TULSA, Okla. — Justin Thomas was furious.
He was certain his chances of winning the PGA Championship were dashed and he was even more certain that the 4-over 74 he’d carded in Saturday’s third round was going to be the reason for it.
The last thing he wanted to do was take that rage with him back to the house he was renting and be miserable around his fiancée and family.
So, Thomas marched to the Southern Hills practice range as much to vent as hit balls. Thomas’ father and coach, Mike, was there at the range. So, too, was his caddie, Jim “Bones’’ Mackay.
Both listened as Thomas, animated at times and using his arms and hands to emphasize his points, vented.
Finally, Mackay, one of the most respected and decorated caddies to ever roam the fairways, stepped in and offered his say.
The best caddies on the PGA Tour are part bag handlers and part psychologists. Mackay, having worked for Phil Mickelson for 25 years, is particularly good at the latter. And he was perhaps never better in that department than he was in that moment on the range with Thomas.
“I’m fully confident in saying that I wouldn’t be standing here if he didn’t give me that … it wasn’t necessarily a speech, but a talk, if you will,’’ Thomas said on Sunday as he stood next to and leaned on the Wanamaker Trophy for winning the PGA, the second of his career. “I just needed to let some steam out. I didn’t need to bring my frustration and anger home with me. I didn’t need to leave the golf course in a negative frame of mind.’’
Thomas, who was seven shots out of the lead entering the final round, explained that he needed to be convinced that he hadn’t actually played as poorly as he thought he did in that third round, which was complicated by difficult weather conditions that included plummeting temperatures and wind.
This, according to Thomas, is what Mackay had to say to him: “Dude, you’ve got to be stop being so hard on yourself. You’re in contention every single week we’re playing. It’s a major championship. You don’t have to be perfect. Just don’t be hard on yourself. Just kind of let stuff happen, and everything is trending in the right direction. So just keep staying positive so that good stuff can happen.’’
Mackay’s words snapped Thomas out of his funk.
“I left here [Saturday night] in an awesome frame of mind,’’ Thomas said.
Thanks to Mackay, who should have his name engraved next to Thomas’ on that Wanamaker Trophy.
One of the newer buzzwords in golf, which is an individual sport, is “team.’’ Players often talk about their “team’’ — caddy, coach, physio trainer, chef, whatever — and they reference how “we’’ played after rounds. Sometimes we get cynical about those references, because it’s the player, after all, who’s taking the shots.
But this Thomas-Mackay team is a legitimate example that perhaps cynicism should be pushed aside.
Mike Thomas said he thanked Mackay on Sunday morning for what he said, because he knew those words coming from a father would not have had the same impact on his son.
“If it had come from me, it might have sounded like I was stroking his ego,” Mike Thomas said. “Bones was basically saying, ‘Quit beating yourself up and go see what you can do.’ I thanked him for that. It was a really good message.”
The 57-year-old Mackay, after parting ways with Mickelson, had made a successful transition from caddying to TV as an NBC on-course reporter. But, when Thomas asked him to work for him last fall, Mackay couldn’t refuse, because he missed caddying and because, he said, Thomas was the only player he’d come back for.
“Because I really like him and I think he’s got more shots than anybody on the tour,” Mackay said.
“Bones has been really good for Justin, a very positive influence for sure,’’ Mike Thomas said.
The PGA victory was the second for Thomas and Mackay as a team, and the first major. For Mackay, it was his sixth career major championship after having won five with Mickelson.
In a fascinating bit of symmetry, Mickelson won his sixth career major at last year’s PGA Championship and wasn’t in the field for this one as he’s stepped away from the game amid the controversy surrounding comments he made about the PGA Tour and a rival Saudi league.
“I’ve been so spoiled out here,” Mackay said. “I love caddying. It’s the greatest job in the world. It’s been really good to me. I’ve been crazy lucky. I’m grateful for it.”
No one is more grateful to have Mackay on his bag than Thomas, who wouldn’t have that coveted second major championship without him.