Jim “Bones” Mackay and Justin Thomas on Wednesday during a practice round for the RBC Heritage.
Justin Thomas didn’t have much to work with, though he had Jim “Bones” Mackay.
Their player-caddie relationship has been fruitful, since teaming up at the end of 2021. Twelve top 10s. A victory at last year’s PGA Championship. It was then when Mackay’s looper savvy shined maybe its brightest.
To set the scene, ahead of his win, Thomas had signed for a third-round 74 at Southern Hills, and he’d start the fourth seven shots out of the lead. He wasn’t exactly out of it; he wasn’t exactly in it. But he was frustrated fully, so Team Thomas went to the range.
And Mackay and Thomas had, what we can now call, “The Talk.” Thomas said it won him the tournament. Mackay described it all this way:
“Justin, you know, if he’s frustrated that he shot a few over on Saturday, you know, for as well as he played, it certainly wasn’t a score you want on moving day at a major,” Mackay told the Caddie Network. “But you know, any caddie would have done what I did, which is say, hey, man, the great thing is, you’re playing well. You know, typically the way you played today would have been 70, 71, whatever, but, you know, it adds up to 74, and there you go. But the great thing is, when you drive out of here, you know you’re playing well and your game is trending in the right direction; there’s nothing to sit out here and fix.
“Again, it’s easy for me to say it, because, again, I’m carrying the bag and getting the dirt out of the grooves and telling him he’s got 178 and all that stuff, but in those moments, when those guys have so much pressure on yourself, hopefully we’re in a position to say something that will hopefully make life a little easier for those guys.”
That’s a nice segue to Friday.
Thomas was up against it again. Mackay and Thomas talked again. On the 467-yard, par-4 8th at Harbour Town Golf Links, during the second round of the RBC Heritage, Thomas had hit his tee shot left, which was not a sublime place to be on the dogleg left. Thomas was about 50 yards behind a batch of trees, and the green was about 100 yards past that. His ball had also attracted mud on its right side.
Thomas’ thought was to hook it around the trees, but the concern was where — mud on one side of the ball tends to send it in the other direction, so in this case, more left, where water also was. At this point, Mackay reassured his man, then went genius level.
This conversation was picked up by Golf Channel mics:
“But I can’t … You know,” Thomas said.
“No, I hear you,” Mackay said. “I almost, I mean, it’s easier said than done, but I feel like if we hook it enough to, you know, in a sense, land by the right edge of the green, that would give us some room …”
“Yeah, I agree,” Thomas said.
“I know it’s easier said than done,” Mackay said.
“I’m just trying to figure out how much this is going to — because it seems like it already will hook because of the mud, but if I try to turn it all, I just don’t want it to like, really go,” Thomas said. “I feel like I got to — but I can’t just solely rely on the mud to turn it. I’m going to give it a little more room and just turn it a little bit and hopefully the mud will …”
There was more. There were storms in the area.
“Now hold on, if they blow the horn here, we’ll get to clean our ball, right,” Mackay said. “You want to ask how close the storm is?”
“I mean, have you heard anything about this storm?” Thomas said.
“Guys, you got anything for us?” Mackay said to a couple folks standing nearby. “Anything? Anything? All right.”
Think about that. Mackay had covered every option, even the heavens and a weather horn.
“Wow, that’s some good caddying right there,” analyst Curt Byrum said on the broadcast.
“That’s clever,” analyst Frank Nobilo said. “Because if they do blow the horn and there’s a threat that there is some weather, you would get to mark the ball and then clean it.”
In the end, Thomas played a hook well out to the right, and his ball settled in the first cut of right rough, about 25 yards away from the hole and pin high. From there, Thomas nearly pitched in, he made the comebacker for a par four, and he started Saturday’s third round seven shots back of leader Jimmy Walker.
“Man, that was a fascinating conversation,” announcer Steve Sands said on the broadcast.
Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at email@example.com.
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