HARTFORD, Conn. – Newtown native Joe LaCava has been considered one of the leading caddies on the PGA Tour for more than three decades, including the last 12 years with Tiger Woods.
But with Woods out indefinitely due to his latest of a litany of injuries and surgeries – a subtalar fusion procedure in April to address post-traumatic arthritis in his right foot – LaCava has joined Patrick Cantlay this week at the Wells Fargo Championship, one of the PGA Tour’s new “designated” tournaments in Charlotte, N.C. And LaCava will make a rare appearance in his home state June 22-25 for the Travelers Championship, another “designated” event at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell for which the fourth-ranked Cantlay has already committed.
Cantlay, 31, found his new caddie after getting permission from Woods.
“Joe wants to work, and so I think Tiger got that,” Woods’ longtime agent Mark Steinberg told ESPN. “Joe called Tiger to ask him and get approval, and, of course Tiger gave it. Tiger and Joe are like brothers, tremendous friends. You shouldn’t read anything more in to that other than Joe wants to caddie. He loves it. It’s his passion. He’s great at it and one of the best.”
LaCava, 59, made it clear that the move isn’t a sign that Woods is retiring, but it does show golf’s biggest draw isn’t close to returning to the course.
“I wasn’t actively looking,” LaCava told the PGA Tour after Cantlay played a practice round Tuesday with close friend, Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup and Zurich Classic of New Orleans partner and reigning Travelers Championship winner Xander Schauffele and 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson. “I missed it, and I wanted to work more. He knows me well enough, and I know him well enough, that we know it’s hopefully-slash-probably going to work.”
LaCava replaced Matt Minister, who had worked for Cantlay since 2017 before they split last month after the Zurich Classic, where Cantlay and Schauffele tied for fourth in the PGA Tour’s only team competition. LaCava has worked with Cantlay in the past and will now do so for the foreseeable future.
LaCava began his caddie career at 19 in the 1983 Manufacturers Hanover Classic in New York working for his cousin, Danbury native Ken Green who is a five-time PGA Tour winner. He was on the bag for four wins during three years with Green before carrying for Couples for more than two decades, including the 1982 Masters. He worked for Davis Love III, Justin Leonard and Dustin Johnson before joining Woods after his split with Steve Williams. He was inducted into the Caddie Hall of Fame in 2019.
LaCava received offers to work for other players previously when Woods was out with injuries but always remained loyal to Woods, joking that he was “semi-retired.” That loyalty came naturally — LaCava’s mother taught at the same school for 32 years and his father worked at the same bank for more than 30. LaCava was by Woods’s side for 11 official wins, including the 2019 Masters (as well as the 2011 Hero World Challenge, an unofficial event). This year, he caddied for Woods at the Genesis Invitational in February and the Masters last month, where Woods withdrew during the third round due to an ailing foot. His most serious injuries came in a horrific car accident in 2021 that nearly claimed his right leg.
It’s unlikely that Woods will be able to compete at any of the remaining major championships this year while he recovers, so that left LaCava without a job. LaCava spent 20 years working for Fred Couples and had a short stint with Johnson before joining Woods.
Cantlay is searching for his ninth PGA Tour win this week at the Quail Hollow Club. He has finished no worse than tied for 19th in his last seven starts, including third at the RBC Heritage and tied for 14th in the Masters. He made history in the second round of the 2011 Travelers Championship while playing on a sponsors’ exemption when he shot a 10-under-par 60, the lowest score by an amateur in a PGA Tour event. A year later, he signed with Steinberg and Excel Management Group and missed cut in his pro debut at TPC River Highlands.
“The thing about Joe is he’s as loyal as loyal gets,” said 15th-ranked Justin Thomas, a close friend of Woods. “The amount of time that he’s spent at home when guys would, I mean, there’s so many guys out here that would have him in an instant. When he was loyal to Tiger and Tiger’s probably telling him to go caddie, go do whatever, and Joe, that’s just not the kind of guy Joe is. … Obviously I don’t know the details and don’t know how long it is or what’s going on, but I know that that’s something that would never ever, ever be done if Tiger would know OK that.”
Cantlay is sixth in the FedExCup points standings and has six Top-10 finishes but no wins in 11 starts this year. LaCava has caddied in 30-plus victories on the PGA Tour and worked mostly on the PGA Tour Champions this year, three times for Couples and once for Steve Stricker. He also worked twice for Woods before the 82-time PGA Tour winner went in for the ankle surgery that could put him out for six months.
“Tiger’s not going to play much going forwards,” LaCava said. “Obviously he’s not retiring, but he’s going to play two to six tournaments a year. Tiger and I have talked about if something were to come up, feel free to do something. ‘I know how much you miss it, how much you love caddying. And when this opportunity arose, I checked with Tiger. And he said, ‘You’re crazy not to take the job, go forward, go win some tournaments, go have a great time.’ ”