Phil Mickelson's former caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay finally gets plaudits after Justin Thomas win

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Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay congratulates Justin Thomas on his US PGA Championship triumph - Phil Mickelson's former caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay finally gets plaudits after Justin Thomas win - GETTY IMAGES
Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay congratulates Justin Thomas on his US PGA Championship triumph - Phil Mickelson's former caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay finally gets plaudits after Justin Thomas win - GETTY IMAGES

If Phil Mickelson needed another reason to stare in the mirror at the moment, then the picture of Jim “Bones” Mackay celebrating with the major flag surely provided it. As did the caddie’s winning percentage.

With Mickelson electing to stay away from Southern Hills, despite his status as the reigning champion, Justin Thomas made up eight shots in the final 10 holes to win his second US PGA Championship.

No doubt the deficit he recovered to beat fellow American Will Zalatoris in a three-hole play-off was remarkable, but the eye was drawn irresistibly to the bagman and the pose on the 18th green that was transparently personal.

The recently published book, “Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and unauthorized) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar”, has already earned infamous status for Mickelson calling the Saudis “scary motherf------ to deal with” and concluding that he managed to quell his reservations about the Kingdom’s “horrid human rights record” owing to their $255m rebel circuit handing him leverage over the PGA Tour in his media rights complaints.

But it also shed light on the relationship between Mickelson and Mackay that yielded five majors, but finished in acrimonious fashion with the caddie believing he was owed close to $1m dollars.

The locker room insists that the 57-year-old, born in Redhill, Surrey before his family emigrated to Florida when he was a toddler, had ample reason to feel bitterness following the breaking up of the 25-year relationship – and not just because of the differences of opinion over what he was owed in payments.

Mickelson refused to respect the tradition of handing the 18th hole flag to his caddie, an action that the book labels “a giant f--- you to a caddie”. After the split, Mickelson did send a few flags, but “autographed them in comically large letters”. Inevitably, that did not help to heal the division.

Thomas was quick to honour the custom and so the photographers filled their frames. Mackay was not about to overshadow Thomas’s moment with his own story of vengeance, but his 29-year-old boss was determined to put him in the spotlight. Thomas declared that Mackay’s $270,000 cut from the $2.7million first prize was eminently worth it.

Mackay and Thomas embrace - GETTY IMAGES
Mackay and Thomas embrace - GETTY IMAGES

“I'm fully confident in saying that I wouldn’t be standing here if Bones didn’t give me – it wasn’t necessarily a speech, but a talk, if you will,” Thomas said, detailing Mackay’s rallying cry on Saturday night after the world No 5 had seemingly shot his way out of contention with a 74.

“I just needed to let some steam out,” Thomas added. “I didn’t need to take my frustration and anger home with me. I just went down. I told him: ‘I shot four-over and I played terrible.’

“And he was just like: ‘Dude, you’ve got to stop being so hard on yourself. You’re in contention every single week we’re playing. This is a major. You don’t have to be perfect.  Don’t be hard on yourself, let stuff happen and keep staying positive so that good stuff can happen.’ I left here in an awesome frame of mind. It set me up for what transpired.”

The pair linked up last year when Thomas persuaded Mackay to give up his role as an analyst for US network the Golf Channel. “I told my wife if Justin Thomas ever calls me, I’ve got some thinking to do,” Mackay said. “Because there’s something about him as a person and a player that I really, really like. Not in a million years did I think it was going to come around. But he was the one.”

This was their first victory together and it was clearly overdue. The former world No 1 had racked up 10 top-10s since his win at The Players 14 months ago and, with Mackay at his side, they have ominous momentum going into the season’s final two majors, with the US Open in three weeks’ time and the Open four weeks after that.

However, there is another motivator as well. Thomas has become Tiger Woods’ closest friend on Tour and thus has become the sparring partner of a golfer renowned for his love of banter.

“I talked to Tiger a little on Saturday night after he withdrew and asked how he was feeling,” Thomas said. “He replied that he was feeling terrible because my name kept dropping on the leaderboard. So I was like: ‘Thanks, good to talk to you too, I'll talk to you later.’

“I think now I only have 150 other things to do that he’s done to where he can stop giving me grief. So I guess it’s just a stepping stone.”