Human rights activist Marina Schuster speaks for Bhutto-Ispahani lecture series.
An Interview with alumnus, PGA Tour caddie, and recent La Verne Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Joe Skovron
For four years as a player at La Verne, Joe Skovron ’04 was a major force for the Leopards’ men’s golf team. A four-time First-Team All-SCIAC selection from 2001-2004, Skovron was conference player of the year in 2001 and a Third Team All-American in 2004. Along the way, he led the Leopards to a SCIAC team championship in 2004 and to four trips to the NCAA Division III National Championships. He took over as coach of the program in 2009 and earned the West Region Coach of the Year award after leading the Leopards to the conference championship.
Then came the call from PGA Tour rookie Rickie Fowler, who was looking for a caddie. Skovron, eight years older, watched Fowler grow up with the Skovron family business at Valley Golf Center in Temecula, where Skovron’s father, Lou, was a teaching professional. Three years later, Fowler is one of the PGA Tour’s brightest young stars and Skovron carries his bag. What’s that all about? An interview with the PGA Tour caddie.
VOICE: So, how can I become a caddie?
Joe Skovron: That’s funny, because I get asked that question all the time. There’s a lot of different ways to do it. I did it through playing, you know, people that I played with and were friends with kept going and kept progressing through the levels. I started off doing it for fun every once in a while and never thought it would be a career and it turned into one. You have to have some kind of playing background nowadays, I think, to get out there, or you have to have a close relationship with somebody. Preferably, you have both. A lot of guys come out with their college roommate, who made it and they didn’t. Or, their brother’s a really good player and they bring him out on the bag, or they knew somebody through a mini-tour and started out that way. Maybe they ended up on another bag, but that’s how they started. It’s a lot different than it used to be. You don’t see a lot of club caddies or people who just set out to be caddies out there. If you are somebody who is trying to do that, you probably need to go through the Web.com Tour, work your way up and develop relationships, so people will trust you.
VOICE: Now, how did this come about with you and Rickie?
JS: I’ve known Rickie since he started playing golf. He started in my parents’ junior golf association that they run, the local junior golf association. We’d been friends all along, even though I’m eight years older than he is, kind of like an older brother-, older cousin-type of thing. We’d practice at the same course, practice at the same range. I had caddied for Brendan Steele on the Nationwide Tour, he’s now a PGA Tour winner. When Rickie was taking off, turning pro, he tried out a couple of professional caddies while he was still playing as an amateur, in pro events. He decided to ask me to come and try it out, in Columbus, Ohio, in a Nationwide Tour event and he played well enough to get into a playoff. He lost the playoff, but he finished second. So, he decided to give it a go. I was actually coaching at La Verne at the time and I quit my position to go with him in the fall and see if we could make it work and it has been working ever since.
VOICE: Before you started carrying Rickie’s bag, you had other caddie gigs. How did you start out?
JS: I kind of fell into it. It started when I was playing mini-tours, and a couple of times, when I missed cuts, Brendan Steele and I roomed together, so I’d go out there with him, if he was in contention, and it would give him somebody to talk to, talk shots with. We were such good friends, it made it feel a little more comfortable during that final round. Then, as he progressed and played Nationwide Tour events, he would ask me to come out. About the same time, as I was hanging up the clubs, a girl that I played a lot of golf with, Charlotte Mayorka, made it out on the LPGA Tour and she couldn’t find a caddie that she liked. She had me come out for the U.S. Open and a few different things and that turned into a few more gigs. So I was kind of doing a couple of weeks at a time, come home and work, couple weeks at a time, come home and work. I was doing my own clothing business at the time. This transferred into coaching, as well as doing a little caddying here and there, when I didn’t have things going with the coaching. Then, when Rickie asked me, it turned into a full-time gig.
VOICE: Sounds like caddying came pretty easy to you: great knowledge of the game and you were a great player yourself. Was there still a lot that you had to learn about caddying?
JS: There are definitely things you learn over time. I would say I’m a lot better caddie now than I was when I started, but I think, first of all, my playing experience, being a player, you can understand it. You can help somebody because you know exactly what they’re going through. I’ve played golf for money, it was my living, I knew what it was like having a putt that meant making a check or not making a check. You kind of know what’s going through their heads, and I think that helps you a lot. Then, there’s the competitive experience of winning junior golf tournaments or college tournaments, you still know that feeling. Your mind knows the difference between putting in college or putting in a PGA Tour event. At the time, it’s the biggest deal to you. That, and I think I’m actually more of a coach personality, so I think that kind of lends itself to successful caddying. But there are definitely some adjustments to things that I had to learn and get used to. One was learning to take a back seat, a little bit, be in a supporting role, rather than a guy who is always in charge. I was always an in-charge kind of guy, the quarterback, the leader, that whole thing.
VOICE: So, how did you deal with that?
JS: Over time, I just realized that that was part of my job. That’s what you have to do and you have to adjust to that, and learn how to like that. It was more of a challenge to my personality. I had to learn when to say something and when not to say something. You have to learn the different kinds of personalities that you’re dealing with. I caddied very different for Charlotte than I did for Brendan and than I do for Rickie, because of what they want and what they need.
VOICE: What does Rickie want?
JS: There was a lot more involvement early on, because he was just trying to get used to playing for money, doing all of those things, being around all of those big names. I think, over time, it has evolved and he needs less and less and less on the golf course. He’s naturally really good, mentally, so he doesn’t need a lot of encouragement. He wants numbers, wants information and wants you to give him a good, solid opinion that you’re going to stand by, when he asks for your opinion. The rest of the time, he just wants to kind of chat and talk about whatever else might be going on between shots, to keep his mind off shots.
VOICE: How has all of this affected your game? Are you still playing any golf?
JS: I think this has been the least amount of golf I’ve played since I started playing golf. I’ve played a little bit more this year, which has been, maybe 25 rounds of golf. I had been playing 10 to 15 rounds of golf there for a couple year period. I was still trying to run the clothing company, caddie and everything else. There was just no time for golf. I think I’ll start playing more and more. But it definitely clarifies a lot of things in your mind. Even at the level that I played, the things that I thought were important, all the things that when you’re playing, you can’t take a step back and look at, I’ve been able to take that step back. But it also keeps your expectations high. Because of where I’m at and because I play so little, it’s a little tough to balance that. I see good shots all the time. When I go out and play and can’t play as well as I used to or can’t hit some of those shots, you have to kind of take a step back and realize that, ‘Hey, these guys are the best in the world.’ So, I have to change my expectations a little bit.
VOICE: Now you know how the rest of us feel. We watch on TV and these guys make it look so easy.
JS: That’s the thing. When you don’t play a lot, sometimes it’s easy for the caddie to forget how tough the game is and you start expecting so much. You think it’s so easy, and it’s not and I think it’s good perspective. When I go play, it gives me good perspective, and I think it’s important for me to keep up with my game, stay around the game when I’m not caddying, see what’s going through your head and remembers some of those things. It might not be the same things that are going through Rickie’s head, but you still have certain doubts or things and I think that helps.
VOICE: What’s the best part of your job?
JS: I think the best part is Sunday, in contention. That’s what I enjoyed about golf. Sometimes it’s hard, with golf, because you only have a chance to win so often. In junior golf, if you’re that good, you have a chance to win every tournament. In Amateur golf, if you’re that good, you still might have a chance to win most of the tournaments. In college, at the D-III level, I always felt like I was capable of winning any tournament. Then you turn pro, if the talent level starts passing you up a little bit, you don’t have as many opportunities to win. With (tour players) there are so many great players, even the best players in the world might only get 10 opportunities to win per year, and might only win three or four of those. Some guys might only get into contention once a year. So the best part, for me is being in contention, even as a caddie. The adrenaline is flowing, the decisions mean that much more, and that’s the reason you’re out there.
VOICE: What about the worst part?
JS: Definitely not all a bouquet of flowers. I think it’s tough, because you say the worst part of the job and people say, ‘You travel around and you caddie and you get to be around Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson,’ but there are parts of every job that aren’t great. I don’t mind the travel. Some people would say, ‘The travel is the problem.’ I’m sure once I have a wife and kids, the travel will be a little tougher on me. The older I get, it will be tougher on me. It’s just like any other job; it can get repetitious, and, at times, it can be monotonous, would be the right word. But, there are so many positives that outweigh any of the negatives. You know, the amount of money you can make and the excitement of being around the tour and all of those things that are really cool. So, I’m pretty fortunate to have the job that I have, especially now, in these economic times, to do what I do, I’m very fortunate. So I can’t complain about much of anything.
VOICE: What’s the best Tour stop, where they take care of the caddies?
JS: Augusta is one of the best. We have our own clubhouse. It’s right on the driving range. They have a buffet laid out for us and cooks in there. We have our own locker, and that’s the only week that we have our own locker. It’s everything you could imagine. They take care of us. You can come to work in shorts and a T-shirt because you’ve got to put on the jumpsuit. You can hang around in there and have a beer with the guys afterward, if you want, they have a tap. On Sunday, after the round, guys will sit around and watch the rest of the round. So, it’s really a cool environment there.
The other place is Quail Hollow, where Rickie won — and I’m not just saying that because Rickie won there. We get valet parking there, we get our own area to eat, they’ve got guys grilling outside and they bring in food, caddie gifts for the winner. They brought me up, in this little ceremony and they gave me a Bose Wave sound system, which is very cool, that they pay attention to you like that. There are some events where they don’t pay much attention to you, so it’s nice to get treated like that. Most weeks, we can’t get in the locker room, stuff like that. There are other events, like Tiger’s event and the Shark Shootout, where there’s only 24 guys and we get treated fantastic there, get to go eat with the guys, one of the few weeks of the year we get to do that.
VOICE: Do you think caddies get too much credit or not enough credit for a player’s success?
JS: I think both. I think sometimes people put too much on the caddie. For example, a lot of people have brought up the Stevie Williams-Adam Scott choice of club on the 18th hole at the British Open last year. None of these people were there. I was there. That golf hole, you can play it three or four different ways. You can play an iron over to the far left and take the right bunker out of play; you can hit 3-wood over to the right and take the left bunker out of play; you can hit the driver and try to blow it through everything. So many different options; you just have to hit the correct shot. You’ve got to know your misses. The club he pulled, he hit 3-wood and missed it left. So, did he pull the wrong club? Probably not. But everybody is going to get on that. Rickie and I got jumped on for laying up in Phoenix a couple of years ago, his rookie year. They don’t know the conversations that go on, they don’t know what’s going on with that. I’m not saying caddies can’t get criticized; there are times and places for caddies to get criticized, there are times and places for caddies to get credit. But really, the caddie’s job is to do his job, provide the best environment for their player to hit good shots and it comes down to the player hitting shots, doing all the good things. The caddie can’t go hit shots. You’re only as good as your player is, and so the player deserves all the credit. Now, there are caddies who are better at their job than others, and they deserve some of the credit they get. But the bottom line is the player is the one winning or losing the golf tournament.
VOICE: If you weren’t on Rickie’s bag, who could you see yourself working for? Is it a personality thing?
JS: That’s a tough question and I don’t even really try to think about that because I want to be with Rickie for a long time. I want it to be like a Bones (Jim Mackay) and Phil (Mickelson) relationship. But there’s also the reality that one day he could get tired of looking at me, or not thinking I’m doing the job I’m doing, or any day he could decide that he doesn’t want me around doing that job anymore. So, hopefully that won’t happen anytime soon. But there are a lot of good guys out on tour, a lot of guys I get along with. Hopefully, I won’t have to address that ever.
VOICE: The Bones-Phil thing, that kind of just goes on forever, doesn’t it?
JS: Yeah, I think they’re the best example of what that relationship should be. Bones is a great player, played college golf and he’s a great guy. Bones, to me, is the best example of how the caddie has changed and how it has become a career. When you see endorsement deals with caddies and you see him on commercials, because he represents Phil Mickelson’s brand so well, Phil can put him out there. Phil and his agent are comfortable sending this guy out there, his caddie. Everybody has this image of the caddie, that you can’t let him in the locker room, you can’t let him around the free beer because they’re going to drink all of it, and everything else. He’s a college-educated guy who played college golf. He can go talk to sponsors and support Phil and do things that Phil needs him to do, to be part of that branding, part of that team. I think they’ve got a unique relationship that is really special. I’ve gotten lucky enough to be around both of them and get help from both of them. They’re a great example for people like me and Rickie.
VOICE: On a telecast once, Bones growled at a woman, told her to put away her cell phone. Do you have to be a policeman much out there?
JS: You definitely have to be a policeman, especially with Rickie. He’s got so much popularity out there, and was one of the most marketable players on the PGA Tour even before he won. Once he won, that popularity went to another level. He’s really well-liked and there are so many fans. You get a lot of people out there and people don’t turn their cell phones off, or maybe they’re not paying attention to what’s going on and not realizing what they should be doing, like walking off before another player is finished. You kind of have to slow them down. Then, it steps up even more if you play with Phil or Tiger. For example, we played with Tiger and Hunter Mahan the first two days at TPC at Sawgrass this year, and cell phone after cell phone after cell phone. So you’re trying to make sure people have their cell phones turned off and do it in a way where I don’t want to be a mean guy, the bad guy, the jerk; but I have to do my job too. So, I try to do it politely and try to deal with them. But sometimes people don’t listen and you have to get a little more forceful with them. So guys like Bones and Joe LaCava, who work for those kinds of players, have to deal with a lot of that stuff, especially the cell phone stuff, because people will turn it on ‘silent’ but they still try to take pictures while these guys are trying to make a living, they’re trying to work. It’s fine on practice round days, but it gets to be a bit much sometimes during a tournament round.
VOICE: It seems like the fans are getting more bold, more aggressive.
JS: I haven’t been out there for long enough to really say, but definitely the demographic of the golf fan has changed. Tiger Woods has changed it. A guy like Rickie changes it. A lot more young people, a lot more people who don’t wear the traditional golf wear. And it’s great, it’s great for the game. I think it’s become more of a middle class game. It’s a tough game to make popular with the lower income class, although organizations like The First Tee have worked hard to make the game accessible to all. But the game that was once only country club has become middle class, which I think is fantastic. I think along with that, you lose some of the tradition, or at least you have more people trying to learn the tradition. So at some tournaments, like Phoenix, which is one of my favorite tournaments, you have to deal with a different element, where they’re not necessarily out there for the golf or they haven’t been around the game long enough to know what etiquette is, so you have to police a little bit more.
VOICE: And I would think a lot of people are just excited to be out there, or new to the game, and they say, ‘Hey, there’s that Fowler kid.’
JS: Yeah, and then you do get some people who are out there for their own reasons, to yell and do whatever they want to do and try to get people to notice them, try to say something that’s ridiculous to the players.
VOICE: How long have you been around the game?
JS: My dad is a PGA professional, so I’ve been around the game all my life. But he didn’t push me into it. I started getting interested in it at age 7 or so. When we moved to Temecula when I was 8-1/2, that’s when I really started getting into it and I’ve been around the game ever since.
VOICE: What comes to mind when you think about your time at La Verne?
JS: The first thing that always comes to mind when I think about La Verne, it sounds a little weird, but it’s Rex. Rex Huigens was so much a part of my experience and the reason I came here, and I’m so glad I did. I was always so caught up in the Division I thing and I went to UC Santa Barbara on a scholarship and I enjoyed my time there. But I’m so glad I came to La Verne, just the environment here, the Movement & Sports Science Department, the coaches and the relationships with my teachers and my coaches. I’d have them for classes over and over and over. It wasn’t like a big school where you’d go in the class and the professor didn’t know your name. I enjoyed that part about it. I remember we had, what we called the Golf House. One of my buddies from high school went here and his parents purchased a house, so him and myself and one or two other golfers always lived there. All the guys would come over and hang out there after practice. That’s a good memory. The guys I played with made my experience that much better. Joey Murray, Andy Garcia, I still keep in contact with them a little bit. Getting to go to the NCAA’s four times and be a part of that. I get to say I was an Academic All-American, that’s kind of cool. It was better than being at a Division I school that was a doormat and didn’t win the conference. I got to be a part of tradition and building a program here.
VOICE: And what was your reaction when you were told you would be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame?
JS: It was really cool for me. It sounds kind of ridiculous, but that was always a big deal to me for some reason here. I always thought that being in there would be cool, being a part of the history of the school for that long and be a part of the history of the athletic department, whether it be as a coach or a player or whatever. I take a lot of pride in that. La Verne golf was that meaningful to me. What they’ve done since, how the program has grown and grown and grown is pretty special. To get to be in there forever is a cool thing for me. I was really excited when I got the call from (athletic director) Julie (Kline).