Tiger Woods may not be the golfer he once was. Yet between 1999 and 2014, he was the greatest golfer the sport has ever known. Culminating in a total of 13 years as the top-ranked player — more than double the 331 weeks Greg Norman spent at the top — and two streaks of the #1 ranking for nearly five apiece, Woods is a generational linksman.
But who’s behind Tiger’s success? Some might point to his father, natural talent, or unwavering work ethic. However, you can’t deny that Tiger Woods caddies over the years have played a pivotal role in his success. Discover more about the part that all four of Tiger Woods caddies have played over the years, how much they’ve made, and some of the best to ever hold a bag of clubs for arguably the world’s GOAT.
As of September 2011, Joe LaCava has been Tiger Woods caddie. But Tiger didn’t choose this caddie at random. Tiger Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava is a 67-year-old professional who has been a caddie on the PGA Tour since the early 1990s, making him one of, if not the most experienced caddie currently on the tour.
Born in Newtown, Connecticut, in 1955, LaCava began his caddie career in 1987 at country clubs throughout the state. Quickly earning respect from local amateurs and semi-pro golfers, he got his first big break after being hired by PGA legend Fred Couples.
From 1990 until the mid-2000s, LaCava helped Couples win 12 PGA tournaments, including the 1996 Players Championship — his first major championship as a caddie.
After Couples developed back problems, LaCava then became the bagman for Dustin Johnson, which saw Johnson rise through the world rankings. However, in 2011, Woods hired LaCava after Woods had an undisclosed dispute with caddie Steve Williams. Williams has since moved on to a successful career with fellow Australian Adam Scott, while Woods and LaCava remain a formidable duo.
Through Woods’s legal troubles, marital problems, and a car accident, LaCava has remained dedicated to the former world number 1, turning down other offers and potential earnings to stick with Tiger.
Joe LaCava’s loyalty to Woods throughout Woods’s troubles is inspirational to many of the less money-hungry individuals in the game, but he hasn’t come up empty during his tenure. Since 2011, LaCava and Woods have won 11 tournaments, including their memorable victory at the 2019 edition of The Masters — just one year after barely making the cut at The Masters in 2018.
Other notable victories among the tandem include:
No one’s quite sure how much Tiger has left in the tank, but a miraculous comeback never seems like it’s too far out of reach for the future hall-of-fame golfer.
Tiger Woods — like most other golfers — doesn’t disclose just how much he pays his caddie. However, the customary amount is between 5% and 10% of the earnings that the golfer makes on the course plus an annual salary. Although most of Tiger’s money comes from endorsements, he still earns a sizeable living on the golf course — or at least he did during the early part of LaCava’s tenure.
Since 2011, Tiger Woods has made roughly $26.7 million on the golf course. If the 5% to 10% rate holds true, LaCava most likely has made $1.33 million to $2.67 million during that time, which would translate to between $120,000 and $240,000 per year — not including endorsements of his own and an undisclosed annual salary that Tiger pays him.
There’s not too much magic behind how Tiger Woods chose Joe LaCava as his caddie. However, the change was because of an argument between Tiger Woods and his former long-time caddie Steve Williams. While the two reported an amicable split, this has been disputed by people in the golf world.
According to insider reports, Tiger fired Williams after he caddied for Adam Scott and reportedly called it “the greatest weekend of caddying in my life.” When this news surfaced, Woods allegedly questioned Williams’s loyalty, an argument ensured, and the two went opposite ways.
Following the split, Woods needed a new caddie. Friends through adulthood, Fred Couples suggested LaCava as a stellar replacement. Woods hired LaCava almost immediately, the rest —they say — is history.
Despite the fallout between the two, there’s no denying that arguably — and probably not so arguably — that Tiger Woods caddie extraordinaire was Steve Williams. From March 1999 to July 2011, the pair collected 63 PGA tour wins including 13 majors over that time — a record in both categories between caddie and golfer — although the 25-year relationship between Phil Mickelson and Jim Mackay remains the longest.
While 63 tournament wins are quite the achievement, the 13 majors are even more remarkable, especially as competition increased dramatically during Woods’s time. According to Golf Digest, golf is a markedly different sport since Woods, and winning a major now is substantially harder than it was 40 years ago.
Starting in 1999, Williams and Woods won the equivalent of one major a year, which has never been accomplished by any other golfer. The list includes victories at:
Although Williams wasn’t swinging the golf clubs, every victory certainly contained a boost from Williams, his expertise, and his experience from St. Andrew to Augusta National.
Even big fans of Tiger Woods may not know that Tiger actually had four caddies over his career — not three as most thought. However, the Tiger Woods caddies that were most successful were Steve Williams followed by Joe LaCava, leaving two more out there: Mike “Fluff” Cowan and Bryon Bell.
You may never have heard of Bryon Bell, and that’s not a surprise. A childhood friend of Woods, Bell was essentially the fill-in caddie for Woods throughout the beginning and middle part of his career.
The pair never won any majors, with the height of the golfer-caddie relationship being a win at the 1999 Buick Invitational. Other than this one PGA event, the pair never finished atop the standings at any other point in Woods’ career.
You never forget your first, or so they say, and that’s probably what Tiger thinks whenever he steps into the tee box. The first time Tiger teed off, he was accompanied by none other than the now-legendary Mike “Fluff” Cowan.
Nearly 30 years Tiger’s senior, the pair were an odd-looking but effective tandem. On one side, you had a slim, young Asian/African-American golfer paired with a short, stocky, white-haired man with an unkempt mustache.
While Tiger was new to the tour, Cowan had cut his teeth on the tour in the past, caddying for now-golf commentator Peter Jacobsen for nearly 20 years. As luck has it, Jacobsen was about ready to retire while Woods was going on the pro tour, making it a match made in heaven.
Despite the physical mismatch, the two had a synergy on the golf course that resulted in seven PGA Tour wins and one major between August 1996 and February 1999. The win at the 1997 Masters stands out in particular, as it was Tiger’s first major win, setting the tone for the 14 majors he would win thereafter.
Interestingly enough, Woods ended up parting with Cowan in less than three years despite their success. This was attributed to Cowan leaking his pay information: $1,000 a week plus 10% of Tiger’s earnings.
Apparently, Woods thought this was in bad taste and dismissed Cowan on the spot. However, years late, the two have no bad blood and remain friends.
You don’t have to be a phenomenal golfer to become a great caddie. Sometimes, it’s more about knowing the rules, feeling the wind, and reading the speed of the green than having ice in your veins on an important putt.
If you want to become a caddie, you can always get educated and certified by the Professional Caddies Association. But before you do that, working on your golf game is paramount. You don’t have to shoot under par to become a caddie, but working on your putting, hitting the driving range, and being able to advise others from the practice round to the final round can make you a strong candidate.
Don’t expect to immediately become the caddie for someone like Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson right off the bat. Just put in your time on the golf course, hone your skills at a local country club, and you just might find that being a caddie is every bit as fun as golfing itself.