Splits are never easy. Handling them with grace and maturity is even harder.
Just as they once set the standard for stability, Phil Mickelson and longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay are showing that it’s possible to part on good terms. There has been no public ugliness, no name calling, no recriminations. Only love, respect and a recognition that all good things eventually come to an end.
“I’ve cherished these last 25 years together with Bones,” Mickelson said Monday after taking part in a skills challenge at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. “We’ve gone through highs and lows on the course. We’ve gone through highs and lows off the course.”
Mickelson and Mackay announced June 20 that they were ending their working relationship, and the split still seems surreal. Mackay had been on the bag for all but one of Mickelson’s 42 PGA Tour titles, including his five major championships, and their longevity was a rarity in a world where people think nothing of calling it quits after the first argument or hint of discord.
They were a package deal, Lefty and Bones, and the idea of one without the other is going to take some getting used to.
Even for Mickelson.
“Oh, sure, sure it will,” he said when asked if it will feel odd to play a tournament without Mackay at his side.
But they knew it was time, Mickelson added. Both have said there was no one incident that led to their split, just a recognition that each needed a change.
Sure, they could have continued on as they always had, and probably no one would have been the wiser. But that wouldn’t have been right for either of them. And it wouldn’t have been the right way to respect a relationship that was so much more than employer and employee.
When Mickelson’s wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and beginning treatment, the first people to show up weren’t parents or siblings or neighbors. It was Mackay and his wife, Jen.
“So we have this relationship that spreads (beyond) a lot more than just golf,” Mickelson said. “It goes out into a real friendship.”
They had wanted the U.S. Open to be their last tournament together because it was where they started all those years ago. But Mickelson’s oldest daughter, Amanda, graduated from high school in southern California the same day the Open started in southern Wisconsin, and the weather didn’t cooperate to give Lefty the window he needed to get to Erin Hills.
So Mickelson and Mackay’s last go around together was in Memphis. Which is fitting, really. While most people remember Mackay first carrying Mickelson’s bag at Pebble Beach in 1992, it was actually at the qualifier a week before.
“We knew that final round in Memphis, that that was our last round together — or most likely. We were holding out hope that it wasn’t, that we had one more week,” Mickelson said.
“It was an emotional day.”
Mackay hasn’t said what he’ll do now, but Mickelson said he knows he’ll have no shortage of opportunities. Mackay is known as one of the most knowledgeable caddies around, and there’s no questioning his dedication.
As for Mickelson, he’s said his brother, Tim, will be his caddie the rest of the year. He hasn’t been able to spend much time lately with his brother, who was the golf coach at Arizona State for five years until resigning last summer, and he’s eager to make up for that.
“One great player’s going to be lucky enough to have (Mackay), and he’s going to bring a lot to his game and they’re going to be a great team,” Mickelson said. “And then it gives me an opportunity to spend time with my brother for the rest of this year, which I’m looking forward to.”
Mickelson and Mackay’s split seems as if it’s the end of an era. Nobody stays together these days — in golf, at least — and it’s unfathomable to imagine anyone else lasting a quarter of a century like they did.
But Mickelson isn’t so sure.
“You see that with Jordan Spieth and Michael Greller. They have the potential to do that,” he said.
And Lefty, for one, hopes they do.
“It’s the greatest thing,” he said, “when you can go through your career and experience and share those moments — those great moments, those tough moments.”
The end of a relationship is often seen as a loss. But for Lefty and Bones, nothing will ever spoil what they gained along the way.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.