It was during one of those extended rain delays at the Ryder Cup in Wales last fall when I shared a ride to the clubhouse with Joe Skovron. He was there in the official USA party as Rickie Fowler's caddy. We, as PGA Officers, shared the same locker bay in the team room with the caddies. I had noticed this polite, young kid from Southern California and was impressed with him from the beginning.
Ironically, as a kid, Skovron always saw himself playing on the PGA Tour. It was his goal from the time he started playing at age 9 until he hung up his clubs after a stint on the mini-tours when he was 26. He grew up in what he describes as a "sports family" and even more specifically a "golf family".
Ted Bishop's PGA blog
PGA Vice President Ted Bishop provides insight and his views on the world of golf as well as chronicling his travels and work on behalf of The PGA of America.
"My dad is a lifetime member of the PGA of America and loves the game of golf more than anyone I have ever met in my life", says Skovron. "My mom has been involved in the golf business for much of her life as well. She runs our local junior golf association, where both Rickie Fowler and Brendan Steele (winner of the recent Valero Texas Open) got their starts."
Joe Skovron, the golfer, twice earned Division III All American honors at the University of LaVerne. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BS in Movement and Sports Science. He coached his alma mater in 2008-09 leading it to a runner-up finish in the NCAA Championships. After playing and coaching, Skovron found himself about to embark on a new role in golf.
"I got into caddying through playing tournament golf. I roomed with Brendan (Steele) and would caddy for him the last couple of rounds every once in a while when I missed a cut and he was in contention. Occasionally, I also caddied for Charlotte Mayorkas," recalls Skovron.
Today, Skovron can be found toting the sack for one of the PGA Tour's hottest stars. He and Rickie Fowler go way back. Skovron is eight years older than Fowler, but both grew up practicing at the Murietta Golf Range and playing the same courses. Skovron had followed Fowler's career and the two had played a lot of golf together.
"One day when we were playing golf he asked me to come out and caddy the Nationwide Tour Event in Columbus when he was still an amateur. He finished 2nd, asked me to caddy for him when he turned pro and I have been his full time caddy ever since," recalls Skovron.
In a week that Fowler plays on the PGA Tour, Skovron will fly into the tournament site Sunday night or Monday morning. He will spend 3-4 hours walking the course if he hasn't seen it before or 2-3 hours if it is a repeat site. During this time, he will check carries, thru lines, etc.
On Tuesday, Fowler will normally play a practice round. That gives Skovron a look at the course with Rickie hitting shots. Player and caddy talk about course strategy. They review pin positions from the year before, talk about the best leaves and avoiding certain spots on the green. Wednesdays are usually a pro-am day and this gives Skovron his second look at the course.
"On tournament days, I usually get to the course 1.5-2 hours before our tee time. I get the day's pin sheet and mark the pins in my yardage book, eat, and Rickie normally starts his golf warm up about an hour before he plays," says Skovron. The rest of the week includes dinners, hanging out and booking future travel. Other normal daily tasks usually take up the afternoons and evenings.
When asked about the worst and best parts of the job, Skovron says, "Not sure if there really is a worst part. I am lucky enough to have a job I love. My favorite part of the job is being in contention down the stretch. The feeling you get when your player is in contention, the challenge of being at your best when the tournament is on the line. That is fun to me!"
There was no bigger drama down the stretch than during the singles matches at the 2010 Ryder Cup when Fowler stormed back from 4 down to tie Edoardo Molinari and earned a critical ½ point for the U.S. team. For Skovron, it was the culmination to the best golf week of his life.
"The Ryder Cup is such a special event. Anytime you represent your country is special. Getting to be part of a team in golf is so much fun. To be part of a team with guys that I looked up to as a kid, that was very special," said Skovron. "The Ryder Cup coming down to the last matches and Rickie's being one of the pivotal points… that's what it's all about. That is why players play and that's why the caddies are out there. You want to be part of something special like that."
For all of his worldly golf ways, Skovron had never been to Augusta National Golf Club until a week before this year's Masters. He says the experience lived up to the hype. The golf course was even more than he expected- different than any other. The Masters was his favorite event growing up and it didn't disappoint Skovron who found himself with Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day during the first two rounds.
"Our group's scores those first two days speak for themselves. All three guys played great. Rory, Jason and Rickie are all good guys and I enjoyed those first two rounds. There are so many good young players out there right now and, more importantly, a lot of those guys are very good people. The future of golf looks like it is in good hands," observed Skovron. "Getting to play with Freddie (Couples) on Saturday at Augusta was pretty cool as well."
In my conversations with Skovron it is very apparent that he is not frustrated with his role as a caddy versus being the player.
"While my career as a player didn't work out, all of the time I spent on the golf course over the years and all of the sacrifices my family made, have paid off and allowed me to end up with a career as a PGA Tour caddy," surmises Skovron.
It would appear that Skovron's relationship with Fowler could be long term in the sometimes fickle world of player/caddy relationships on the PGA Tour. At least, that is Skovron's wish.
"I'm hoping that I have a bright future caddying out here. I would love to caddy for Rickie for a long time and be by his side when he accomplishes the goals he has set for himself," concluded Skovron.
My guess is that Rickie Fowler and Joe Skovron will grow old together!