Two of the best-known player-caddie partnerships in recent Masters Tournament history are just that – history.
Caddies who have been closely associated with two Masters stars – Fred Couples and Tiger Woods – will be pulling clubs for other players this week at Augusta National Golf Club.
Couples’ old caddie is now working for Woods.
Joe LaCava had been Couples’ caddie from 1990 through the 2011 Masters – on the bag in 1992 when he won the Masters.
Steve Williams, who was on the bag for Woods from the 1999 Masters through 2011 (with victories in 2001, 2002 and 2005), is now with Adam Scott, a runner-up last year.
LaCava left the 52-year-old Couples and the Champions Tour last May for PGA Tour star Dustin Johnson. After a five-month stint with Johnson, he started with Woods in October.
As for Williams, he started caddying full time for Scott soon after being sacked by Woods on July 1.
Movement at the top
It’s an unusual year when two of the game’s top caddies switch bags. In LaCava’s case, he did it twice.
“There seemed to be at that level of player more turnover than normal,” said Mike Hicks, who has caddied for more than 30 years on the PGA Tour, including 12 with Payne Stewart, and is now with Spencer Levin.
“Caddies switch around and get fired all the time,” said Trey Keepers, who caddies for former Masters participant Vaughn Taylor. “It’s just when the big-name guys change, then it’s a story.”
Williams, who started with Woods in March 1999, helped him in 63 of his 72 PGA Tour victories and 13 of his 14 major championships. Woods won his first eight titles with Mike “Fluff” Cowan and has one PGA Tour victory with LaCava, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago.
“Most of the time when you see that (the Woods-Williams longevity), you see a successful career as well,” said former PGA Championship winner David Toms, who has worked with his caddie, Scott Gneiser, for 12 years.
Perhaps the only player-caddie team more famous than Woods and Williams is Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” Mackay. They have worked together for 20 years (since Mickelson turned pro) and are still going strong.
“If tomorrow Phil and Bones split up, they might know about it in Japan,” said Paul Tesori, who caddied for Vijay Singh and is in his third year with Webb Simpson. “Bones is as famous as Phil because they’ve been together for a long time.”
Tiger, Stevie drama
Woods fired Williams, who he called “Stevie” in happier times, at the end of the AT&T National on July 1, a tournament in which Woods didn’t play but served as a host. Williams worked for Scott that week.
“It was a pretty big surprise to me,” Hicks said. “Steve was really the only stable thing in his life at the time, so I was very surprised. He was a very loyal caddie in a lot of ways. I didn’t see that coming.”
“There were things going on that a lot of us knew,” he said. “It’s hard when Steve’s wife and Tiger’s ex-wife, Elin, are best friends. It’s a hard situation.
“I kind of knew there was no way this could continue to go on,” Tesori added. “There was tension there. … I knew Steve had enough and Tiger had enough.”
With Woods’ permission, Williams had been carrying Scott’s bag part time, starting with the U.S. Open at Congressional in June while Woods recovered from a knee injury.
After being fired, Williams immediately was hired full-time by Scott. A month later, he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where Woods finished tied for 37th in his first event in nearly three months.
Afterward, in a televised interview, Williams said. “I’ve been caddying for 33 years and that’s the best week of my life. It’s the most satisfying win I’ve ever had.”
“He threw a jab out there, but that’s his personality,” Hicks said.
“I’m surprised the tension that was brought out of it from Steve’s standpoint,” Tesori said. “I think more than anything, maybe Steve was looking for a, ‘Let’s sit
down and agree on this mutually.’
“Tiger seemed like he did a really good job of never saying anything negative,” Tesori said. “I think by Steve taking his frustration out made Tiger look even better.”
Because the change involved Woods, the story took on a life of its own.
“When big things blow up out here between player and caddie, some of it is newsworthy just because it happened,” Toms said. “But as far as the events leading up to it, it’s like, ‘Why did you and your wife split up?’ … It’s really nobody’s business as far as that goes.”
After firing Williams, Woods used friend and employee Bryon Bell as his caddie for the Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship, where he missed the cut.
In the fall, LaCava left Johnson to work for Woods.
“Obviously, Tiger wasn’t going to just hire anybody,” Hicks said. “He was going to have to have some experience. Joe’s thinking on that was he had a chance to work for obviously one of the greatest players of all time, so take a shot. You can’t blame him.”
LaCava said: “He’s Tiger Woods. Anyone in their right mind would take this job.”
“This was an important decision, and I wanted to think about it carefully,” Woods said on his Web site after hiring LaCava. “Joe is an outstanding caddie, and I have known him for many years. I’ve personally seen the great job he did for Freddie.”
In a five-month span, LaCava moved from Couples to Johnson to Woods.
“I see it both ways where a caddie can look for a job elsewhere if he feels like he’s got a better opportunity,” Toms said. “It’s just the way it is.”
Caddies interviewed for this story agreed that most player-caddie teams usually break up within three years.
Tesori caddied for Singh for two stints (three years and two years) and for Sean O’Hair for three years before hooking up with Simpson.
“It’s hard out here,” Tesori said. “It’s like a marriage. … Frustration happens and things get stale sometimes. It’s just normal. We spend so much time together, and the time we spend together is pressure packed with the things you’re trying to do and achieve. Turnover is pretty regular.”
“There’s not many guys that stay together,” Hicks said. “Phil’s had one in his entire career. Chemistry is why they’ve stayed so strong for so long.”
Hicks worked for Stewart for 12 years, until his death in 1999.
“It all depends on your personalities meshing and having things in common with the guy you’re working for,” Hicks said. “There is a little bit more to it than just carrying the golf bag and giving him yardage. I was fortunate to have Payne Stewart for 12 years. To last that long, you have to get along.”
Tesori thinks he and Simpson will be together for a long time because of their analytical approach to the game and their strong Christian faith.
“I hope this will be my last job, and he hopes so, too. You never know how things happen,” Tesori said.
He is grateful for the five years he spent with Singh, which included a stint at the top of the World Golf Ranking. But the relationship had an expiration date.
“I’m strong-willed and passionate and stubborn; so is he,” Tesori said. “The more we were together, the more we wouldn’t agree on things. The personalities didn’t fit.
“The reason I’m very good at what I do now is because of what I learned with him,” Tesori said. “I always said, ‘Vijay’s got a heart of gold,’ because he does. We’re still friends to this day. My dad always said, ‘Don’t ever burn a bridge,’ and I’ve always tried to follow that.”