Despite Jordan Spieth’s playoff heroics and a new No1 in ladies golf in Ryu So-Yeon, the last seven days in golf has been dominated by the unexpected break-up between Phil Mickelson and Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay.
The duo had been one of the most endearing player-caddie relationship stories in the history of the game – almost as respected for their chemistry as Tom Watson and Bruce Edwards, or Jack Nicklaus and Angelo Argea, or Jim Furyk and Fluff Cowan (still going strong since 2000), or Rory McIlroy and JP Fitzgerald.
Having started working together in 1992, Mickelson and Bones were together for 25 years, and just about every player and caddie on the Tour shook his head in disbelief when the news came out.
There has been a lot of speculation regarding the split, but both Mickelson and Bones maintain that it was a mutual decision and “right time for a change”.
The pair reportedly had a couple of heated discussions during the round in the previous weeks, but Mickelson said that was routine. He revealed they were planning to end their partnership after the US Open, which did not happen because the American could not take part at Erin Hills.
It’s difficult to pinpoint reasons when such a break-up happens, but I came across an excellent research into the players-caddie dynamics when Open Championship sponsors HSBC published a report, ‘Understanding the Quality and Functions of the Golfer-Caddie Relationship’, on the subject a couple of years ago.
In that report, which was based on a research by Loughborough University, it was pointed out that the higher the level (of golf ), the stronger the relationship, and that winning strengthens the bond between player and caddie. The absence of those two factors have clearly dictated how relationships have progressed over the years.
Obviously, there are other factors that come into play. Vijay Singh and Paul Tesori parted ways in 2004 despite being very successful on the course because the golfer expected his caddie to work with him almost 365 days a year. Sometimes there are family compulsions, like when Bernhard Langer ended a 22-year-old partnership with Pete Coleman in 2003.
Langer had decided to base himself in the US, while Coleman wanted to stay in UK. In the case of Mickelson and Mackay, they haven’t won a tournament since that stunning Sunday evening at Muirfield when he captured his maiden Open Championship in 2013.
‘Lefty’ has had six runners-up finishes and eight top-threes after that, but that is not his definition of success. The same happened with Jason Hamilton and Lydia Ko, although she has a history of changing caddies.
Hamilton was on her bag for almost 18 months, before becoming one of the nine bagmen to be fired after the then world No1 failed to win since July 2016 last year.
THE YOGI ON THE PGA TOUR
Almost as painful as it was for Mickelson fans to hear that he was skipping the US Open, fans of Anirban Lahiri were going through the same emotions as he decided not to pursue a spot at Erin Hills.
After finishing a magnificent second at The Memorial, the Indian ace decided to skip the Qualifier, as well as the FedEx St Jude Classic the week after. And he is doing the same before The Open, having entered just the Scottish Open despite another good top-20 outing at the Travelers Championship last week.
Lahiri, a big believer in Vipassana meditation, has made it a point this year not to, “pursue and chase tournaments”. His thinking is simple – there is always a tournament that you want to play, but if you are not inside the top-50 of the world ranking, you can run yourself to the ground trying to play all of them. So, what did Lahiri do during the US Open week?
He flew out to a Vipassana Meditation Center in Massachusetts and spent 10 days meditating, without talking to anyone and without any mobile phone, TV or newspaper. He did not even know the US Open scores. Lahiri believes meditation helps him become a better person, and also helps him on the golf course.
It certainly gives him the conviction and patience to make decisions like not ‘chasing tournaments’.