HARTFORD, Conn. – Joe LaCava has had plenty of fun and success during his three decades as a caddie on the PGA Tour.
But nothing has been more enjoyable or emotional than being alongside Tiger Woods as he rallied for a one-stroke victory over Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Xander Schuffler in the Masters on April 14, his first major title in 14 years and first overall in 11 years.
After his final putt dropped, a fist-pumping Woods shared a major bear hug and some fun-loving horse play with LaCava on Augusta National Golf Club’s 18th green. As chants of “Tiger, Tiger, Tiger” reverberated through the statuesque Georgia pines, Woods told LaCava, “We did it!”
When Woods and Couples reached the clubhouse, they were greeted by several players, including former Masters champions Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson and Bernhard Langer, along with Koepka, Justin Thomas Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter. LaCava said he and Woods then shared another moment, though not much needed to be said.
“We just kind of looked at each other and soaked it all in,” said LaCava, who began working for Woods in 2011 after a brief stint with Dustin Johnson. “It was still only seven minutes since he putted out and it’s hard to take it all in at that point, but we just took a deep breath. Nothing was really said. He basically said, ‘We did it’ again. But we got to share the moment and smile at each other. It was such an achievement, a proud moment more than anything. Nothing needed to be said because we could read each other’s minds.”
But the duo never really got to have a proper heart-to-heart talk as they participated in a green jacket presentation, the 15th for Woods and second for LaCava, and a celebration at the local Hooters restaurant where John Daly parks his RV when he competes in the Masters.
LaCava received hundreds of congratulatory text messages, including from New York Giants senior vice president of player personnel Chris Mara, former New York Rangers players Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards and ESPN’s Chris Berman of Southington. LaCava is a die-hard Giants and Rangers fan who wore a t-shirt of Giants running back Saquon Barkley underneath his caddie overalls at Augusta National.
But when LaCava, who stood by his man as he recovered from numerous injuries and surgeries, including spinal fusion, checked his phone later that night, he found something special from his boss and a former employer, World Golf Hall of Famer Fred Couples.
“He sent me a text message that said, We did it, appreciate you hanging in there with me, I love you like a brother,’ ” LaCava said. “And I sent one back very similar to that. Hopefully we’ll have a nice sit-down dinner and rehash everything at the next tournament and not necessarily celebrate it, but enjoy it and reminisce a little bit.”
LaCava caddied for Couples for 20 years, including when Couples won his only major in the 1992 Masters.
“He was texting me all week,” LaCava said. “Believe it or not he told me, ‘I’m just so excited for you,’ Sunday after the fact, ‘If not more excited than when I won in ’92.’ That’s just who he is. And he’s always loved Tiger throughout the years.”
Woods’ 81st career victory moved him within one of all-time leader Sam Snead, and his 15th major win got him within three of leader Jack Nicklaus. It also was Woods’ fifth Masters win, moving him one ahead of Arnold Palmer and within one of leader Jack Nicklaus.
Woods and Couples should make their next start in the Wells Fargo Championship on May 2-5 at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. Then they’ll be on to the second major of the year, the PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park Black Course in Bethpage, N.Y., on Long Island, where Woods won the 2002 U.S. Open. The third major is the U.S. Open on June 13-16 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California, where Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open by a record 15 strokes. The Travelers Championship is the following week at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell.
Another victory in New York would likely drive the local fans into a frenzy.
“I can’t even imagine,” said LaCava, who grew up about 90 minutes from Bethpage. “I think the atmosphere is going to be off the hook after winning the Masters. I think it would be anyways because the New York crowds are very enthusiastic, and I can’t wait because the PGA of America is probably going to come up with some awesome threesome grouping for us.
“Tiger with two other big names like Brooks [Koepka], Dustin [Johnson] kind of thing or Tiger, Rory [McIlroy], and J.T. [Justin Thomas] … it’s just going to be an incredible grouping. That will be off the hook, too.”
Five days after Woods’ win, he and girlfriend Erica Herman were spotted dining at The Woods restaurant in Jupiter, Fla., where Herman was a manager. It was a casual night out except for one major detail: the restaurant owner was wearing a green jacket over a Nike Dri-Fit shirt and Oakland Raiders gym shorts