Article by: Ryan Sherman, Good Lies Golf Podcast
To the younger generation of golfers out there: please go to YouTube and search "1992 Masters Tournament." You'll see the legendary Fred Couples (your dads favorite golfer) overcome Raymond Floyd by two strokes to win at Augusta National. Guess who was on the bag? That's right... Joe LaCava. A key piece to Couples' green jacket puzzle, LaCava was a student of the course and worked diligently to ensure victory. Taking the less assertive but firm approach, he help Fred proceed with caution when absolutely necessary while still allowing for risk. Course management was key.
"Fred's got a great feel for the game and makes a lot of his own calls" LaCava recalls, about the 1992 Masters Tournament. Taking a risky hook shot during a crucial moment isn't something he endorsed - but the art of being a caddie is having the knowledge to advise your player regardless of the potential outcome. Telling the hard truth isn't easy, and it's a job these guys do everyday. Week after week.
That same year at the Westchester Classic, LaCava and Couples argued over a club choice. After the shot didn't pan out, Couples threw his 7 Iron down in rage at the bag next to Joe and cursed it while walking away. Hopped on the plane to the next tournament and at the range he reached into his bag and found no 7 Iron. When he asked Joe where it was LaCava simply replied - "on the 18th green where you left it." Brilliant. They went on to win twelve events together in the end. A true ying and yang. After a brief stint and victory with Dustin Johnson, LaCava heard roars in the distance.
The phone call. In an interview with GolfWeek, LaCava recounts the conversation with the G.O.A.T. "I know I haven’t played much lately and I’m hurt a lot, but would you take a shot and work with me?" Tiger Woods proposed. In that moment, he explained to his wife he had to pinch himself to remind it wasn't a dream. "It’s been a lot of hard work up to this point but the fact that Tiger is calling me to caddie is the greatest thing ever." A bag slinger makes a living on winning or placing well in tournaments with a consistent golfer - any one mistake can cost you the job. Taking on Tiger Woods during that time was a truly risky business, as personal issues and injuries had sidelined the man in red.
Their friendship blossomed naturally. Woods owned up to all his mistakes (a rare trait for a world class golfer) which made it easy for Joe to work within his comfort zone. He recounts over a hundred tournaments with Tiger and he never yelled at him once. Accountability for a each other was key. On work: "he treats me like a friend, and a buddy." Like when LaCava refused to move to the double strap for lugging his golf bag; Tiger replied by buying him one and strapped it to the bag himself. Imagine Tiger Woods carrying clubs for YOU? Though a less consistent victory road than the Tiger Woods of the late 90's and early 2000's, this duo celebrated many milestones together. The tie of Jack Nicklaus' record at memorial, the tie of Sam Snead for most wins all time, and of course the career comeback Masters win in 2019. With so many emotions and memories shared, you'd think moving on would actually be easier than expected. What's left to feel and do when you've already felt and done it all?
Well enter Patrick Cantlay. The 31 year old PGA Tour 'Player of the Year' after winning the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship to claim the #FedExCup in the 2020-21 season. With 8 PGA wins and an itching desire to win his first major, Cantlay has the perfect recipe for a master chef like Joe LaCava. Cantlay's pace of play has been questioned by many golfers on tour this season, causing controversy and debate. Will the addition of LaCava on his bag allow him to speed up his approach and clear his mind? If golf is a mostly mental game, then Patrick Cantlay should be excited to work with one of the best course managers out there. This combination seems like it will be a winning one in 2023. Literally and figuratively.
Now that Joe LaCava has a clear lane and a chance to win every week in Cantlay - we're going to start to see another chapter... The Magic Man.
-- Ryan Sherman