With Jason Day giving longtime caddie Colin Swatton his marching orders, and on the heels of Rory McIlroy doing the same with his long-serving bagman, it’s fitting to ask: Is a player-caddie relationship that goes beyond business a good thing?
We can add Phil Mickelson’s split from longtime caddie/friend Bones Mackay to this list. Mickelson and Mackay were an item for 25 years before calling it quits earlier this year.
It’s an associated debate to the question of whether today’s players are too reliant on their caddies, but it doesn’t overlap totally: Should players and their caddies be great friends off the golf course? Should (as was the case with Jason Day) a player’s caddie also be his de facto father and swing coach? Should players keep the same caddie for decades?
As a sidebar before digging in further: Remember Tiger Woods and Steve Williams? Williams carried Tiger’s bag for the better part of his career, but the pair weren’t exactly chummy. Williams has said as much in recent years.
Williams was a top-tier caddie whom Woods’ contracted to carry his clubs, help with his yardages, and carry out the other menial tasks of a caddie…that’s about it. When the season was over, Stevie went to do his dirt track racing in New Zealand and Woods headed off in pursuit of his preferred extracurricular activities.
The partnership worked. It was a business relationship between two men that was beneficial to both parties. Period. Woods never really considered Williams a friend. Clean my clubs? Yes. What’s the yardage to the front edge? 124 yards. Come to my kid’s birthday party? No. Hey buddy, how ya doin’? No. Just so you know I’m bedding thousands of women, and if people find out, they’re going to think you’re complicit? No. None of that.
So, when Rory McIlroy fires his caddie of nine years, J.P. McManus, saying the following, it makes you think.
“I still consider J.P. one of my best friends, one of my closest friends, but sometimes to preserve a personal relationship you have to sacrifice a professional one, and that was the decision that I came to in the end.”
Likewise, when Jason Day says the following,
“I never wanted it to turn into a toxic relationship. I was worried if I kept it going, it was going to head that way, and I love him too much to have him not in my life.”
It makes you wonder if ole’ Tiger and Stevie were onto something: keep your professional relationships professional and your personal relationships personal.
There’s a ceiling to how much a caddie can really do for a player. However, a toxic relationship, or anxiety about the possibility of a toxic relationship, can decimate a golfer. This isn’t quantum physics. It seems much more reasonable, in light of these recent breakups, to hire a caddie for his services and nothing more.
Of course, with both Rory McIlroy and Jason hiring childhood friends to loop for them, it doesn’t appear either golfer has learned that lesson.