John Wood grew up playing team sports like baseball in Sacramento, Calif., and always wanted to be part of a winning U.S. team in golf, specifically a Ryder Cup team.
He finally got that wish in 2008 at Valhalla.
Eleven years later, he looks ahead to next week’s Presidents Cup with Matt Kuchar and realizes just how precious each team event has been to his career.
Some of his very best friends on Tour — like Joe LaCava and Paul Tesori — will be out there with him and the other nine caddies and 12 players at Royal Melbourne. How much does he relish going to battle with these guys?
“So much, so much,” Wood said, emphatically, by phone this week. “You just never know if you’re going to be back, you just don’t. You never know if this is your last one or not.”
That’s true of both the caddies and the players.
“Pick any great player out of this event, you’re going to play in the next 10 U.S. Opens, you’re going to play in the next 10 Masters,” Wood said. “You’ll do that because of what you’ve accomplished but you’re never ever guaranteed to be on a team. And I think what I really try to do is enjoy the team that I’m on that week because that’s the one chance that you know you have to have a great experience to win a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.”
One of Wood’s closest friends on Tour, Jim “Bones” Mackay, was a part of 13 winning Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams as caddie for Phil Mickelson.
When the Americans charged the 18th green at Hazeltine in 2016 after Ryan Moore beat Lee Westwood that Sunday, who would have realized then that it would be Bones’ final U.S. team triumph as a caddie? He and Mickelson parted ways the next summer and he’s been calling the last couple team events with a microphone as he’ll do again this year for Golf Channel and NBC.
“Oh, we miss him a lot,” Wood said. “He’s such a great team guy. Such a relaxed guy to be around, so knowledgable, and he’s one of my best friends, so it’s something you think about. We really miss Bones, he’s just a great guy to have in the room.”
Next week figures to be a jam-packed one for Wood, but he’s still hoping to hear some of his friend on the broadcast.
“I hope I can listen to some of the coverage at some point because I know how much Bones loves these things and how much he likes to win them, so it will be interesting to see how much he can keep up his impartial reporting and not be out there rooting for Team USA,” Wood said.
This Presidents Cup also marks the first time Bones’ former boss will not be in the team room, a jarring thought to veterans like Wood.
“It will be so bizarre not having Phil Mickelson in that room, I can’t even tell you,” Wood said. “It’s going to be weird not having him there because he’s always been there and has been a great teammate to have.”
Wood sees these weeks as great opportunities to build friendships, especially with caddies that you don’t often get much time to see during the Tour season beyond a dinner or trip to the movies here and there.
“You don’t get an opportunity to get to know people as you do that week,” Wood said. “You learn more about those guys that week than maybe you would the rest of the year combined. It’s just a great team-building camaraderie and it just means a lot to me.”
The camaraderie spans to assistant captains as well.
“At Hazeltine (2016 Ryder Cup) to be going from one hole to the next during a match and to have Tiger Woods there rooting you on and pumping you up, you can’t put it into words how much that means,” Wood said.
Woods of course will be this Presidents Cup’s playing U.S. Captain.
Many of Wood’s peers take notice of his enthusiasm for these team events and willingness to work his tail off during them.
“I think Woody is one of the best caddies out here and he’s always the guy who’s willing to do anything the team needs to give them the best chance to win,” said Rickie Fowler’s caddie, Joe Skovron.
For the 2015 Presidents Cup, this meant bringing his veteran team experience to loop for Bill Haas who was between caddies at the time. Wood took the initiative to ask Haas if he could loop for him there in Korea weeks before. He obliged and little did they know the dramatic finish they were getting themselves into.
“That one was kind of a storybook with his dad Jay as the captain (Bill as a captain’s pick) and we get put out last on Sunday singles,” Wood said. “To have it all come down to him and have him hit the shots he hit and to not flinch at all coming down the stretch was… that’s one of the ones you dream about.”
“I was on the other side of it with Hunter Mahan in 2010 at Celtic Manor in the last group of the Ryder Cup,” Wood said. “I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. I think it helped me when I was working for Bill in Korea, because I’d kind of been there before.”
Yet again on the road, against the crowd favorite. This time it was against South Korea’s own Sangmoon Bae.
“You kind of remember some things to say, and you remember the feelings and hopefully I hope I was able to help Bill out a little bit coming down the stretch because he played his butt off to win the Presidents Cup for his dad.”
Wood remembers Jay and Jan came out onto the 18th green after the match and hugged their son.
“It was a cool moment for me, but I was really emotional for them,” Wood said. “If you would have said at the beginning of the week to Jay that you’re going to win the Presidents Cup and the way you’re going to win is your son is going to be in the last group on Sunday and win his match to win the cup you couldn’t write up a better Hollywood ending than that.”
Return to success at Royal Melbourne
Wood returns to Royal Melbourne after Hunter Mahan (his player at the time) went 4-1 in the 2011 Presidents Cup there. And Wood developed a strong affinity for the revered layout.
“I just love the course,” he said. “The first time I walked around the course I was in awe of it. I love everything about it. It can change so much from one day to the next.”
And it’s not just the venue Woody’s looking forward to returning to — it’s the fans Down Under.
“I love the Australian fans, they’re such good sports fans,” Wood said. “And the Fanatics? They’re a blast. They give it to you and they razz you, which is exactly what you want as an away team. You want to hear that. It makes it fun. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with for this year.”
Though it’s been eight years, does he think his experience and course knowledge will be a help?
“I remember the course a lot and, in fact, last week when I was home I got my yardage book out from that and watched the last round on YouTube and just went over it all just to refresh my memory,” Wood said. “We’ll take that charter and get out there Monday morning. I’d guess the players would rest first. But I would guess that all 12 of the caddies would go drop our stuff off at the hotel and go to the course immediately to walk it together.”
Wood’s passion for team events
Wood’s first year working for a U.S. team was the 2002 Ryder Cup with Mark Calcavecchia.
“I think I’ve been on 14 or 15 teams and I’ve been very, very fortunate enough to be on that many.
With how much adrenaline goes through the players and caddies on both sides it’s certainly understandable how addicting these experiences become.
“Once you’ve made one it kills you to miss the next one if you’re not on it. If I’m not at or working the Ryder Cup I can’t watch, for me it’s too painful not to be there.”
That first time
The story of how Wood found out he would be at his very first team event is forever seared into his memory. Remember this was always one of his goals when he got into caddying.
“I’ll never forget how Calc told me I was coming with him (to the 2002 Ryder Cup),” Wood said. “We were at dinner at New Orleans with Calc and Bones. And Calc, in between bites eating his food, said, ‘oh, by the way Woody, you’re in for the Ryder Cup.’ And I didn’t really hear him correctly. I thought, ‘man, there’s no way he just said that,’ and I looked at him and sure enough he did.
“Though we didn’t win, it was everything I could have hoped for,” Wood said. “And from that point on it was like, I never ever wanted to miss another team. It’s been a goal every year at the beginning of the year. Obviously you want to win and win majors, you want to compete, but in the back of my mind the one overarching goal every year is to make sure you’re on that team.”