07/07/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/07/2020 15:08
Having caddied for Phil Mickelson for more than 25 years, there isn't much of Muirfield Village that Jim 'Bones' Mackay hasn't seen.
So when a text message came into Matthew Fitzpatrick's phone from the veteran looper turned broadcaster asking if he could be of assistance while the Englishman's regular caddie was back across the Atlantic, the answer was an emphatic yes.
Fitzpatrick, a former U.S. Amateur winner and five-time champion on the European Tour, usually uses another veteran caddie - fellow Englishman Billy Foster who has had a distinguished career on bags with Seve Ballesteros and Lee Westwood, among others. But with Foster remaining in the UK with his family during the COVID-19 pandemic, adjustments have been made.
After using Cayce Kerr as a fill-in for his last three tournaments, Fitzpatrick now turns to Mackay for this week's Workday Charity Open and next week's the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide. Both events will be held at Muirfield Village where Mackay also caddied during the 2013 Presidents Cup. Foster will return for the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational later this month.
'I was shocked, honestly. I was absolutely shocked,' Fitzpatrick said when recalling the text message. 'I'm looking forward to it, obviously. Everyone knows what he's achieved in the game with the players he's caddied for. Even just walking around here people are excited to see him back out and on TOUR.'
Mackay is still a semi-regular on the circuit thanks to his role as an NBC/Golf Channel analyst that he took on shortly after his mutual split with Mickelson in 2017. He had a guest-caddie stint for Justin Thomas in Hawaii when Jimmy Johnson was injured in 2018.
'Having seen Matt play for several years now, getting paired with him when I was still caddying for Phil, I knew two things: That he was a really good player and a really good guy,' Mackay said. 'I love to caddie, I still consider myself a caddie to this day who's just doing TV, and I said, 'Hey, if I can help out at all I'd love to do it.' It worked out wonderfully.'
Mackay could yet be a secret weapon for Fitzpatrick based on experience alone. Not only has Mackay seen the course multiple times since 1990, four years before Fitzpatrick was even born, but he's done so on Mickelson's bag. In other words, he's seen every corner of the map and just about every conceivable escape angle as well. With the course being set up differently over the two tournaments, Mackay's experience could prove invaluable.
'Just having someone who's achieved so much, has so much experience, it kind of makes you feel better about your own game that someone of that stature has belief in your game. So for me, it absolutely gives me confidence going into the week,' Fitzpatrick said. 'It's been great so far. Learnt a few stories, which is always interesting, just been pretty easy so far. Slotting in nicely.'
Fitzpatrick said he's yet to get any great stories specific to Mickelson, but he has a few weeks to try to coax them out. That is between picking Mackay's brains on the course itself. With no fans on site in our current COVID-19 climate, Mackay will get his first taste of caddying without throngs of people to navigate.
'The one thing I am lucky to have is a good memory,' Mackay said. 'I've seen it in an array of different conditions, different winds. It's a question of me learning Matt's game as quickly as I can and if he's got a question for me I'd better be able to answer it. That's my job as his caddie.'
Since the return, Fitzpatrick finished T32 at the Charles Schwab Challenge and T14 at the RBC Heritage before missing the cut at the Travelers Championship. A T9 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard right before the shutdown and a seventh-place finish last fall at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions have seen the 25-year-old sit 83rd in the FedExCup standings.
He has eyes on being much higher in the standings and breaking through for a win on the PGA TOUR to go with his five European titles. This is his first full season as a PGA TOUR member, having split time with Europe previously. His best TOUR finish is a runner-up in 2019 at Bay Hill.
'I'm disappointed not to have won, but the way I look at it is I'm not playing full-time over here. OK, I'm playing a fair amount of events, so I've got chances, but I'm sort of doing half and half. I've given myself a few chances now, and I don't think I'm far off. It's just sort of everything coming together,' he added.
'I feel like it's close, but my level of frustration, I'm not frustrated. It's the way the game is. I've just got to keep working hard and sort of improving and trying to do the things that me and my team have looked at and just take it from there and hopefully it will come.'