Much like a marriage, the player-caddie relationship in professional golf has its fair share of ups and downs, requires give and take, push and pull, insert another cliché about being married here. The key difference between real marriage and the player-caddie marriage, though, is that the latter isn’t ‘til death do us part.
Which is why, no matter how good the relationship seems to us outsiders, player-caddie breakups are not only very normal, but very common. In the last week alone, we’ve seen a pair of prominent splits between a player and his longtime looper, with Justin Thomas and Jimmy Johnson parting ways and one of the longest-tenured player-caddie duos in golf, Bubba Watson and Ted Scott, “ending their on-course partnership.” Neither tandem would be mistaken for having the legendary partnership of Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” Mackay—who ironically enough will replace Johnson on Thomas' bag—but each had an inordinate amount of success together, making these amicable parting of ways semi-shocking.
With those two breakups in mind, we racked our brains for some equally stunning player-caddie splits in recent memory.
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Bryson DeChambeau and Tim Tucker
In one of the more mysterious player-caddie splits ever, Tucker was rumored to have “quit” on the eve of the Rocket Mortgage Classic this past July. Tucker, who had caddied for DeChambeau in practice rounds in Detroit that week, later said on Golf's Supbar podcast that he regretted the timing of his decision and noted how fortunate he was to loop for DeChambeau as long as he did. Tucker had been on the bag for all eight of DeChambeau’s PGA Tour victories, including the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. DeChambeau went on to say that their split had been in the works for some time, and that there was no “falling out.” Nine days after he and Tucker parted ways, DeChambeau announced that Bryan Ziegler, a former instructor at Dallas National Golf Club where DeChambeau is a member, would be taking over as his full-time caddie.
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Tony Finau and Greg Bodine
While Greg Bodine is not a household caddie name, his recognizable face was noticeably missing from Tony Finau's bag at the 3M Open in July 2020. A week earlier, Finau had a prime chance to win the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, but he collapsed late in his third round on Saturday and then shot a final-round 78 to finish seven back. Finau decided it was time to move on from Bodine, who had been on the bag since Finau's rookie season on the PGA Tour in 2014-15, which included 16 top-25 finishes and more than $2 million in earnings. The next year, Bodine was also by Finau's side for his first tour win at the Puerto Rico Open. After the split, Finau's swing coach Boyd Summerhays took over caddieing duties temporarily before Mark Urbanek grabbed the bag for good at the 2020 PGA Championship.
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Matt Kuchar and John Wood
While John Wood had plenty of pre-Matt Kuchar success with players like Hunter Mahan and Mark Calcavecchia, most remember his caddieing career for what he did with Kuchar. Wood, now an on-course commentator for NBC/Golf Channel, took over Kuchar's bag in 2015 and was there for his bronze medal win in Rio as well as the 2016 American Ryder Cup victory and Kuchar's 2019 Sony Open triumph. He was, of course, not on the bag for Kuchar's controversial Mayakoba Classic win in 2018, when it was later revealed that Kuchar had underpaid Wood's substitute caddie that week, David “El Tucan” Ortiz. In August 2020, it was Wood who informed Kuchar he'd be exploring television opportunities, allowing Kuchar to begin looking for a new looper. He found one right away in Brian Reed, who has caddied in the past for Kyle Stanley and Troy Merritt, among others. Wood, meanwhile, has blossomed into one of the better on-course reporters in the game.
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Rory McIlroy and J.P. Fitzgerald
For nine years, Rory McIlroy and J.P. Fitzgerald were one of the more fruitful player-caddie partnerships on the PGA Tour. The Northern Irishman's first 13 wins came with Fitzgerald, including all four of his major titles. Stunningly, McIlroy replaced Fitzgerald with close friend Harry Diamond in 2017, citing the fact he was getting too hard on Fitzgerald while in the midst of a slump. Since tagging Diamond for the job, McIlroy has added six victories, including a Players Championship, though he's still yet to add to his major count. Fitzgerald has moved on as well, taking over as Victor Perez's full-time caddie in 2019.
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Keegan Bradley and Steve 'Pepsi' Hale
Kevin C. Cox
While not nearly as successful as McIlroy and Fitzgerald, Bradley and Hale had a very strong run together, one that included Bradley's out-of-nowhere 2011 PGA Championship win and two appearances on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. The duo's most famous moment, though, came at the 2015 WGC-Match Play at TPC Harding Park, where Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez got into a verbal altercation over a ruling during a meaningless group-stage match. Hale interjected during the conversation, causing Angel Jimenez to tell him to “shut up.” Bradley quickly intervened, telling the Spaniard “you don't tell my caddie to shut up.” The whole ordeal remains one of the more heated discussions ever seen between two players during an event. Almost exactly one year after the argument, Bradley and Hale split up while Bradley was going through one of his leanest seasons as a pro.
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Zach Johnson and Damon Green
Few player-caddie relationships last as long as Johnson and Green's. Green spent 15 years caddieing for the Iowan, taking over his bag when Johnson was a rookie in 2004 in favor of former boss Scott Hoch. The decision proved to be a profitable one for Green, as Johnson went on to win the 2007 Masters and the 2015 Open Championship in addition to 10 other tour wins. Just before the 2019 season, though, Johnson told Green they needed to take a break, a break that later turned into an official “amicable parting of ways.”
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Justin Rose and Mark Fulcher
After tying for low amateur at the 1998 Open Championship, Justin Rose was always destined for big things. But a decade later, he'd still not yet won on the PGA Tour, though he did win four times on the European Tour in that span. Then, in 2008, Mark “Fooch” Fulcher, former caddie for LPGA legend Laura Davies, took over Rose's bag and remained on it for 11 years. During that time, Rose claimed 10 PGA Tour titles, including the 2013 U.S. Open and a pair of WGCs, and reached No. 1 in the World Ranking. Fulcher, unfortunately, had to step away for health-related reasons, and while Rose said he'd wait for his return, the duo eventually split for good in 2019.
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Jason Day and Colin Swatton
Day and Swatton went back way further than most player-caddie relationships, linking up when Day was 12 years old and attending a boarding school in Australia where Swatton became his swing coach. Two decades later, the duo had teamed up for 12 PGA Tour victories including one major, the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. In July 2020, though, Day announced that it was time for a change, and that he'd work on his own as it pertained to his golf swing.
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Bubba Watson and Ted Scott
Stan Badz/PGA Tour
If there was ever a true married-couple-like player-caddie relationship, it was between Watson and Scott, who spent 15 years together, most of them great. The bad times, though, were pretty bad, most notably when Watson would openly berate Scott loudly and clearly in front of cameras and microphones. But Scott always took it on the chin, and the duo was better for it, winning 12 times together, including a pair of green jackets. In the recent announcement, Watson even said Scott deserved way more credit than he ever got, and that the two will remain friends off the course.
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Justin Thomas and Jimmy Johnson
For his entire PGA Tour career to date, all Thomas has known is having Johnson by his side. Recently, though, Thomas tweeted a statement that he and Johnson had agreed to separate after six years and 14 victories together. “I 100 percent did not fire him,” Thomas wrote, adding ‘Jimmy came to me after the Ryder Cup and told me he has decided to pursue other opportunities.” Not long after, it was reported that Jim “Bones” Mackay would be taking Johnson's place. Since splitting with Mickelson, Mackay has been an on-course reporter for NBC and Golf Channel, but had always flirted with the idea of caddieing again for another player. Thomas was always an ideal candidate, as Bones had caddied for him as a temporary replacement in 2018 at the Sony Open and again in the summer of 2020, working for Thomas during his win at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
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Tiger Woods and Mike 'Fluff' Cowan
Most golf fans only associate Mike “Fluff” Cowan with Jim Furyk, who he still caddies for on the PGA Tour Champions, but Fluff was Tiger Woods' first caddie as a pro. In 1996, Fluff's then boss of 19 years, Peter Jacobsen, was on the mend with back issues, and Woods had inquired about Fluff's availability. With Jacobsen's blessing, Cowan began caddieing for Woods and they found immediate success. Woods won eight times with Fluff by his side, including a historically dominant performance at the 1997 Masters, before going their separate ways in March 1999. Luckily, they both ended up landing on their feet after the split.
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Tiger Woods and Steve Williams
After Woods dismissed Cowan, Williams slid right into the lucrative gig, thus becoming the most recognizable caddie in all of golf. He was on Woods' bag for 62 of Woods’ 82 career wins, 13 of them in majors, where Williams was always a prominent figure in some of Woods' most crucial career moments. In 2011, while Woods recovered from one of his myriad injuries, Williams caddied for Adam Scott at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. Soon after, Woods fired Williams, who went on to continue caddie for Scott on a part-time basis until 2017. Joe LaCava would then step up to caddie for Woods.
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Phil Mickelson and Jim 'Bones' Mackay
While it's true that all good things do come to an end, there was certainly reason to believe that the Phil and Bones dynamic never would. Up until their split in 2017, Bones had been on Lefty's bag for all but one PGA Tour win, including all five of his majors prior to the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Their on-course chemistry was arguably the greatest ever between player and caddie, often making for some of the best televised pre-shot conversations fans had the pleasure to listen in on. Their relationship extended far beyond the course, too, with both Phil and Bones featuring as prominent figures in each other’s lives. But the day we all feared would come came in June 2017, when they each announced it was time to move on. In the post-Bones era, Mickelson has won three times, while Bones will make his official caddieing return with Justin Thomas in the 2021-22 season.