Navigating Complexity: A Star Caddie Shares His Game Plan for Success on the Golf Course and in Business

With a decades-long caddying career and experience as an on-course TV analyst, Jim “Bones” Mackay is a leading figure in the world of golf. His work as a caddie has given him a keen understanding of the behind-the-scenes process of preparation in golf, but Mackay’s knowledge and unique viewpoint can also be transferred to the business world. “I’ve been a professional caddie for some of the best golfers in the world, and the role that I play is very similar to what I see Aon do for its clients every day,” Mackay explains. “It’s about using information and advice to put your player — or your client — in the best possible position to succeed and giving them the clarity and confidence to make better decisions at every turn.” Mackay’s perspective and experience means he understands the connection between wins in the boardroom and success on the green. Being able to navigate through uncertainty and complex situations requires strategic preparation, extensive data analysis, and relevant expertise, regardless of the arena. In an exclusive interview, the Aon Risk Reward Challenge ambassador and golf legend shares what he’s learned about navigating complexity, better decision making and confidence building — and offers advice for champions in any field.
Jim “Bones” Mackay
Caddie and Golf Commentator

You’re focused on creating the best game plan possible, week in and week out. When you head out for a tournament, what’s your process to evaluate challenges and get ready for the competition?

I need to get there at least a day before my player, and when I see him on the golf course for the first time, I need to be able to answer any question he could have for me as to what’s going on out there. Can I hit it there? What do I have left? Can I attack a pin? Whatever the question may be. It’s all about me doing my homework and coming prepared. Better decision making, better decisions: I’ve got to get out there and know exactly what it is I’m talking about. I’ve got to know the weather, I’ve got to know the player’s tendencies, I’ve got to know his golf game inside and out. There are all kinds of data available in the game now, and you plug that in everywhere you can. It comes down to what can I do for my client — in this particular instance, my player — to get him through that day in the absolute best condition he can be in and be successful.

As you mentioned, there is a lot of data and information to identify and process ahead of the tournament. How do you collect that information and how do you distill it down to what you believe is the winning strategy?

It’s my job to know my player. I’ve got to look at all kinds of positioning on the golf course, and ultimately it gets down to better decisions on what we can achieve as a team. We’re looking for that trophy after completing 72 holes. I’ve got to be prepared, I’ve got know what I’m talking about, and when it gets down to crunch time and he leans on me, I’ve got to give him quality and concise information, get in and get out, and let him do his thing and be the great player that he is.

How does a good game plan, thorough preparation and doing your homework create confidence and clarity on the golf course?

What breeds success is taking my expertise, preparation and knowledge and matching it up to my player’s skills and all that he knows. If I’ve done my job, he’s now got that confidence as a multiple tournament winner and as a major champion to go out there, plug it in and get the job done. Everything we do is about building that pyramid of success and confidence. I know what he’s thinking, he knows what I’m thinking, and we make sure we have incredible communication.

In your role as a caddie, how do you help your player make better decisions — not just any decision, but really focusing on a decision that’s going to give you a competitive edge?

In my case, I need to be educated — and fortunately for me, I’m experienced. I’ve been around the block now and I’ve been doing this since 1990. I know the game, I know my player’s game, I know these golf courses. I should know how he tends to react when he has adrenaline pumping through his body late on a Sunday afternoon when he has a chance to win. I’ve been there and I need to plug in that knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the years and help him as he ultimately makes those better decisions that hopefully will lead to a win.

As a professional caddie, what do you think is the most important thing you provide to your player?

Confidence. Confidence that we are making the best decision possible. I’ve been there, I’ve done my work, I’ve been on that golf course a day or two before he got there. Nothing can happen on that golf course that we aren’t completely prepared for so that he can be as successful as he needs to be to win.