Two years ago, Jim Mackay, the former caddie informally known to the world simply as "Bones," learned an invaluable lesson. This was during the RSM Classic, where he was working as a guest on-course reporter for Golf Channel. Always eloquent and thoughtful when speaking about the game, those characteristics shined through in this appearance. Mackay seemed like a natural, except for one small problem: Every time he was shown on camera, he was chewing gum.
"Yeah, don't ever chew gum on the air," he said with a laugh Thursday, recalling that instance.
Mackay will soon be learning plenty of other lessons about the role, as it was announced that he will join NBC/Golf Channel as a full-time commentator beginning with The Open Championship in two weeks.
"I'll be the first to tell you, I've got so much to learn," he admitted during a teleconference call with media. "When I start in the next couple weeks, I want to get better and I want to learn as much as I can. I'm going to be the guy bothering a lot of people with a lot of questions. I can't wait to get at it. I just can't stress enough that I have a lot to learn out there, for sure."
That learning curve will be beneficial on a few different levels.
Call it a win-win-win scenario. The network receives an educated voice with more than a quarter century of inside-the-ropes perspective. The viewership gets an expert who knows the game and its current cast of superstars as well as anyone. And then there's Mackay himself, who is undertaking a mid-career job change that allows him to remain visible and present without lugging a heavy bag around different courses every week.
The new role, though, might not be as different from his old one as some would expect. He'll still analyze situations and communicate opinions, only now for an audience of much more than one.
"There will definitely be a couple of nerves there early on," Mackay explained. "I never really got nervous on the golf course. You know, working for Phil, obviously I'm not hitting any shots out there, and it was important to just kind of stay as even-keeled as possible. So I hope to borrow from those experiences when we get going here at The Open Championship."
Those experiences include walking side-by-side with Mickelson during five major championship titles and even more major championship heartbreaks. All of which has fueled Mackay with a perspective that few have ever lived and even fewer can ever relate to by discussing developing situations for a national television audience.
Mackay will excel in the new role for the same reason that he excelled in his previous one. From his attention to detail to learning from past mistakes, certain attributes will carry over to this new pursuit.
Perhaps the biggest reason he'll succeed lies in the answer he offered as to what most intrigued him about the role.
"I love the game," he answered. "I was kind of a golf rat as a kid. As a kid, I would watch everything from start to finish. I would read golf magazines from beginning to end. I've always just been really fascinated by the game at this level.
"Certainly when I was lucky enough to get to caddie on the PGA Tour, and you're just kind of taking everything in around you, the TV aspect of it I thought was really, really interesting, and I loved watching those guys do their thing and the whole autonomy of words."
Sure, there's still plenty to learn, plenty of lessons yet to come, starting with his first assignment in two weeks. Just as he did 27 years ago as a rookie caddie, he'll catch on quickly.
Then again, there is one noticeable difference between the jobs.
On Thursday, Mackay was reminded that caddies carry a 45-pound bag around the course, while commentators simply tote a microphone which weighs, well, a bit less.
Of course, he didn't need that reminder. He didn't even hesitate when this trade-in was brought to his attention yet again, instead offering just a two-word reply.