JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jim Furyk’s first experience with Mike “Fluff” Cowan as his caddie occurred 22 years ago in as unusual an atmosphere as one could expect for a place as esteemed as Augusta National and the Masters Tournament.
The 1999 Masters was the first time that Cowan worked for Furyk, a few months after Tiger Woods and Cowan split and Furyk had recently parted with Steve Duplantis. While back home in Maine for a couple months without the daily walking on a golf course, Cowan had packed on a few pounds. Going to extremely hilly Augusta and having to wear the sometimes cumbersome Masters caddie jumpsuit didn’t portend a good result when it was an unseasonably hot practice round the weekend before the Masters.
“I’m by myself and thinking we’re gonna whip around here in three hours,” Furyk recalled this week at his new Constellation Furyk and Friends tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., on PGA Tour Champions. “(Fluff) had to be 50 yards behind me going up that big hill at No. 8. When he finally got to the ball, he dropped the bag and was breathing really hard, wheezing. I was staring at that big mustache and just blurted out, ‘If it comes down to you dying or me giving mouth to mouth, it’s gonna be 50-50.’ He was still breathing hard, but laughed and said, ‘We’re going to be fine.’”
With the recent parting of longtime player-caddie pairings of Bubba Watson-Ted Scott and Justin Thomas-Jimmy Johnson, the team of Furyk-Fluff stands out for its longevity. Fluff resonates with most golf fans just because of his appearance and history on the bag that dates back 45 years to the 1976 PGA Tour. A recent PGA Tour estimate had Fluff carrying in more than 1,100 tournaments, approximately 4,000 rounds and more than 30,000 miles walked, including practice rounds – equal to nearly eight times footing it across the country.
As his hero, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, sang, “What a long, strange trip it’s been” for the 73-year-old with the great nickname.
Here is a brief Q&A:
First person you caddied for on Tour and when?
“I worked a Monday qualifier at the 1976 Greater Hartford (Conn.) Open for a guy you’ve never heard of, David Smith. I was working as an assistant golf pro at home in Maine and got fired in the middle of the summer. Work was scarce. A friend of mine I grew up with had just returned from California living the hippie life. He wasn’t working either. We decided to go to Hartford and see what we could find. David Smith was the first person who said yes. He didn’t make the field that August.
I went from stop to stop, to Monday qualifiers or waiting in the parking lot, and worked for a different player every week – Smith, Cesar Sanudo, Bob Zender, Joey Dills, Bill Calfee among them. Disney was a team event then and I caddied for Ed Sabo. He was the first person who asked me what I was doing next. I worked for Ed a couple years, Peter Jacobsen for 18 years, Tiger Woods for two years and now Jim Furyk full-time, with a few one-week bags, like Curtis Strange, Michelle Wie, Ed Dougherty, John Cook, when my regular player had the week off. Larry Nelson, who finished fourth, was my first big payday at the 1978 Players.”
Has anybody caddied longer on Tour than you?
“A couple guys who started before I did and still do it some now, Pete Bender and Andy Martinez. As far as continuous caddying, the only real break I had in all these years was the couple months after Tiger and when Jim hired me at Augusta.”
The nickname “Fluff.” How and when did you get the nickname?
“A couple of Florida caddies gave me that. [Former CBS broadcaster] Steve Melnyk’s nickname in college at the University of Florida was Fluff. These guys knew that and started calling me Short Fluff because Steve’s quite a bit taller than me. It wasn’t very long before the ‘Short’ had been dropped. There are plenty of people who have no idea who Mike Cowan is, but they know Fluff.”
The mustache – when did you first grow the big facial hair and why has it become your look?
“I just grew it for the heck of it. I say 1984 because I shaved it then and almost immediately grew it back and it’s still here.”
The Grateful Dead. How and when did you become a fan and how many times did you see them perform?
“I just started listening to their music in about 1971 or 1972. The first time I ever saw them in concert was at a place called Dillon Stadium in Hartford, Conn., in 1973. I just fell in love with them. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen them play. I have seen the recent grouping, Dead & Company, once. I have a few favorite songs. Right now, I’ll say ‘Cassidy’ or ‘Bertha.’ ”
One thing people might not know about Tiger’s 1997 Masters victory.
“A lot of folks know it, but it’s still unbelievable. One of the greatest accomplishments was playing Augusta National without a three-putt. That really contributed to him winning that week.”
One thing people might not know about Jim Furyk’s record 58 in 2016 at Hartford.
“It wasn’t that particular round [the final round]. But it was about an 8-foot par putt on the final hole on Friday or we wouldn’t have been there – to make the cut on the number.”
Why do you and Jim get along so well? Twenty-two years and counting.
“I guess part of it is through that time we have truly grown to like one another. A credit to him, he is easy as all get out to work for. And if I had to credit myself, I just focus on doing my job.”
The funniest thing you have seen while caddying at a golf tournament?
“I don’t want to disparage anyone, but Woody Austin falling in the pond at the 2007 Presidents Cup was pretty funny.”
How long do you think you will keep on doing this?
“I used to say it would be when my daughter gets out of high school. Now it’s when she gets out of college. She’s a freshman at Clemson, so for at least 3½ more years. I was at Clemson last weekend for the Boston College game. Unbelievable. The tailgating that goes on at Clemson, it’s got to be heads and shoulders more than anybody else, at least from just my limited experience. I tell you what, those folks tailgate.”