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In on-course reporting debut, Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay delivers a solid, if safe, performance

July 20, 2017

If he had first tee jitters, it wasn’t apparent.

Perhaps because he started on the 12th tee.

“Thanks, Dan. Adam has a 7-iron,” Jim Mackay said.

And with that unremarkable remark, the man most golf fans know as “Bones” officially embarked on his new career.

Like his breakup with Phil Mickelson last month, Bones’s transition from caddie to on-course reporter was treated as a major golf world story in the run-up to this week’s British Open.

Not since Steve Williams was busy bashing Tiger had a looper commanded so much chatter.

NBC/Golf Channel did its best to contribute to the buildup. Shortly after 11 a.m. Eastern Time, as Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller were settling in for their shift in the tower behind 18, the network introduced its new hire with a video montage of Bones’s career on Lefty’s bag: relaying yardages and suggesting shots, wiping away tears while walking off the green at Muirfied, in 2013, after Mickelson had won the claret jug.

Not exactly electrifying snippets, but also not bad for a guy who never had to strike a single shot.

“It must be nice not having that 40-pound bag” to carry around, Hicks noted as the cameras turned to a live shot of Bones at sun-splashed Royal Birkdale.

Bones smiled and nodded. “This microphone feels great.”

Caddies are supposed to keep up and shut up. In his 25 years with Mickelson, Bones always did the former but rarely the latter, more than holding his own in what ranks as one of the chattiest player-caddie relationships of all time.

On-course reporting calls for a similar gift of gab—OK, slightly less gab—and sure enough, Bones made the switch seem natural.

“He can use this right to left wind to turn it into this left hole location,” Bones reported, fleshing out his description of Adam Scott’s tee shot on the par-3 12th.

For this first assignment, the network wisely avoided the tempting but contrived option of sticking Bones on Mickelson’s group.

Instead, Bones walked side by side with the three-ball of Scott, Paul Casey and Rickie Fowler. The trio responded by providing Bones with a wide—and sometimes wild—dispersion of shots.

“He has a very tough lie,” Bones said of a struggling Rickie Fowler, after Fowler’s drive on 15 strayed wide left into gnarly fescue.

Fowler, Bones added, would likely have a “hard time getting back to the fairway.”

Maybe so, but Fowler pulled off the recovery nevertheless.

In anticipation of Bones’s on-air debut, much was made of his deep understanding of player-caddie dynamics; his knowledge of courses and personalities; his green-reading ability; his grasp of shot selection.

And as time wears on, Bones will no doubt have a chance to show those off.

His most colorful moment came when he relayed a story about Bubba Watson, in his University of Georgia days, challenging Phil Mickelson to a match. If Watson won, Bones said, he’d accept a few bucks from Mickelson. If Phil won, Watson promised he’d clean Lefty’s jet.

“And…” Terry Gannon said from the booth, “the outcome?”

“Bubba might owe Phil a clean plane,” Bones said, cracking up his colleagues.

In his debut, though, the rookie reporter mostly favored straightforward facts (yardages to pins, wind direction, length of putts) over probing analysis and Tour gossip.

One telling moment took place when talk turned to Adam Scott’s impeccable swing.

“You wonder why he doesn’t win more majors,” Dan Hicks said, teeing up his new colleague for an insider comment.

If Bones had special insights, he wasn’t sharing.

“It is beautiful to watch,” he said.

The deeper revelations surely will come at some point. But as all good caddies and course reporters know, you have to pick your spots.

In this first time out, Bones was smart to play it safe.