In 1992, Fred Couples won the Nissan L.A. Open. The victory kicked off an electric run that defined the prime of his career; Couples, 32 at the time, finished runner-up the next week, then runner-up the week after that, then won the Nestle Invitational the week after that to get to World No. 1.
Three weeks later came his crowning achievement: he entered Masters week as the top player in the world and validated it with a winning four-round score of 13 under par, two shots ahead of Raymond Floyd.
Couples’ caddie for this run was Joe LaCava, a no-nonsense looper in his mid-30s. They were a striking pair: Couples with his dreamy swing and crisp white visor, LaCava toting his red-and-white Lynx bag, jumpsuit unbuttoned, green Masters hat sitting high atop his head. The pair went on to win 12 times in all, including that Masters.
That same 1992 L.A. Open marked the PGA Tour debut for 16-year-old Tiger Woods. He missed the cut but showed plenty of promise; the high school sophomore was the youngest man to ever compete in an official Tour event.
You may know this next part: Just five years later, 21-year-old Tiger Woods won the Masters, the golf world would never be the same, etc. etc.
Fast-forward to 2011 when Woods, in need of a full-time caddie (another story for another time) turned to LaCava, whose most recent stint had been on Dustin Johnson’s bag. They meshed well and quickly found success. Their best season came in 2013, when Woods won four times in seven starts, including the Players Championship, to regain the title of World No. 1. Tougher years followed — injuries, accidents, comebacks, setbacks — but LaCava’s commitment to Woods never wavered.
In recent years they’d all play together in Masters practice rounds: Couples would go out with Woods, LaCava on his bag. They’d all cite those among their favorite rounds of the season. And when Woods capped off the second stage of his career by winning the 2019 Masters, LaCava had his second major championship, too, 27 years after his first.
Fast-forward to December 2020, when Woods made a different kind of tournament debut: he and his son Charlie, 11 at the time, teed it up as teammates in the PNC Championship, a year-end event featuring pros and family members competing as two-player teams. Charlie had caught the golf bug and was eager to showcase his game alongside his father. LaCava, of course, would carry for Tiger. But Tiger had an idea, which Woods’ confidante Rob McNamara told Golf Digest later. “He said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if I had Joe LaCava Jr. caddie for Charlie?’”
LaCava Jr. was game. Though still a student at James Madison University, he made the trek to Orlando to round out the Woods-LaCava father-son tandem. They exceeded expectations by finishing seventh in the two-man scramble with a pair of 62s. And while he didn’t have much prior caddying experience, LaCava Jr. caught the bug, too, and parlayed his experience into a gig carrying at Winged Foot the following summer. When all four returned at the 2021 PNC — Woods’ first tournament since a debilitating February car crash — they were even better, shooting 62-57 to finish solo second.
Fast-forward to this year, when things really started to come full circle. Fred Couples needed a fill-in caddie, so he called LaCava, Jr., now a college graduate with a marketing degree and plenty more looping experience. But first, out of respect, he had to reach out to LaCava Jr.’s usual client: Charlie Woods.
“I didn’t know Charlie’s cell number, but I got in touch with Tiger,” Couples told the PGA Tour this May. “JT [Justin Thomas] was on the thread, and they didn’t reply. Maybe they thought I was teasing a bit.
“But then I said, ‘Listen, Tiger, I need to make sure Charlie is OK with Joseph caddying for me in Atlanta.’ He got right back to me, said, ‘Just talked to him. He’s fine with it.’”
Couples laughed describing the new dynamic.
“I call and say, ‘Look, find a hotel room near me; get a rental car,’” Couples said. “Sure enough, he gets a rental car, picking me up, driving me to dinner. Nothing has changed there. So I know I’ve got a good caddie and a good kid. I don’t boss him around. I used to boss his dad around a little bit, and that didn’t go so well for me.”
Now fast-forward to this past week. LaCava Jr. was on the bag at Q-School for Brandon Hagy, and not just as a one-off — he told Barstool Sports’ Dan Rapaport that he was “gonna give the looping life a shot.” It is the family business, after all. Hagy had a solid week and closed with a final-round 68 but finished T45, one shot outside the coveted top 40, which is the threshold for guaranteed starts.
While LaCava Jr. was cutting his teeth in golf’s most pressure-packed atmosphere, Tiger Woods was gearing up to caddie for Charlie Woods at the Notah Begay III Boys Jr. Golf National Championship in southwest Louisiana. Clips quickly spread across the internet of Charlie’s swing (as impressive as you’d expect) and his caddie (Tiger, in a bib!).
A 13-year-old from La Crescenta, Calif. named Cole Kim blew away the field in their age group, shooting 64-66-68 (-15) to win by six. Evan Liu from Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. finished second at nine under. Charlie shot one under — 72-69-71 — to finish 11th. Good on ’em all.
Let’s add up the scores, then. Joe LaCava worked for Fred Couples and then for Tiger Woods. Joe LaCava Jr. worked for Charlie Woods and then for Fred Couples. Now Tiger Woods is working for Charlie Woods, too. In other words, first Joe’s son stepped into his shoes, and then Joe’s boss stepped into Joe’s son’s shoes.
What’s the point? Mostly there isn’t one, it’s just good fun. But there’s an obvious generational story here: Tiger Woods the caddie and Joe LaCava Jr. the caddie are each reminders that the torch will eventually be passed from father to son. That’s not to say that either Joey Jr. or Charlie will ever have full-time careers in golf. But in the meantime, they’re sons who are chasing after their fathers. That’s not to say Joe and Tiger are finished; they’re not. But they’re mentors now, in real time. With any luck we’ll see them reunited in another month, making a run at the PNC Championship. It’s nice when stories come full circle. Any looper could appreciate that.