Just hours after the most emotional victory he’s been a part of in a successful 20-year career as a PGA Tour caddie, Adam Hayes woke up early Monday morning and drove the 6 ½ hours back home to the Charlotte, N.C. area from Dublin, Ohio.
On Sunday – just as he’s been since the fall of 2016 – Hayes was on the bag for Spain’s Jon Rahm who overtook Rory McIlroy as the No. 1-ranked player in the world with a convincing three-stroke victory in the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village.
“It feels good, I’ve got to be honest,” Hayes told The Caddie Network on Monday evening. “I don’t get too emotional about things. I was emotional last night. When I started caddying, I’d see Bones, Steve Williams, LaCava, Fluff and I looked up to those guys. There’s a reason they worked for the best players. They do a phenomenal job and reap the rewards. I wanted to be those guys. You want to be the best at something. It was always a goal [to caddie for a world No. 1].”
Being a great caddie can only get you so far on the PGA Tour, though, as Hayes acknowledged.
“There’s a lot of luck that goes with it, too,” he said. “Getting someone capable of reaching that upper echelon. Not many guys get that opportunity. I was able to get better and better as a caddie and work for great players. All of that from guys like Vaughn Taylor, Jonathan Byrd and Russell Henley helped me to learn how to be in certain situations. They’re all great players. If it wasn’t for them, I never would have had this opportunity. I’m working for a player now whose main goal was always to be No. 1. When he achieved that last night, a lot of emotion came out. At the end of the day, I’m so thankful to all those people – family, friends, players – that helped me get here. I’m so humbled that these people gave me chances.”
Rahm, 25 years old and a four-time PGA Tour winner now, had a college teammate on the bag when he first turned pro in the summer of 2016 for six events. Once the season ended in September — Hayes wouldn’t leave Henley’s bag in until that season was over — he moved over to Rahm’s bag.
The relationship has been one of the best in golf with Rahm having won in each of their four seasons together on the PGA Tour thus far, along with six European Tour victories and the 2019 Race to Dubai crown.
Hayes said that while every win – because they’re so hard to come by – is special, Sunday’s triumph was extra special because Rahm won to truly earn his top spot in the world rankings.
“That was one of his goals that he’s talked about,” Hayes said. “He didn’t want to become No. 1 by finishing second somewhere. He wanted to win. To win this one with arguably the strongest field we’ve seen all season, on a course that played as tough as a U.S. Open or Open Championship with firm, fast and windy conditions, it was special.”
When Rahm walked off the 18th green Sunday and fist-pumped tournament host and 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus, it looked like a 5-stroke victory.
Moments later, Rahm would find out from CBS interviewer Amanda Balionis that his chip-in for birdie at the par-3 16th – the shot of the tournament – was under review for a possible infraction. A close-up replay showed the ball moved ever so slightly in the rough when Rahm put his club behind it.
UNBELIEVABLE!@JonRahmPGA holes out for birdie on 16.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 19, 2020
Jon Rahm was assessed a two-stroke penalty for a violation of Rule 9.4 after a ball at rest moved.
His score on the par-3 16th has been adjusted from a 2 to a 4. pic.twitter.com/HWbIN2woTr
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 20, 2020
A stunned Rahm took the news in stride. No matter that outcome, which was ultimately a two-stroke penalty, it wouldn’t impact the final result.
While Hayes thought Balionis did an excellent job broaching the subject the way she did on live television, he was confused as to why Rahm learned of the infraction during an interview rather than from a rules official.
“The more I watch it, the more shocked I am,” Hayes said of the penalty assessment. “I won’t name names, but several pros in the locker-room overwhelmingly agreed it shouldn’t have been a penalty. That happens all the time. The ball moved, but the lie didn’t change and anytime you put the club behind the ball from 100 yards out or around the green, you see it wiggle all the time. That doesn’t mean the lie itself has changed.”
Hayes said in the case of sensitive situations during key moments of a tournament, caddies can be of assistance to rules officials.
“Tell the caddie what’s going on and let them decide whether to tell the player,” he said. “The official should come in and tell the caddie. The player will see it and ask what’s going on, but then the caddie can frame it to the player how they see fit. What if we had a two-shot lead on 18? Maybe we would have played it differently. Or, don’t say anything until you’re in the scoring room and bring it to our attention. That’s the way it used to be. You’d walk in, an official would be there and you knew something was going on. Guys would get in cart, go to the TV trailer and review it.”
In his short, incredibly successful career, Hayes believes Rahm has been unfairly labeled as a hothead because of his intensity.
Hayes swears that couldn’t be further from the person Rahm actually is – and folks watching on TV witnessed that softer side in Rahm’s post-win interview, talking about family, friends, his dedication to the game and how amazing it was to reach the loftiest of goals he set for himself.
“There’s a saying I’ve heard a lot and guys say it all the time about a number of players: ‘That guy is a jerk on the course, but great off it,’” Hayes said. “I hate that saying. I think Jon has gotten a bad rap early in his career. They viewed the temper as Spanish passion. It’s what people made up of him.
“The first time I met Jon and [his now wife] Kelley, they were the most genuine, respectful, friendly people I’d been around in the golf world. What you see is what you get. He’s passionate and fiery, sure; all those words people like to use. But it’s never malicious – maybe to himself, but off the course and on it, he’s so respectful of people around him. If he slams a club or something, it might be a distraction, but everyone does that. He’s gotten a little bit of a reputation for that, but he has the biggest heart. Some of the conversations we have, which I won’t get deep into, about family and societal things — the guy has a really good soul and a really good heart.”
And a really good game, too.
Hayes said there’s definitely something amateurs can learn from the new No. 1.
“Not just Jon, but look at anyone on Tour,” Hayes said. “What impresses me most is when they’re playing well, the way they can manage courses. Come up with a plan, know when to lay up on a par 5 or even a par 4. Know when to be aggressive on green-light pins. Jon is very good at that. I see JT – I’ve always been a big fan of how he does that. Tiger Woods is the best of all time at it and Jordan Spieth was spectacular at it when he was on that run. Take an 18-handicapper shooting around 90. That golfer could knock 4-5 strokes off by doing nothing better physically – but just having better course management.”