Well, didn’t Justin Thomas produce a major championship style performance last Sunday to win his second US PGA title at Southern Hills in Tulsa last Sunday? He started the final round seven strokes back, trod water for the first third of his round and then birdied six out of his last twelve holes to force a play-off with the pencil-thin Will Zalatoris. He then went on to birdie two of the three play-off holes and now openly revels in being described as a “two-time major champion.”Winning majors is anything but easy – everyone says so – and Thomas openly admitted he didn’t think it would be so difficult, or take him so long, to add a second of the big ones to that 2017 PGA victory. He battled through the worst half of the draw with a couple of exemplary 67s for openers and then struggled to a 74 on the Saturday, another difficult day weather and course-wise. Frustrated and disappointed he repaired to the range with his caddy, Jim “Bones” Mackay.
Bones is almost as famous as his employer. He was a permanent fixture at Phil Mickelson’s side for almost a quarter of a century and was on the bag for five out of six of the lefty’s major wins. He then “retired” and took like a duck to water to a broadcasting role for a television network, still patrolling the fairways but with a lighter load, a simple microphone as opposed to a hefty set of clubs and the assorted essentials every player requires.
Bones told his wife there was only one player in the world who could entice him back to caddying – Thomas was that player and he called after the 2021 Ryder Cup. In April, I picked him to win the Masters, largely because he now had Bones on his bag, but, alas, I was one major too early.But back to last Saturday evening on the now almost deserted range at Southern Hills. Only two figures remained, Thomas and Bones and Thomas wasn’t happy, venting his frustrations at what he felt was a lacklustre score that day. Cue Bones and the perfect pep-talk, advising his boss not to be so hard on himself; he was in contention almost every time he played; and he was to ” keep staying positive so that good stuff can happen”. Timing is everything in life and Thomas, jitters quelled, said of the range chat, “I left there in an awesome frame of mind.”
And so the scene was set for a roller-coaster of a final day and an emotional ride for the Thomas connection. Dad Mike, a PGA pro, is Justin’s coach and watched anxiously from inside the ropes during the play-off. When the championship was complete, and as I was watching a clearly spent and overcome Thomas try to take it all in, I wondered if he’d have reacted like this if he’d just won a few million for one of the titles on the proposed Saudi-backed tour. I doubt it.
Perhaps, thankfully, after all, some things ARE more important than money.
As for Bones, he, too, received something very dear to him – the flag from the 18th green, which traditionally goes to the winning caddy. Thomas made sure Bones received it immediately, something Mickelson had never done for his bagman in their five winning majors together.
Yes, indeed, some things are more important than money.
Major championships are special and it is now 25 years since I commentated on my very first major – the 1997 Open at Royal Troon. I was a little overwhelmed, to say the least, at being in the midst of a plethora of stars – players, journalists, broadcasters and photographers – many of them giants of the industry. One familiar sight to us all was photographer Dave Cannon, who by then had already been traipsing round the golf courses of the world for a good 15 years. Goodness knows how many steps he has clocked up since or how many hundreds of thousands of pictures he has taken.
Last week in Tulsa the PGA of America awarded Dave with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Photojournalism and I can think of no more deserving recipient than this most unassuming of men. Our paths crossed frequently on various courses round the world and it was noticeable that Dave was frequently off on his own, not taking up a position adjacent to the other snappers. His uncanny ability to choose the right match, the right player and the right place to be at the right time was a skill honed over years of practice.
One good example of this remains with me from the 2014 Women’s Open at Royal Birkdale where there were three players in the mix come the closing holes. They were Norway’s Suzanne Pettersen, already a major winner and former world No 2; Shanshan Feng, also a major winner and the first Chinese player to become a member of the LPGA; and then there was the unheralded American Mo Martin, who was yet to win on any of the main tours – and it was her match I was covering.
On the final hole, the short-hitting Martin needed a 3-wood for her second shot to the par five – and there, all on his own, was Cannon, 40 yards from the player, right behind her with a bird’s eye view of one of the most important shots of her life. She nailed it to the heart of the green (I’m not sure she didn’t actually hit the pin) and rolled in the putt for a life-changing one-shot victory.
Dave was the only person to capture THE shot of the championship – a not infrequent occurrence. Years later I asked him what made him choose to be there at that moment. “Instinct,” he said.
His instincts had also proved correct in 1984. Arguably his most famous photographs of the lot were of the joyous celebration of Seve Ballesteros on the final green at St Andrews in the Open.
There are three other pictures, however, that, for me, supersede these and they hang in my kitchen – not, I hasten to add because of the subject matter, but because they were taken by Dave. And anything taken by Dave Cannon is to be treasured.
I wonder if it has occurred to Sandra, Gill and Pam that these photos are on the wall because of the man behind the lens, NOT because of the people in front of it?!