PONTE VERDA BEACH, Fla. – Jim “Bones” Mackay quickly learned he couldn’t talk and chew gum at the same time.
It’s not that he can’t handle the two tasks at the same time with ease. Instead, it has everything to do with one of the Golden Rules of announcing, and the former longtime caddie for Phil Mickelson and current golf analyst for NBC Sports and Golf Channel got an earful for his chomping gaffe.
“It’s like the biggest no-no,” Mackay said.
It was one of a very few mis-clubs Mackay has made during his transition from carrying a 40-pound golf bag to carrying a mic. Not that it’s been easy, he will tell you. There’s someone talking in his earpiece giving directions, after all. The mechanics involved in the announcing apparatus takes getting used to. He has a few seconds to put his thoughts together to say something relevant and insightful.
And he’s mindful not to stumble on his own words.
But Mackay loves his new gig and said he’s having a blast.
“I’m very happy with the way it’s all worked out,” said Mackay, who started his new job at the British Open last summer. “It’s been great. I thought I’d caddie until I couldn’t lift the bag.
“I do miss not having a dog in the fight, not being a part of the competition. If someone makes a birdie or a bogey, I’m not invested with that golfer. When you’re caddying, you’re fully invested in everything your player is doing. You’re living and dying in a sense with everything going on with your player. And there is nothing more rewarding as a caddie than when you have a positive effect on what is going on out there.”
Now Mackay is making a positive impact as a caddie for millions of viewers, said Tommy Roy, the lead producer for NBC Sports Golf. Roy saw the potential of having an experienced caddie inside the ropes announcing the action. In 2015 at the RSM Classic, Roy acted on his belief and put Mackay and John Wood, Matt Kuchar’s caddie, to work.
“I’d known those guys for years and it struck me every time we had dinner, the two wouldn’t just talk about their player. They talked big picture – how others are playing, how the course is playing, what the weather might do, what were the main story lines for the week,” Roy said. “I knew from that they were producers themselves. We knew they had communication skills. They were incredible that week. They were professional announcers from the get-go.”
So, when Mackay parted ways with Mickelson after 25 years, Roy rung him up.
“He’s been on his game right from the beginning,” Roy said. “He’s thinking more about strategy, about how to navigate this hole. Early on he had a pattern of saying, ‘But uh, but uh.’ But he quickly broke out of that and has fallen right into place.”
Mackay, 53, has been back in his old place as a caddie twice on a temporary basis since picking up the mic – for Justin Thomas in the Sony Open and Jimmy Walker in the Farmers Insurance Open. But while he won’t rule out a return to his former job, he’s all in on his new craft.
He dedicates the same attention to detail as he did when he was caddying. He still carries a yardage book and a greens book, both filled with notes from years gone by. He taps into his vast memory bank, surveys every golf course.
“What’s different now is in the past I was walking the golf course through the eyes of a guy who hit it certain distances,” said Mackay, who was on the bag for 41 of Mickelson’s 44 PGA Tour titles, including all five major championships. “Now, I have to look at the golf course from, let’s say, Kevin Na’s perspective. Na being a shorter hitter than Phil.
“You have to look at the golf course in a general issue.”
Just as he did as a caddie, Mackay is still searching for ways to get better. For instance, he’s always on the lookout for the best places to speak from, for the last thing he wants to do is have his voice force a player to back away from his shot.
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And he’s making the effort to improve his vocabulary, typing into his iPhone words he comes to hear or read that he usually doesn’t use.
“I want to be more well-spoken,” Mackay said. “There are a number of ways you can better yourself. I am getting more and more comfortable, for sure. This has gone about as well as I could have hoped. And I have so much respect for the manpower that goes into a broadcast. It’s a total team effort.”
Roy said Mackay is the ultimate team player and he’s delighted he gave a caddie a chance to carry the mic.
“He already was a star before he came to us,” Roy said. “And he’s still a star.”