Psychologist, club courier, surveyor, babysitter, meteorologist, consultant — a PGA Tour caddie takes on numerous occupations over the course of a season, all with the intention of helping his man shoot lower scores and win golf tournaments. There are times, however, when the odd job does come into play.
Bouncer, bodyguard, Dirty Harry impersonator. When you carry a bag for Tiger Woods, the workplace can become a nuthouse, and at last month’s PGA Championship, the atmosphere was the most intense caddie Joe LaCava had experienced in his seven years with Woods. It was at Firestone the previous week, however, when LaCava grabbed the law of common sense and bent it to his own specifications, otherwise known as the greater good.
Having heard enough from a heckler during Woods’ final round — Tiger would shoot a pair of 73s on the weekend and finish T-31 — LaCava approached the loudmouth and offered a deal: he would cover the cost of the guy’s ticket ($25) if he left the grounds. The transaction was quickly completed, but instead of leaving, the dude continued to dog Woods, leaving LaCava little choice but to approach security and have him ejected.
“I actually got a standing ovation for kicking the guy out,” LaCava told ESPN radio.
Now I’m not sure how many caddies would have gone right up to the ropes and attempted to reach a financial settlement with some nuisance in the gallery, but anyone who knows LaCava couldn’t possibly be surprised. He’s a good-natured north-easterner who would pull over in the rain to fix a little old lady’s flat tire, and he’s certainly not averse to a confrontation, regardless of the circumstances.
A hothead he is not. Steve Williams, who spent 12 years on Woods’ bag before LaCava took over in 2011, got slapped with a reputation for being impetuous and aggressive during his time with Tiger. And without question, there were instances when the New Zealander probably could have exercised better judgment when clashing with photographers or tangling with TV cameramen.
Some of us media types used to refer to Williams as “the Doberman.” In all the chaos and hysteria that follows Woods, he struggled in situations where he sensed a loss of control. Perhaps more significantly, Williams knew Woods was a totally non-confrontational human being — the ultimate prodigy who had grown accustomed to other people doing his dirty work.
So when Stevie thought Tiger’s competitive focus was in any way jeopardized, he took it upon himself to play the role of bad cop. Given their massive success in those 11 years together, it’s hard to argue with his mentality.
In my numerous dealings with Williams over that period, he projected a gentle, soft-spoken demeanor that completely belied his prickly image. There was an almost professorial tone to his voice when he explained something, but it was hardly a condescending vibe. He took his job very seriously, and every caddie I talked to over the years thought he was one of the best in the business. Period.
LaCava’s wicked sense of humor makes him very different from Williams, particularly in the way he communicates with Woods. During his long stretch working for Fred Couples, the two would needle each other like brothers. When Couples’ struggles with short putts cost him big tournaments, most notably the 2006 Masters, LaCava would groan, “my man can’t make a no-footer.”
The kinder, gentler Woods we’ve seen in 2018 comes from a number of influences, LaCava being one of them. Back when Tiger was living by the “second sucks” motto and winning tournaments by the bushel, Williams was the ideal man on the bag. No nonsense, take no prisoners, leave every opponent for dead with your footprints on his neck.
Eventually, the relationship deteriorated because Woods felt Williams was encroaching on his success. Stevie wrote a book, made a couple of off-color comments to the media and worked for Adam Scott in 2011 while Woods was inactive, which Tiger viewed as a breach of loyalty.
It’s hard to imagine LaCava doing any of that stuff, which had a lot to do with him being Woods’ first and only choice to succeed Williams. I don’t doubt for a second that LaCava pokes a little fun at Tiger during competitive rounds, at least when the time is right, sometimes to generate a bit of levity, other times to provide a spark.
These days, Woods is talking about a winless 2018 as one of his best seasons ever. And while his previous caddie once grabbed a spectator’s $7,000 camera and threw it into a pond, his current looper is offering a patron $25 just to shut the hell up.
I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure LaCava will get by without his 25 bucks.
All views expressed in this column are those of John Hawkins and do not necessarily reflect those of the Caddie Network.