As patrons gathered at the gates of Augusta National at 8 a.m. on Monday, the first day of Masters week, one figure stood out from the rest. Tall and tan, and wearing a white jumpsuit and green cap, he was anxious to get onto the course. But unlike all those around him, he wasn’t out for a leisurely day of watching players round their games into shape. He was going to work.
The man was Jim “Bones” Mackay, longtime caddie for three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson. Mackay had arrived in town the night before, traveling straight from Houston, where Mickelson competed in the Shell Houston Open. Still weary from the travel and from the Texas heat, Mackay knew this was no time to rest. Just before the gates swung open, Mackay started walking the golf course, hole by hole, carefully taking note of the different angles and approaches, as well as the contours and conditions, in hopes of getting even better acquainted with a place he already knows so well.
Some patrons may have been surprised to see Mackay out there so early. But that’s the way it is with tour caddies. Their jobs go far beyond simply carrying their players’ golf bags. They must also give critical reads and yardages, and to provide those accurately and give their players every possible edge, they strive to get to know the courses their golfers play intimately. As a result, they spend hours doing that, before and after practice rounds, and in the days leading up to the events. The job is particularly important at Augusta National, for the course here is as complex a character as the pros will play all year. And being able to properly discern the slightest break or angle can make all the difference between being a winner or an also-ran.
Paul Tesori has caddied in nine Masters. He was on Vijay Singh’s bag for most of those (starting the year of Singh’s Masters title defense in 2001), but this year he is looping for Masters first-timer Webb Simpson. And like Mackay, Tesori does his homework.
“I will spend as many as 10 hours this week on the course on my own,” he said. “We’re allowed to go out without our players during the Practice Round days, and the golfers know why we’re out there and appreciate the work we are doing. So they don’t mind. I’ll map out the green contours using an electronic leveler that gives me an accurate measurement of the slope. I’ll also calculate run-outs and carries and figure out what I call ‘out spots,’ which are places around the green where my player can miss without getting into a whole lot of trouble. The idea is to build your yardage book, with information you gather on your own and also what you pick up during actual practice rounds with your player and even the Tournament itself.”
Building yardage books is a key bit of work for caddies. Tesori, for example, has assembled pin sheets from past Masters, so he has a good idea of where the flags will be each day. And he has Simpson putting to those spots throughout their practice rounds. Tesori has also made notes from his times going around Augusta with Singh and recorded the many insights that veteran contestant, who is playing in his 19th Masters this week, shared.
Damon Green, who carries for Zach Johnson, initially went to school on the Augusta National course by joining his player for a practice round the week before the 2006 tournament and learning the different nuances of the track from the Club caddie who was toting Johnson’s bag. Obviously, Green learned some very good lessons that day, for a year later, Johnson won his Masters. Green also garnered essential information from a board in the Club’s caddie house that showed hole diagrams – and the ways Rae’s Creek influences each green.
Perhaps no caddie understands the Augusta National course as well as Carl Jackson, who is working his 51st Masters this week, the last 36 on Ben Crenshaw’s bag. He figures he has looped this layout more than 2,500 times, and while he has his yardage book, he relies a lot on instinct when it comes to working here. Instinct that comes from years of experience.
“Ben and I don’t have lay-up yardages,” Jackson said. “We both play a lot off feel, and Ben is so good at that. A yardage book can only give you so much, and so many other factors come into play. Like weather. And course conditions. And the way a golfer is feeling on a particular day. Ben can walk up to any shot and know within a couple of clubs what to hit.”
All those rounds have also given Jackson essential knowledge of the famously tricky Augusta greens.
“Greens on every golf course have a tendency to break to certain areas, and the magnet for those at Augusta is behind the 11th green,” he said. “I’ve learned that from all my time here, from all those Masters, and whenever I get a borderline putt, I read it toward that area from every hole on the course.”
That’s the sort of insight that caddies are searching for when they walk the course at Augusta National. That’s why guys like Green and Tesori build up their yardage books. That’s why Jim “Bones” Mackay is here early Monday morning, waiting to get in the gates.