To begin to understand Jim Mackay, a progenitor of the 21st-century caddie — young, college-educated, hyper-professional — you must start with the earthquake story. Mackay was on the 15th floor of the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas when his hotel room began to sway. John Wood, Hunter Mahan's caddie and Mackay's roommate, woke up, shrugged it off and rolled over. Wood is from Sacramento, so he knows tremors. Not so Mackay, who grew up in Florida. He shot out of bed and darted across the room to Phil Mickelson's golf clubs, which were standing in the corner.
Mackay gently set them on the floor. Visibly shaken, he turned to his roomie and said, "Woody, what do we do now?" l "So in an earthquake," Wood says today, laughing, "Jim's first thought is to secure Phil's clubs."
Think of a Tour star and in almost every case you can think of at least two caddies who have toted his sticks. Mickelson has had one: "Bones" Mackay (sounds like Mc-Eye), who after 18-plus years of looping for Lefty has become the most identifiable club-carrier since the caveman. Fred Couples gave the knobby-kneed, 6' 4" bagman his handle years ago. Bones, Jelly, Fluff — caddies get nicknames. What they don't do is survive slumps and stay employed long enough to become more famous than many players.
How has Bones endured? Could be his work ethic. ("He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, and he's never been late as long as I've known him," Mickelson says.) Could be his voracious appetite for the game; when his boss is idle, Mackay treks all over the country to test his 2-handicap on classic tracks like Baltusrol and Pine Valley. Could be his unrelenting appreciation for all that the job has given him. "I am very, very lucky," says Mackay, 45. "I know that."
Most likely, though, Bones has stuck around because he cares deeply not only for the craft but also for his employer, and Lefty feels likewise about Bones. They're not business partners, they're best friends, a long-standing kinship that has inspired dedication that is, well, off the Richter scale.
Consider the tale of Jim Mackay, wedding-crasher. In 2008, Tom Mackay, Jim's younger brother by seven years, planned to get married in Vermont. The ceremony would fall on the Saturday of the Deutsche Bank Championship near Boston, an event Mickelson would play, and this presented a logistical challenge.
Bones does not do vacations. If you see anyone but him on Mickelson's bag, you've seen the equivalent of a moon landing. But the wedding was not an event Bones wanted to miss. He helped bring the bride and groom together. He and Tom had grown up together, played golf together, caddied together.
Mickelson told Mackay to take the week off and enjoy himself. Mackay vetoed that idea. Instead, he caddied for Mickelson in a morning round before he and his wife, Jen, rented a plane, arrived at the ceremony with minutes to spare, and returned to TPC Boston in time for Sunday's play. "I didn't want to miss it," Jim says with a sheepish smile.
Adds Mickelson, "That's just Bones being Bones."
It has been quite a partnership, and not just because Mackay has caddied in eight Presidents Cups and eight Ryder Cups, and has been at Mickelson's side for all four major victories, 37 of 38 Tour wins, and two more Euro Tour triumphs.
Presidents Cups? Heck, Mackay has met four presidents. The job has provided other perks, too. Tagging along on an early date between Mickelson and his now-wife, Amy, then a Phoenix Suns dancer, Mackay wound up dining with Phil, Amy and the entire Suns dance team, which wasn't terrible. "I was way over my head there," he says, laughing.
At the '03 Presidents Cup in South Africa, Tiger Woods introduced Mackay to Nelson Mandela. "It was just a real quick 'Nice to meet you,' " Mackay says. "They were obviously having a conversation and I wasn't going to include myself in it. So, who do you like in the rugby this year?"
Bones likely would have fit right in. Tom Mackay says one of his brother's strengths is that "he can talk to anyone in any situation," but that he also knows when to step out of the way. Told he had been voted the No. 1 caddie on Tour in a Golf Magazine player poll earlier this year, Mackay was thrilled. He was also too modest to give a quote. A couple of months later, he forfeited his business-class seat on the U.S. Ryder Cup team's charter flight to Wales so Rickie Fowler's young caddie, Joe Skovron, could experience riding with the players in his first Cup.
Indeed these are fat, if frenetic, times for Bones, who is away from his Scottsdale, Ariz., home so much that he calls his mother-in-law, Carol Woodbury, the "family MVP" for taking such good care of Jen and the couple's two children, Oliver, 6, and Emma, 4. Mickelson has earned about $60 million on Tour, and it's safe to assume Mackay has banked at least 5-10 percent of that sum.
More difficult to put a price on is their rare camaraderie. The first time Mickelson and Mackay went out to play golf together, Mackay tried to grab Mickelson's sticks but came up empty. "He wouldn't let me carry them from the parking lot to the clubhouse because it was my day off," Mackay says. "I thought, 'Wow, that's pretty cool.' It gets back to how inclusive he is."
Inclusive? Phil and Amy introduced Mackay to his wife, Jen Olsen, Amy's BFF from Arizona State. When Mickelson plays overseas, Mackay flies with him on Air Phil, the pro's Gulfstream V. The duo even speak in their own pop-culture shorthand based on their common taste in movies, among them "The Hangover."
Thanks to their deep-rooted bromance, Mackay is often recognized and greeted in public as if he were Lefty himself. Sitting down for a large Coke and a couple of bagels at a breakfast spot in Sheboygan, Wis., during the PGA last August, Mackay was approached by fans and told to have a great Saturday.
Jason Dufner, who had shot a 66 to climb within three of the lead, was sitting at a table by the door, playing a game on his iPad. Nobody seemed to know or care who he was.
Long before the world of golf or anyone else knew who Mackay was, he was an English schoolboy, if only briefly. When he was 7, his British parents packed up the family — Jim, Tom and sister Lesley — and alighted for New Smyrna Beach, Fla. (They liked vacationing there, they reasoned, so why not live there?) The town had a Donald Ross municipal course where Mackay could play for free after three o'clock.
He wasn't an exceptional golfer, but good enough to play for Division II Columbus College in Georgia, which led to a job in the pro shop and bag room at Green Island Country Club in Columbus. It was there that he met Larry Mize, the first player to take Mackay out on Tour.
From Mize, Mackay moved on to Scott Simpson in 1992, and soon after Bones earned his shot with a four-time All-American at Arizona State with a jauntily upturned collar. Steve Loy, who coached Mickelson at ASU and who would become his agent, attended the '92 Tucson Open to interview caddies. Mackay, who was then looping for Curtis Strange, chatted casually with Loy, but Bones wouldn't meet Mickelson until that year's Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
Mickelson, Simpson (another San Diego golf product) and Gary McCord played a practice round. Mackay carried Simpson's bag, while Phil Sr., carried his son's sticks. "Phil was signing autographs after the round," Mackay recalls, "and he said, 'Are you interested?' I mean, of course! Everybody was. He was long, a very exciting player to watch. My goal was to caddie in one Ryder Cup. I thought, 'This is a guy who's going to play in a Ryder Cup.' "