doing Bones a favor. Because Mackay says he still wants to work, and wants to earn.

And Mickelson may benefit from a new voice in his ear that he can countermand.

There is a rather irritating trend these days among young players who insist upon using the pronoun “we” when describing their exploits on the course. They want to turn one of the most singular games into a plural pursuit, which is a nice way to take some of the pressure off themselves.

Hey, you hit the shot their either won or lost the day. Own it.

But Mickelson and Mackay came as close as you can in golf to being a “we,” which makes their spilt kind of big news. Not Brangelina, National Enquirer big, but certainly notable among the country club set.

And in the end, it’s most definitely not “we.” Mickelson gets custody of all the titles.

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