‘Bones’ drops the bag and picks up the mike
On the golf course and at dinner for the past 27 years, PGA Tour caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay was auditioning for a new job. He just didn’t know it.
Heaven knows there is plenty of time to eat and swap stories when you’re in the tour’s travelling circus, and Mackay became good friends with numerous people on the television side — most notably longtime NBC and Golf Channel producer Tommy Roy.
Roy would sit and listen at dinner to Mackay’s fascinating insights and stories of what it’s like to be inside the ropes with one of the world’s top players, Phil Mickelson, and at some point it occurred to him that this was exactly the kind of stuff he needed on the air.
On-course commentating has been almost exclusively the realm of retired former players, but caddies have just as much experience in analyzing a course. Probably more. That’s why Roy jumped at the chance to hire Mackay for broadcasting duty when it was announced Mickelson and his caddie were splitting after 25 years and 41 PGA Tour victories together.
A deal was quickly struck, and Mackay makes his debut in the new job this week for NBC and Golf Channel’s coverage of the British Open at Royal Birkdale, which begins Wednesday night Pacific time.
Recalling the dinners he’s had with Mackay through the years, Roy said on a recent conference call: “The conversation rarely was about Bones and Phil and their little myopic world. It was always bigger picture and storylines of what was happening in the event — which struck me that Bones thinks like a producer.
“Those things take time to get ingrained in you, to be thinking like a producer, and he already has that. So that was another huge attribute, not only is he a great communicator, but he thinks like a producer.
“He already has ideas, which we’re not going to give away here on this call. But he’s already prepared with other ideas of what he can bring to the telecast, which I so much appreciate and am so glad that he’s on the team.”
Roy also was in the unique position in the producers’ truck, thanks to sensitive microphones, to hear more of the conversations between Mickelson and Mackay than most television viewers. Everyone could see how verbal and demonstrative the discussions were between the two.
“I was able to figure out that Bones is a great communicator,” Roy said, “and that’s the No. 1 attribute of any announcer; you’ve got to be a great communicator; so Bones has that.”
Aside from get-togethers with Roy, Mackay got his first real taste of commentating when Roy invited him and another longtime caddie, John Wood, who is currently working for Matt Kuchar, to a tryout in advance of the 2015 RSM Classic in St. Simons Island, Ga.
“That rehearsal went unbelievably well, and we had them on the air, and these guys were fabulous,” Roy said. “Just blew me away.” There was only one hitch. “I had to get on Bones (because) the entire time he was chewing on gum during on-cameras,” Roy recalled with a laugh. “So from now on, we ixnay the gum.”
Remarkably conscientious and hard working through the years, Mackay admits he wants to improve on virtually everything.
“I’ll be the first to tell you I’ve got so much to learn,” he said. “I’m going to be the guy bothering a lot of people with a lot of questions.
“Hopefully, with the knowledge I’ve picked up in the last 27 years and with the relationships I have out there, that I’ve got something interesting and concise to say, and I can’t wait to get at it.”
Mackay said he grew up as a “golf rat,” watching telecasts from start to finish and poring over every page in the golf magazines to soak up information.
“I love watching those guys do their thing and the whole autonomy of words and all that,” he said.
Mackay insisted he’s not going to miss his old job because he’s still going to be a part of the action. Typical of a caddie, he said, “I can toss the occasional divot back to the guys and help them in that respect.”
Roy reminded Mackay of one very big upside to his new gig: “A tour bag weighs about 45 pounds and one of our microphones is, like, one pound.
“Amen, brother,” Mackay said.
Jim “Bones” Mackay will make his debut as a course reporter for NBC on Thursday at the British Open.