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Lean On Me
MICHAEL BAMBERGER
May 03, 2010
For two decades Joe LaCava has been on the bag for Fred Couples, but their partnership goes much deeper than that of caddie and golfer
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May 03, 2010

Lean On Me

For two decades Joe LaCava has been on the bag for Fred Couples, but their partnership goes much deeper than that of caddie and golfer

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In the years when the Cadillac wreath adorned Fred Couples's golf shirts, his patrons at General Motors would leave him a shiny Escalade at airports across the country. The big beasts went untouched. Couples routinely turns down courtesy cars, and he doesn't need the ladies at transportation to give him a ride to the pro-am party or anywhere else. I'm good, thanks. Fred's got Joe.

Last week was typical. Joe LaCava, Fred's caddie, arrived in Savannah for the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf on Wednesday. It was Week 5 of the seven-week Fred Couples Mixed Tour Tour: Cap Cana, Houston, Augusta (finished sixth!), Tampa, Savannah, Charlotte this week, Ponte Vedra Beach next. LaCava walked the course, marked up his yardage book, ate Italian for dinner and checked into his room at the Residence Inn in downtown Savannah. On Thursday morning Joe, compulsively punctual, was at a nearby private airport long before Fred arrived.

Joe loaded the trunk of his rented Chevy Impala with Fred's stuff. (Fred, with his tender back, doesn't lift anything heavier than a sand wedge.) Joe drove to the golf course at the Westin Savannah Harbor Resort and Spa for their 12:30 pro-am tee time. Fred was tired and headachy. They talked about ... almost nothing. Car silence, you probably know, is the ultimate sign of comfort between two grown men.

Joe has been on Fred's bag for 20 years and he has been on TV a million times, but your eye goes to the star of the show and Joe has never become a Fannie or a Fluff or a Stevie. Which is how Joe wants it. He's a barrel-chested man with model posture often in Adidas running shoes, little NBA socklets, pleated shorts, an Under Armour golf shirt and a floppy hat embroidered with the logo of the New York Giants. You maybe know that Fred likes sports. Joe, who played football, basketball and golf at Newtown (Conn.) High, does too. He's 46, four years younger than his boss, and he's not going anywhere. He's perfect for Fred. He knows what to say when and when to say nothing.

Friday in Savannah was a brand-new day for Fred. The Legends is a two-man, three-day better-ball event, and Couples played with old friend Jay Haas. Between them in the first round, they made birdies on half the holes and pars on the others. (For the three rounds they were 23 under and tied for fourth.) In Fred's fantasy life he's the centerfielder for the Yankees, and on this day he was on a team, with Joe and Jay and Jay's caddie, Tommy Lamb. Fred lives for that feeling, being part of the team, and Joe does too. Last year's Presidents Cup, with Fred the captain of the U.S. team, Haas as his assistant, Joe the unofficial caddie captain and Michael Jordan around all week, was like a shot of adrenaline for Fred. He's still living off it. It has kept Joe on the road, and he's not complaining.

In Savannah on Friday, Couples and Haas were paired with Tom Lehman and Bernhard Langer. Langer was introduced on the 1st tee as the winner of 85 worldwide tournaments. Team Fred took a stab at the list. They knew of the two wins at Augusta, of course, and the '85 win at Hilton Head and the 10 wins on the Champions tour. After that they were stumped. Fred: Did he win like 70 times in Europe? How much fun do you think they were having, playing Name Bernhard's Titles while making birdies and competing for valuable cash and prizes? Every time you looked up, Fred—with the tannest left hand (no glove) and ankles (no socks) in golf—had an arm around somebody, and his whole gang was giggling about something.

Between them, Fred and Joe have more than 50 years on Tour, and 50,000 observations, questions and stories. When not over a shot, they're usually talking about something. Fred loves this one: Lehman's caddie on Friday, and for most of the past 18 years, was Andy Martinez, a Californian loaded with Kumbaya spirit. At the 1995 Ryder Cup two U.S. caddies got into a fight. Andy gathered around the loopers. C'mon guys, we're a brotherhood. We got to get along. Fistfighting, that's so childish. Andy polled the group, looking for the year of each caddie's last fight. Fifth grade, ninth grade, seventh grade, 1972. And then it was Joe's turn: "January."

"January?"

"Some drunk at a Giants game was asking for it."

Davis Love III, who is close to both Fred and Joe, makes the point that Joe is a true New Yorker (despite his Connecticut plates). He's a Giants fan and a Yankees fan and he's accustomed to winning. Over the years Love has often employed Joe on weeks when Fred has been off. "Joe leads," Love says. "Fred and I both need that. Joe's very sure of himself. He'll say to me, 'Nothing but a seven-iron, Loveman.' Fred's an artist. He has so much God-given ability. And Joe manages that ability."

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