HARTFORD, Conn – Newtown native Joe LaCava has caddied for some of the marquee golfers in the world, most notably his current employer, Tiger Woods.
LaCava hooked up with Woods at the end of 2011 after fellow World Golf Hall of Famer Fred Couples recommended the two end their 20-year run because Couples was reducing his schedule due to an ailing back. Couples recommended LaCava to Woods, who accepted the advice of his longtime friend.
After more than three decades carrying for the likes of major championship winners Woods, Couples, Dustin Johnson, Davis Love III and Justin Leonard, LaCava was in the spotlight Wednesday night when he was inducted into the Caddie Hall of Fame on the eve of the BMW Championship, the second of the PGA Tour’s three FedExCup playoff events at Medinah Country Club in suburban Chicago. The Caddie Hall of Fame is run by the Western Golf Association, which operates the BMW Championship, and past honorees have included Mike “Fluff” Cowan and Steve Williams, who also caddied for Woods, Fanny Sunneson and Wethersfield native Bruce Edwards, who worked for Hall of Famers Tom Watson and Greg Norman for more than 30 years before dying of ALS.
But it was Jim “Bones” Mackay, inducted in 2017 for his work alongside Hall of Famer and two-time Travelers Championship winner Phil Mickelson, who pushed the normally reserved LaCava to accept the invitation.
“I don’t know if I deserve it, but I’ll take it,” a smiling LaCava said during his acceptance speech. “It’s a wonderful honor. I was hesitant about doing it, but Bones said, ‘You’ve got to do it.’ And I respect Bones obviously, so once he said you should do it, I was all in.
“I’m just not comfortable with the attention. I’ve always been a guy who, I want Tiger to be the show. I want him doing the interviews and everything else. So that’s just not a comfortable role for me, but I think it’s terrific that they did it and that they thought that much of me to do it.”
Whether or not Woods extends his season this week after shooting a workmanlike 1-under-par 71 in the first round of the BMW Championship on Thursday, Woods and LaCava shared in one of golf’s greatest victories in April when Woods rallied for his first major title in 11 years in the Masters. It came after back fusion surgery sidelined Woods for two years, putting his career in doubt. Instead, he notched his 81st PGA Tour win, one shy of Sam Snead’s career record, and 15th major title, three less than Jack Nicklaus.
LaCava, 55, stuck through some difficult years with Woods as he was plagued with a variety of injuries. He even turned down jobs with other top players to stay with Woods, who paid him during his absence.
“A couple of guys approached me, I don’t want to name any names, but I [politely] said no,” LaCava told Bob Harig of ESPN.com. “My plan was to wait for Tiger to get back. I told them I just want to work for Tiger and nobody else at this point.”
“It meant a lot to me,” Woods told ESPN.com. “Joe could have left and had pretty much any bag that was available; his reputation is that solid. But he didn’t. He hung in there with me. Joe’s a great person and very loyal, and I appreciate it.”
Woods shared a similar sentiment with a text to LaCava after the Masters, but he added, “I love you like a brother.”
LaCava admitted he missed caddying during his lengthy absence.
“I missed my buddies, some of the caddies, going out to dinner,” he said. “But most of all I missed being in the hunt and winning. Definitely missed it, how could you not?”
But the positive side was LaCava could spend more time with wife Megan and two children, Lauren and Joe, and play a lot more golf, especially in Connecticut.
LaCava began his career as a caddie by working for his cousin, Danbury native Ken Green, who won five PGA Tour titles and was a member of the 1989 U.S. Ryder Cup Team before his career was dramatically altered when he had to have the lower part of his right leg amputated 10 years ago after a recreational vehicle accident in which his brother, wife and dog died in the crash. Green still makes occasional starts on the PGA Tour Champions, but he’s mostly relegated to State Opens and Senior events. He has played in the Connecticut Open, which he won twice, and the Connecticut Senior Open for the last few years.
LaCava won another Masters in 1992 while on Couples’ bag and briefly caddied for Johnson before taking the job with Woods, who has won 10 times with LaCava on his bag.
“I’ll just tell them how incredible it was,” LaCava told the Caddie Network when asked about telling his grandchildren about the 2019 Masters someday. “And how great a spot I was fortunate to see some amazing golf over the years with Tiger.”
Woods attended the ceremony, gave LaCava a mighty hug after he received his award and later Tweeted: “A Hall of Fame career, a great and trusted friend and one of the best in the business. Thanks Joey and congratulations!”
PING JUNIOR SOLHEIM CUP TEAM NAMED
Phoebe Brinker of Wilmington, Del., niece of longtime Connecticut resident and PGA of America president Suzy Whaley and cousin of Kelly Whaley, was one of 12 players named to the U.S. team for the Ping Junior Solheim Cup. The event is Sept. 10-11 at Gleneagles, Scotland, immediately prior to the Solheim Cup.
“We’re all so excited for her,” said Suzy Whaley, who now lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “It’s the first time she made an international team and will be the first time she plays in Scotland.”
Twelve of the top junior girls golfers in the world comprise the team, which includes five players selected using the Golfweek/Sagarin Girls Rankings. They include Rose Zhang of Irvine, Calif., who led the PGA of America’s Girls Junior Championship at Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford through three rounds before finishing in a tie for fourth behind winner Yaku Saso of the Philippines. Five other players were chosen based on the Rolex American Junior Golf Association Rankings, and the final two spots were picks of captain Mary Bea Porter-King, a longtime LPGA Tour player and inductee to the Arizona State Hall of Fame in four sports (golf, softball, volleyball and basketball) who is best known for scaling a fence to administer CPR to save the life of a drowning 3-year-old boy in 1988 during a LPGA qualifying round in Phoenix, Ariz.
The tournament is for golfers ages 12-18 and is modeled after the Solheim Cup, which pits the United States against the 12 best women from Europe The U.S. leads the all-time series 6-2-1 and has won five consecutive matches. The team match play event includes foursomes, four-ball and singles matches played over three days.
Suzy Whaley will caddie for her younger daughter Kelly in the 361-player LPGA Tour qualifying school Monday through Aug. 25 at Mission Hills Country Club (Dinah and Palmer Courses) in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and Shadow Ridge Golf Club in Palm Desert, Calif. Kelly shot a closing 5-under-par 65 to set the Keney Park women’s course record and win the 2017 Hartford Women’s Open, but that was matched and beaten several times in the Girls PGA Junior Championship last month.
Kelly is a recent grad of the University of North Carolina, her mother’s alma mater, where she started in every tournament for four years, had the two lowest scores in school history and was the only Tar Heel to shoot all three rounds in the 60s in winning the Briar’s Creek Invitational (68-67-69). She also was a three-time winner of the Connecticut Women’s Amateur, a CIAC champion and All-State and Player of the Year in her freshman year at Farmington High School. She then transferred to the IJGA Golf Academy in Hilton Head, S.C., where she was a member of the National Honor Society.
Kelly turned pro last month and earned $2,800 in her Symetra Tour debut, which was more than her mother made in 21 events during two stints on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993.