Tiger Woods is motivated by haters. Reggie Jackson is annoying. And Peyton Manning is really sensitive.
The golf world’s loss — Woods sitting out of this week’s U.S. Open — was the Derby-Shelton Rotary Club’s gain Thursday as Joe LaCava, Woods’ caddie, related those and other behind-the-scenes tidbits from nearly three decades working in professional sports.
LaCava, a Southbury resident, spoke to about 30 Rotarians and their guests at a lunch Thursday (June 12) at Brownson Country Club.
Friend and fellow Southbury resident Mike Wynne, CEO of the Lower Naugatuck Valley Parent Child Resource Center, introduced LaCava Thursday.
“He’s a really nice guy, very down to earth, and you’d never know that he was a celebrity,” Wynne said.
LaCava has been a caddy on the PGA Tour for nearly 30 years, beginning with Ken Green, a Danbury native, in 1987.
Green’s brother took over caddying duties after the 1989 season, but LaCava was lucky enough to land a gig with Fred Couples, at the time one of the best golfers on tour.
LaCava caddied for Couples for 21 years, the highlight of which was Couples’ win at the 1992 Masters.
LaCava said he and Couples enjoyed plenty of moments off the course, too.
Couples is a big sports fan, and the two went to lots of events together, like a New York Yankees playoff game at which they got primo seats two rows back from the Yankees’ dugout, next to Yankees legend Reggie Jackson and the team’s general manager, Brian Cashman.
Jackson sat next to Couples. LaCava sat next to Cashman.
LaCava had a great time at the game.
Couples? Not so much.
“Every time I look over, Fred’s giving me that look like ‘What have you gotten me into?’ because Reggie Jackson, for nine innings straight, was bombarding him with golf questions,” LaCava said.
“He’s been there and done that, he’s just an ambassador, he probably doesn’t even care if the Yankees win,” LaCava went on. “Fred and I just wanted to watch the game!”
At the 2010 Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the pair were waiting on the putting green to tee off on the first hole when they were joined by the group behind them, which included Peyton Manning.
“Fred was just making conversation, so he asked Peyton who’s the better golfer, him or his brother,” LaCava recalled.
Manning’s brother is Eli Manning, two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the New York Giants.
And LaCava is a die-hard Giants fan.
See where this is going?
“Without even hesitating, Peyton said ‘Well, I am, by far.’ And I said ‘Well that’s OK, because we have the better quarterback,’” LaCava said.
If he expected a laugh, he didn’t get it from the ultra-competitive Manning.
“I thought the guy was going to kill me,” LaCava joked.
As Couples’ career saw him playing for less lucrative purses, LaCava first moved to fellow PGAer Dustin Johnson, who he caddied for for about six months.
“Then Tiger came calling,” he said.
The offer to caddy arguably the greatest golfer to ever play the game was too good to turn down.
“I’m thankful to have the opportunity to work with him,” LaCava said. “I’ve had a great two-year run with him.”
Woods is out of action at the moment after undergoing back surgery, but LaCava said watching Woods play offers revelations even to someone who’s been in the sport for nearly 30 years.
Like the 2012 Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.
Woods stood on the fairway of the tournament’s final hole, a the Par 4, contemplating a tough second shot, uphill about 178 yards from the pin.
At the time, he had a one-shot lead. He asked LaCava for his advice.
“I said ‘I’ve got a question for you first: Do you feel you need to make three or four here?” LaCava said.
Woods quickly ran through the possibilities in his mind, and decided he needed a birdie. LaCava recommended an aggressive shot with a 9-iron.
“He says ‘You got it,’ he hits this big rope-a-dope 9-iron with a helping right-to-left wind, puts it 12 feet away and buries the putt and makes the three,” LaCava said. “I’m thinking to myself ‘Is it that easy? Are you kidding me?’ It’s not that easy a hole. That was the first taste of me seeing how special the guy is.”
Check out the shot at around the 12:30 mark of the video below.
But not everyone is a Tiger fan — all the more so after Woods’ personal life fell apart in 2009.
LaCava said that’s OK.
“Tiger loves the haters,” he said. “It just gives him more fire.”
LaCava said he understands some people who might take a dim view of his employer, but “If people knew who he really was, no one would hate him.”
And with Tiger out of action, LaCava was free to offer his predictions for this weekend’s U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C.
“I’m rooting for Phil Mickelson,” LaCava said. “I think (Matt) Kuchar could probably play well there, and Rory McIlroy.”