Editor’s note: Throughout 2019, our content partners at The Caddie Network will have caddies reflect on their respective paths to the highest level of their profession. Here, Joe Skovron — caddie for Rickie Fowler — pens his firsthand account of what it took for him to land a bag on the PGA Tour.
By JOE SKOVRON
My name is Joe Skovron. I’m 38 years old. I live in Scottsdale, Arizona. This is my 10th year caddying on tour.
I don’t have an iconic nickname like “Bones” or “Fluff.” “Skov” or “Skovy” are the pretty common ones – they’re just variations of my last name. A few people still like to mess with me and call me “Caddy Joe.” That comes from a Bushnell commercial I did a few years back.
I was raised in what I would call a “sports” house with the emphasis on golf. Golf has always been a huge part of my family. I guess you could say it’s in my blood.
My dad, Lou, is a PGA Life Member and has run golf courses and taught for around 50 years now. He grew up playing in Great Falls, Montana, and went on to be the MVP of the golf team at the University of San Diego, jumping into the golf business from there. He met my mom, Valarie, when he was working at Paradise Valley Country Club in Wyoming where her parents were members.
When my dad became a head pro, my mom helped him with merchandising in the golf shops at many of the clubs he was at. On top of that, my grandpa Skovron was a starter at the course I grew up at for over 20 years. My dad loves golf more than anyone I have ever met in my life. He still teaches and runs the Valley Junior Golf Association back home in California with my mom, who has been doing it on and off since 1990.
Rickie Fowler, Brendan Steele, John Chin, Sydnee Michaels and many others came from this junior golf program. My mom and dad have given their heart and soul to the VJGA and are very proud of all the young people that have come through the association.
I basically grew up at a golf course. I fell in love with the game at the age of nine and I spent every minute I could there. In the summers I would hang around all day practicing, playing, picking up range baskets, washing carts and annoying all the assistant pros. I played a full schedule of summer tournaments from the age of nine through college. I received a partial golf scholarship to UC Santa Barbara out of high school and transferred to the University of La Verne (Division III) after my first year. I played four years a ULV for coach Rex Huigens, where I was a two-time All-American, Academic All-American and SCIAC Player of the Year.
After I finished up school, I moved back in with my folks and turned pro. I grew up always dreaming of playing the PGA Tour and wanted to give my dream a shot. As always, I had the support of my parents and some great people. Through fundraisers and some individual sponsorships, I was able to chase the mini-tours for a few years. One win, a ton of missed cuts and two failed trips to Q-school later, I realized I just wasn’t good enough to cut it in professional golf and took a different path. Those guys out there are just so good!
Not long after I hung up my sticks, my college coach decided to retire. Coach asked if I would be interested in taking over the program. I accepted the job and brought in a good friend of mine to be the associate head coach. I was the head coach at ULV for just one season, 2008-2009, in which we finished second in the Division III NCAA Championships. Safe to say, I inherited some good players!
The reason I left so soon, is because I got a call that would change my life forever. It was from a former Valley Junior Golfer… a 20-year-old named Rickie Fowler.
I grew up in Murrieta, California, the same hometown as Rickie, and I’ve known him and his family since he was 4 years old.
From what I remember, he’s the first kid under the age of five that my mom let play tournaments. I’m eight years older, so I got to see Rickie grow up through junior, high school and college golf.
Rickie asked me to work the Nationwide event at Ohio State’s course in the summer of 2009. He was still an amateur. We bogeyed the 72nd hole and lost in a playoff to Derek Lamely, who won on the PGA Tour a year later.
After that, Rickie asked me to work the U.S. Amateur as well and I went to work for him, full-time, when he turned pro after the 2009 Walker Cup.
Funny enough, I never really thought of caddying as a career. It just happened.
It started as a buddy thing with Brendan Steele. We were roomies on the mini tours and I caddied a few final rounds for him out there when I missed cuts and he was in contention. When he got his Nationwide (Web.com) Tour card I went out for a couple weeks at a time to caddie for him when I could make it work. We had a blast. In that time, I also worked eight events, including two majors, on the LPGA for my friend, Charlotte Mayorkas.
When I got the job at La Verne, I was happy to be a college golf coach and thought that would probably be my career path. I majored in Movement and Sports Science with a teaching/coaching emphasis and coached high school football for a couple seasons while I was in college. It just made sense.
But when someone like Rickie asks you to come work for them, you have to take the chance and go do it. I had no idea how long it was going to last. There are no “contracts” in caddying and he didn’t have any status at that time. That being said, we all knew he was a special talent and I had a great relationship with him so it was a no brainer for me to take the job. He got his card that fall – and played in his first Ryder Cup the following fall in Wales – and I’ve been fortunate enough to be on the bag for the last 10 years now.
Just like anything in life, this was a case of being in the right place at the right time. That being said, I think so many things in my life set me up to be the best I can be at my profession. From my parents, to all the time grinding on the golf course, failing in my own career, caddying for Brendan and Charlotte, coaching, and so many other things led me to where I am at.
It’s been a cool ride with Rickie, the 2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, with five PGA Tour wins, two European Tour wins, four Ryder Cup and two Presidents Cup appearances to date.
I work for a guy who has created many highlights. I’ve had so many cool experiences. Here are three particular moments that come to mind:
- At the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales, Rickie drew Edoardo Molinari in singles. It was ugly early in that match. Edoardo was 4 up with five holes to go and we needed a win or a tie. Rickie rallied all the way back and finished it off with a 15-foot birdie on the last to halve the match. That was a special moment to be a part of.
- Another favorite of mine was the 2015 Players Championship. Most golf fans know the story but I’ll tell you what happened again just in case you don’t. Rickie was trailing by five shots with six holes to play and then went crazy, going birdie-par-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie – 6 under over the last six holes – to force a playoff with Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia. Rickie then birdied 17 again in the three-hole, aggregate playoff. Kis and Rickie were still tied after the three holes, so they went back to the 17th for sudden-death and Rickie birdied it for the third time of the day to win. That picture someone snapped of him looking over at me and fist pumping after he made it is still one of my favorites.
- Most recently, the win earlier this year in Phoenix was a huge career highlight. After multiple close calls at that event, this was a big one for both of us. It was a wild ride. If you weren’t watching it, I’m not going to explain it all, but Rickie went from having a 5-shot lead on the 11th tee to being one back on the 13th. The mental fortitude he showed those last few holes was impressive. That’s as proud as I have ever been of him after a win. I think that one was a relief for both of us!
I love so many things about my job. I enjoy the process and there’s nothing like being out there with your guy down the stretch on a Sunday afternoon. My most satisfying moment as a caddie has to be the club on 18 in the playoff with Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points at Quail Hollow for Rickie’s first tour win in 2012. It was fun to see him pull that off.
Like any job, experiences can differ quite a bit depending on what player or company you work for. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for a top player in the world that is extremely popular, and is a genuinely good person. This job has allowed me to live a life that I am thankful for every day. I have gotten to meet a lot of athletes/celebrities along with numerous successful people. I’ve even chatted with a former POTUS because of this job.
The moment that stands out most in terms of “cool experiences” outside of tournaments is getting to play golf with Tom Brady last year. Rickie and our friend, Jimmy Dunne, surprised me and invited me to play. On top of it, on the 1st tee I found out Tom was my partner.
Tom didn’t disappoint. He treated me like he had known me for years and of course he made every clutch putt we needed to win the match. Why wouldn’t’ he, he’s Tom Brady!
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For a diehard football fan like me – I played quarterback in high school, I’m a huge Chargers fan and a complete football nerd – that was as great day!
We’ve also played numerous rounds with Tiger and two of those times were late on Sundays when he won the event. It’s different with him around. It’s an electric atmosphere. I always look forward to it, especially in contention on Sundays. I was right next to him when he holed the chip on 16 at Memorial in 2012. Never heard a roar like that.
Someday I’ll look back at moments like this one and this latest Masters win and be able to say, “I was there.”
I think the details of a PGA Tour caddie’s job would be a shocker to most people. There’s the easy stuff I think anyone can do, like carrying the bag, raking a bunker and filling the divots. But I think the time we put in to prepare, the preciseness of the information our bosses want, the yardage books, the green books, and everything that goes with the job would surprise most golf fans.
I think the most important part of the job is the communication between player and caddie. Our job is essentially to make our player as comfortable as we can with each shot they hit. Sometimes that’s saying nothing, other times it’s getting them to talk through it and there are the times where you have to speak up and give your opinion. It’s about finding that perfect balance that works for that player.
Seeing the same people out here week after week, you obviously make friends. It’s great to go out to dinners or stay in a house with other caddies on the road. The camaraderie is strong as most of us don’t have families traveling with us. It gives it that team-sport feeling of being in the locker room and hanging with the guys.
I have a lot of guys that I consider close friends out here. Bones was the guy that took me under his wing and has become a great friend of mine. We play golf together at our club back home quite a bit. I stay with Matty Kelly (Marc Leishman’s caddie) and Sam Pinfold (Cameron Smith) whenever we’re are at the same events. I met both of them on the Nationwide Tour in 2008 and have been friends with them ever since. It’s been great for all of us to end up with good jobs out here and go through the whole journey together.
There are a bunch of other guys that I stay with now and then as well. Mark Urbanek, Andy Sanders, Shay Knight and a few others. I keep in touch with all of these guys, plus others, when we’re not on the road. There are a bunch of good guys out here.
My dad has always told me that golf is the greatest game there is and that it’s the people that make it. I couldn’t agree more. The people I have met and the relationships that have developed because of golf are incredible. I regularly look at my life and realize how blessed I have been.
While I didn’t actively seek out caddying, it’s the best decision I have made in my life to this point. It’s been quite a ride so far and I’m looking forward to the rest of it!
T.J. Auclair is the Director of Content for The Caddie Network and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 70 major championships.