HARTFORD, Conn – Newtown native Joe LaCava is one of the best and most famous caddies in the history of golf, especially since he began carrying for Tiger Woods in 2011. So folks took notice of what LaCava had to say about the tough decisions that his boss has to make about his four captain’s picks for the Presidents Cup on Dec. 12-15 at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia.
Woods, who ended an 11-year major championship drought with an emotional victory in the Masters in April, has eight automatic qualifiers in his first go-round as a captain, but filling the final four spots by the week of Nov. 4 is mighty difficult.
The major question is: Will Tiger, with a 24-15-1 record in nine Presidents Cup appearances, pick himself?
“If I knew I would tell you, and if he knew he would tell us,” LaCava told The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wisc. “I think he wants to wait to see how he plays in Japan. I think he wants to see how the guys are playing outside the top eight between now and Nov. 1 when he makes his picks.”
Woods, recovering from a fifth knee operation that occurred in August, will next tee it up Sunday in The Challenge, a Skins game in Japan with Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy, who has already committed to the 2020 Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell on June 25-28. The next week, he’ll make his 2019-20 PGA Tour season debut at the inaugural Zozo Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan.
LaCava said he doesn’t think Woods knows who he will pick, with possibilities besides himself being U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, Travelers Championship winner Chez Reavie, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Kevin Kisner. While LaCava selfishly wishes Woods picks himself so LaCava can again be on the bag for the event, he does think it’s smart that Woods is waiting to see how the players fare in Asia.
“So, honestly, I think it’s smart that he waits that long,” LaCava said. “You want the hot players and you want the guys who are playing well at the time.”
Phil Mickelson, the only repeat winner in Travelers Championship history who has represented the United States in every team competition since the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994, doesn’t expect to be one of Woods’ choices despite increasing his fall schedule in order to audition for his longtime rival.
“Even if I were to win, I have not done enough to warrant a pick,” said Mickelson, 49, who finished 16th in the points standings and is playing this week in the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea. “I’m not asking for one, and I don’t expect one. I think there’s a lot better options for the U.S. side.”
The eight automatic qualifiers, in order, were No. 1 ranked Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar and Bryson DeChambeau.
Woods gave LaCava a shoutout when he received the Presidential Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Donald Trump in the White House’s Rose Garden on May 6. LaCava and his wife, Megan, sat in the front row with First Lady Melanie Trump, Tiger’s mother Tida, children Sam and Charlie and girlfriend Erica Herman.
“Thanks for all those (greens) reads at Augusta,” a smiling Woods said to LaCava during the 25-minute ceremony.
LaCava turned down several offers to work from other marquee players while Woods was going through endless hours of rehabilitation. LaCava’s previous employers have included standouts Johnson, Fred Couples, Davis Love III and Justin Leonard.
Couples and Love have been past U.S. captains, and Ernie Els will lead the International team in Australia. His early qualifiers were Matsuyama, 2012 Travelers Championship winner Marc Leishman, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, C.T. Pan, Cameron Smith, Haotong Li, and Abraham Ancer, who tied for eighth in the Travelers Championship.
The Junior Presidents Cup will be played Dec. 8-9 at Royal Melbourne, and the U.S. team includes 16-year-old Ben James of Milford, the youngest of the 12 players on the team. James, who plays out of Great River Golf Club in Milford, is a junior at Hamden Hall Country Day School. He was the last to qualify after he won the American Junior Golf Association Killington (Vt.) Junior Golf Championship, New England Junior, Connecticut State Golf Association Junior and Northern Junior, finished second in the AJGA Wyndham Invitational, was low amateur and third overall in the Connecticut Open and low state finisher (tied for ninth) in the Boys PGA Junior Championship at Keney Park Golf Club in Hartford and tied for 19th in the AJGA Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla., to clinch a spot on the U.S. team.
KYLE BILODEAU CAPTURES CONNECTICUT MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP
Kyle Bilodeau’s final full-time go-round on the local professional golf scene ended on a major high on Friday.
Bilodeau solidified his first Connecticut Section PGA Player of the Year Award with a 4-and-3 victory over Mike Martin in the rain-delayed Match Play Championship final at chilly, wind-swept Gillette Ridge Golf Club.
Bilodeau clinched his No. 1 goal of being Player of the Year for a second time when he defeated 2018 POY Chris Tallman of Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley, Mass., on Wednesday with a saving par on the first hole of sudden death in the semifinals. Heavy rain delayed the scheduled 18-hole final from Thursday to Friday, but it didn’t prevent Bilodeau from ending the Section’s “major” season with victories in the Connecticut Section Championship and Match Play Championship.
Bilodeau, 34, a PGA Active Member not affiliated with a club, never trailed against Martin, an assistant pro at Tashua Knolls Golf Club in Trumbull who had won the tournament and been Player of the Year three times each. After the two split the first two holes and then halved Nos. 3 and 4, Bilodeau won four of the next five holes with four pars and a birdie 2 at No. 6 for a commanding 4-up lead at the turn. Martin won the 10th hole with a par, and the two then halved the next four holes before Bilodeau clinched the victory when he hit his approach to 4 feet and was conceded a birdie 3 at No. 15.
“It’s was a tough day to play with the temperature in the low 50s and the wind swirling everywhere and gusting to 20 miles per hour,” said Bilodeau, who was first in the POY race in 2013 and 2019, second in 2015, third in 2018 and fourth in 2014. “You really didn’t know what the ball was going to do in the air, so on a day like today, you’re going to win a lot of holes with a par. But it was nice to get my second goal of the year, win the Match Play Championship, because this and the Section Championship were the only major events that I hadn’t won besides the Seniors Championship, and I’m not eligible for that.”
Bilodeau won the Section Championship at Watertown Golf Club on Oct. 1 when he made a 30-foot putt for eagle 3 on the first sudden-death hole to defeat Tallman. Bilodeau’s fourth victory and 13th Top-10 finish in 14 starts this year on Friday earned him 100 POY points, increasing his season total to 446.17. Tallman finished second with 404.50 points, followed by Fran Marrello (261.34) , the head pro at Canaan Country Club who won a record ninth Senior Player of the Year Award, William Street (Whitney Farms Golf Club-Monroe, 235.50) and Martin (210.17).
Other players who finished in the top eight in the points standings and qualified for the 2020 Julius Boros Challenge Cup team that will play the Connecticut State Golf Association side were Kevin Mahaffy (Pequabuck Golf Club-Bristol, 185.50), Marc Bayram (Timberlin Golf Club-Berlin, 175.67) and Frank Leja (Springfield Country Club, 169.50). Donny Kirkpatrick (Wampanoag Country Club-West Hartford, 132.50) and Adam D’Amario (Indian Hill Country Club-Newington, 129.00) finished ninth and 10th and also earned exemptions into the 2020 Connecticut Open.
But Bilodeau didn’t know if he’ll play in the Challenge Cup, Connecticut Open or any other tournaments in 2020. He’s giving up professional golf to focus full-time on completing graduate school at the University of Hartford and earning a masters’ degree in accounting with specialization in corporate taxes. He has already done several interviews, including Friday after his win, in anticipation of completing his masters’ degree in May.
“I’m just going to see what happens and how things stand next year,” Bilodeau said. “But I wanted to go with a bang, and I’ve done it. Being Player of the Year was on my mind all year, so it’s nice to have achieved my No. 1 goal.”
Reaching No. 2 wasn’t too bad either.