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’.
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American Brooks Koepka powered his way to a first major title in record-equalling fashion as Tommy Fleetwood’s brave US Open bid ended in disappointment.
Koepka carded a closing 67 at a windswept Erin Hills to finish 16 under par, matching the tournament scoring record set by Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011.
The big-hitting 27-year-old fired six birdies and a solitary bogey to finish four shots ahead of overnight leader Brian Harman and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, with Fleetwood a shot further back following a final round of 72.
Koepka’s big hitting gets plenty of attention, but playing partner Fleetwood nominated his approach to the 15th – which played as the hardest hole – as his best shot of the final round.
From 150 yards, Koepka judged his approach perfectly to a pin cut just four yards from the back right edge of the green and rolled in the birdie putt.
Matsuyama’s 66 was the lowest score, but Koepka’s 67 was even more impressive as he compiled it under the pressure of leading or sharing the lead since he birdied the second.
After a brief stumble on the 10th, a hat-trick of birdies from the 14th sealed the win in style in testing conditions.
“This will make up for the card I didn’t get him.” Koepka takes the cheap way out on Father’s Day.
No runner-up had finished double digits under par in the US Open, but as well as Matsuyama and Harman sharing second place on 12 under, Fleetwood finished 11 under and Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele and Bill Haas were 10 under.
The 15th had played as the easiest hole in round three after the tee was brought forward to make it reachable, but at 356 yards and back into the wind on Sunday there were just six birdies, 18 bogeys, five doubles and four triples. That resulted in a scoring average of 4.515.
Proving yet again that distance is no defence against the best players in the world and modern equipment, the 681-yard 18th was the easiest hole in the final round, with two eagles, 19 birdies and just 10 bogeys for a scoring average of 4.809.
Brooks Koepka only hit 3-wood 379 yards on 18. Must've left the headcover on.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN) June 18, 2017
Brooks Koepka’s bank balance as he claimed a record first prize of £1.66million. Not bad for a man who once won £30,000 in the Scottish Hydro Challenge at Aviemore.
Justin Thomas came into the final round on the back of his record 63 on Saturday, but was never in contention after bogeys at three of the first five holes on his way to a disappointing 75.
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Who will reign at Erin Hills this weekend?
World Ranking: 1
After his breakthrough US Open win, the big-hitting American seemed poised to take a stranglehold on the men’s game this season after scoring three PGA Tour victories and two top-10 finishes. A freak back injury on the eve of the opening round of the Masters derailed his progress and he will be keen to get back to his winning ways on the longest major championship course in history.
World Ranking: 5
Last 5 tournaments: T13-T2-MC-MC-T11
Best US Open finish: Winner (2015)
Last 5 US Opens: T37-W-T17-MC-T21-T11
Spieth became the youngest US Open winner in 92 years at Chambers Bay in 2015, just two months after claiming the Masters. However, he could not replicate his form last year, even though he came close to retaining his Masters crown before that 12th hole meltdown on Sunday. Has been solid again in 2017, and two recent missed cuts shouldn’t matter much when he regains his focus in a major.
World Ranking: 2
Last 5 tournaments: T35-T7-T30-T4-T7
Best US Open finish: Winner (2011)
Last 5 US Opens: MC-T9-T23-T41-MC
The 28-year-old’s preparations for Erin Hills have been interrupted by niggling rib and back injuries which have curtailed his appearances on the tour. McIlroy however is looking forward to returning to the Open, which was the scene of his first major championship triumph in 2011. What’s more important is that he seems to have loved the challenge that Erin Hills offers during his prep visit.
World Ranking: 9
Last 5 tournaments: MC-T2-T60-T11-T3
Best US Open finish: T2 (2014)
Last 5 US Opens: MC-MC-T2-T10-T41
One of the most consistent performers in 2017 along with Johnson and Jon Rahm. Won the Honda Classic and was second at The Memorial. Missed the cut at FedEx St Jude Classic last week, which would have been a good thing as it gives him some extra rest in a three-week stretch. Very solid off the tee, Fowler is excellent on the greens – a mix that could win him his maiden major.
World Ranking: 11
Last 5 tournaments: T12-T65-2-T15-T13
Best US Open finish: Winner (2013)
Last 5 US Opens: MC-T27-T12-W-T21
The 36-year-old seems to have the uncanny knack of bringing his best game to major championships. Runner-up earlier this year at the Masters, where he lost a play-off to Sergio Garcia, Rose is more than likely to be in contention. He missed the cut at Oakmont last year, but his immense patience and his strong overall game makes him an enticing proposition on this golf course.