The 900,000 reasons Phil Mickelson’s caddie sacked him

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In an excerpt from his controversial and highly anticipated biography on Phil Mickelson, author Alan Shipnuck reveals the backstory to his bust-up with Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay and the staggering debt he owed his former caddie.

This story is adapted from “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar.

‘Bones actually fired Phil. He was owed $900,000’

“After 25 very rewarding and memorable years, Bones and I have mutually decided to end our player-caddie relationship,” Phil Mickelson said in a press release sent out by his management team.

“Our decision is not based on a single incident. We just feel it’s the right time for a change. Bones is one of the most knowledgeable and dedicated caddies in the world. He is always prepared and has the ability to make decisions in pressure-packed situations. Bones is without a doubt one of the most thoughtful people that I have ever known. The next player to work with him will obviously be very lucky.” 

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“When Phil hired me in 1992, I had one dream: to caddie in a Ryder Cup,” Jim Mackay said in his own press release. “Last year, at Hazeltine, Phil played in his 11th straight Ryder Cup. It was so cool to have a front-row seat. I wish Phil nothing but the best. His game is still at an elite level, and when he wins in the future (definitely the Masters), I will be among the first to congratulate him.” 

“He has been one of the most important and special people in my life since the day we met and I will always be grateful for everything he has done for me,” Mickelson’s press release continued. “Amy and I, and our children, will always think of Bones, Jen, Oliver, and Emma as family. We are looking forward to sharing life and friendship with them forever.” 

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The overriding emotion in golf circles was disbelief. “It felt like your parents were splitting up,” says John Wood, a longtime Tour caddie and now an NBC/Golf Channel commentator. The press releases made the divorce sound amicable but it was all bullshit. Bones had actually fired Phil three weeks earlier at the Memorial, over some long-simmering grievances.

The chummy public statements were a way for Mickelson to save face and Mackay to make a graceful exit that kept various career options alive. Adhering to the caddie code of omertà, Mackay declined to comment for this book, but those with direct knowledge of the situation say money was a longtime source of contention.

The FedEx Cup debuted more than a decade into their working relationship; Mickelson made various promises to distribute to his caddie a percentage of the bonuses he won but for a full decade failed to pay up. By Mackay’s calculations, he was owed $900,000.

Phil Mickelson celebrates holing a birdie putt to win the 2004 Masters.

In the months before the breakup, as things were becoming increasingly strained between them, Mickelson paid Mackay $400,000 toward the FedEx Cup debt, but Bones was miffed to not get the full amount. He was also increasingly irked by Mickelson’s disregard for his advice and habit of showing up later at the golf course than he told his caddie to arrive.

Then there was the dispute about the eighteenth-hole flags from their victories. Mickelson had always insisted on nabbing these keepsakes for his grandfather’s kitchen wall. This included the 2004 Masters, four months after Nunu’s death; Phil had that one framed and presented it to his grandmother Jennie, Nunu’s widow. Mackay understood and respected that gesture, but nineteen more Tour victories would follow, including four majors, and he never got to keep a single flag.

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“That’s a giant fuck-you to a caddie,” says someone very close to Mackay. “When Phil wins the Masters, he gets the green jacket, the trophy, the big check, all the glory. He had to take the flags, too? Every other caddie who has ever won the Masters got to keep the eighteenth-hole flag. For Phil not to follow tradition was hugely disrespectful.”

During the week of the Phoenix Open, the Mackays would often host dinner parties for players and caddies at their home, and a frequent question was “Where are all the flags?” It nettled Mackay in a way that is hard for any outsider to understand. 

A week after their bust-up, during which Mackay finally aired all of his gripes, Mickelson paid his caddie another $400,000 of overdue FedEx money and overnighted to Bones the flags from their wins at the PGA Championship, British Open, and the 2006 and ’10 Masters. But Phil autographed them in comically large letters, which Mackay felt disfigured the keepsakes. Bones has never displayed them in his home and, according to the source, has plans to someday sell them and donate the money to charity.

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As for the flags from their other Tour victories, Mickelson’s motivation in continuing to keep them may transcend sentimentality. Like a few other top pros, including Tiger Woods, Mickelson habitually declines to autograph golf balls because it’s difficult to execute a clean signature on a round, dimpled surface, which looks sloppy and is also easier to forge. But locked away in a safe-deposit box are dozens of golf balls Mickelson has painstakingly signed and set aside for his kids as part of their inheritance. Perhaps someday he will also try to monetize the victory flags.

Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorised!) Biography of Golf’s Most Colourful Superstar

A frank and revealing biography of legendary golf champion Phil Mickelson – who has led a big, controversial life – as reported by longtime Sports Illustrated writer and bestselling author Alan Shipnuck.

On sale: June 23. Pre-order: RRP £20 (Hardback)

Phil Mickelson book by Alan Shipnuck

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