Twenty-five years and 41 Tour wins later, one of golf’s most enduring relationships is over. As Phil Mickelson and his longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay part ways, we look back at 14 of their most memorable moments together.
Phil, Bones. Bones, Phil
As in a Hollywood bromance, the two meet cutely during a practice round at the 1992 Players Championship. Bones is caddying for Scott Simpson, who is playing with Gary McCord and a certain four-time All-American out of Arizona State. Phil has his father, Phil Sr., on his bag. After the round, Phil is signing autographs when he turns to Bones. “Are you interested?”
Um, you think?
“I mean, everybody was,” Bones recalls.
An auspicious debut
Their first on-course action together takes place during the sectional qualifiers in Memphis for the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Qualify, schmalify. Phil shatters the course record with Bones at his side.
The first win of many
Phil already has one Tour win to his name: the 1991 Telecom Open, which he captured as an amateur. His first victory with Bones, though, comes soon enough. It’s at the 1993 Buick Invitational at Riviera, where Phil closes with a 65 to win by four.
What a catch
Mickelson swings left but he throws right. A reminder comes before the final round of the 2001 PGA Championship, where he and Bones, like father and son, play catch in the parking lot.
From one golf nerd to another
“Caddying at a molecular level,” David Feherty calls it, after microphones capture a not-atypical conversation between Bones and his man at the 2012 Northern Trust Open in L.A. Should Phil hit a normal hook? A rounded hook? A standard “Pelz”? What about the wind? The ball could come out hot, or “side-slash” toward the flagstick. On and on it goes. Their chat is catnip for golf nerds. As for the shot itself? Ho-hum. Six feet from the cup.
Family first, but Phil a close second
It’s 2008, and Mackay’s brother, Tom, is getting married in Vermont—on the Saturday of the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston. Phil tells Bones to take the week off. Yeah, right. Instead, Mackay attends the morning wedding, then charters a flight back to Boston so he can loop for Phil that afternoon.
Is it his time? Yes! (And Bones’s time, too)
After 12 years together and many close calls, it finally happens: trailing by three on the back nine on Sunday, Mickelson puts on a closing charge that culminates with a dramatic birdie bid on 18. The putt drops. Phil and Bones embrace in celebration of Mickelson’s first major win.
The breaking point?
In announcing their split, Mickelson emphasized that no single incident led to the decision. But you know the Internet: people speculate. One moment commentators have zeroed in on took place on the 17th tee at TPC Sawgrass during the second round of this year’s Players Championship, where Phil and Bones engaged in a testy exchange over club selection. (“I understand what I need to do,” Phil said at one point. “I need numbers right now.”) Mickelson wound up hitting a hard wedge. Bones had reportedly suggested nine-iron. The ball found the water behind the island green.
A read he’d like to do over
If caddies could take mulligans, Bones says he would like to take another crack at reading Phil’s birdie putt on the 17th hole at Pinehurst during Sunday’s final round. Bones thinks it will roll straight. The ball breaks right. Bye-bye, birdie. Mickelson winds up losing to Payne Stewart by one.
The self-inflicted massacre at Winged Foot
On the cusp of winning the U.S. Open, Phil pulls driver on the 18th tee and blasts an errant shot into the trees. A failed attempt at an aggressive recovery shot later, and Mickelson is on his way to a double bogey, his title hopes dashed. “I’m such an idiot,” Phil says afterwards. Asked about the incident later, Bones says that given a second chance, he wouldn’t advise his man any differently.
Sunday at the 2010 Masters. Phil’s tee shot finds the pine straw to the right of the 13th fairway. Two-hundred seven yards from the pin. A narrow gap between the trees. Rae’s Creek awaiting a sloppy shot. Bones raises the possibility of laying up. Mickelson is having none of it. “So I back off,” Bones recalled later, “and now we’re waiting for the green to clear.” The rest is history. A six-iron rifled to four feet, and a shot that lives on in Masters lore.
The tend heard ’round the world
Is Phil kidding? No, he’s not. During the second round of the 2017 Masters, Mickelson asks Bones to tend the flagstick for him as he plays a 61-yard wedge shot on the 13th hole, something he also famously did on the closing hole at Torrey Pines in 2011.
You know your short game is ready for #TheMasters when you have your caddie tend the flag from 60 yards out.
Phil. Mickelson. pic.twitter.com/bieH2kvxjb
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) April 7, 2017
Under ordinary circumstances, Mackay would no sooner miss a tee time than John Daly would miss a meal. But circumstances aren’t normal at the 2017 WGC-Mexico Championship, where a stomach virus strikes Bones before the start of play on Friday. Bones starts the round but is too ill to finish. “You can’t replace somebody like Bones,” Phil says. But what looks like foreshadowing in retrospect, Phil’s brother, Tim, fills in for Bones on the bag.
A weepy end to an Open
There’s not a dry eye on the 18th green at Muirfield as Mickelson captures the Claret Jug. After an emotional embrace, player and caddie walk off the course together, arms over each other’s shoulder. Phil is obviously choked up. Bones is shown on camera, wiping away tears. You were probably dewy-eyed, too.