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Sunday, March 3, 2024

‘Fluff’ in Phoenix: A Caddie Legend Makes Yet Another Appearance on a PGA Tour Bag

Scottsdale, Ariz. — A 76-year-old legend strolled the TPC Scottsdale grounds on Friday, for once not bogged down by a 40-pound PGA Tour staff bag.

Mike Cowan, better known in the golf community as “Fluff” for his overgrown silver mustache, is here at the WM Phoenix Open caddying for C.T. Pan (who just missed the cut). But with the rain and frost delays postponing his player’s second-round tee time, the Tour veteran was left with a day to himself. He chose to spend it at the infamous 16th hole Coliseum with his wife and his daughter. Even Cowan was stunned by what he saw sitting among fans at the rowdy par-3 stadium, which seats 20,000.

“My man didn’t play today because of our tee time,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I’ve been with my wife and daughter and some friends of my daughter, just hanging out in the stands at 16.”

“I saw a lot of crazy s—t,” he joked. “They’ve got guys throwing cups out there. It caused quite a commotion. A few guys got yanked [from the stands]. I wish they would have yanked more! It was pretty crazy.”

Cowan has looped on Tour for four decades, helping orchestrate some of the greatest shots and rounds in the game’s history, leaving a trail of cigarette butts along the way. He began his career in 1976 with a two-year stint for Ed Sabo, followed by an 18-year tenure with seven-time PGA Tour winner Peter Jacobsen, who calls Cowan one of his closest friends.

Then, in 1996, Cowan secured the most coveted bag in golf. He caddied for Tiger Woods during his professional debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open and stayed with the 15-time major champion until March 1999 when the pair announced their split. Cowan was right there with Woods when he won the 1997 Masters by a staggering 12 shots. The partnership solidified Cowan as the most famous caddie in the world. SportsCenter commercials featuring the legendary looper are still some of the show’s best.

After three years with Woods, Cowan took the bag of Jim Furyk, where he’s remained for almost 25 years. He was back in the major winner’s circle six years later when Furyk won the 2003 U.S. Open. Furyk, who is known for the signature “loop” at the top of his backswing, is currently battling back injuries that have kept him away from the PGA Tour Champions on and off since ’22.

Cowan has picked up a bag or two in the meantime as Furyk heals, which explains why he’s with Pan in Phoenix. According to Jacobsen, one of Cowan’s greatest assets as a caddie is his ability to jibe with a diverse array of characters on Tour.

“Talk about caddie gymnastics, going up and down and all around with those three different personalities,” Jacobsen says. “For him to be able to caddie for someone with my personality, then to flip to Tiger [Woods] and then to Jim [Furyk], that says a lot about him.”

Cowan, who celebrated his 76th birthday on Feb. 7, says he hopes he can extend his historic career one more year. Then it’ll be time to hang up the caddie bib.

“My daughter has one more year of college, when that’s done, I may be done,” he says. “I’m 76 years old. How much longer do you think that I think I can go? Not much longer. I hope I have another year in me.”

“Carrying these big bags on this Tour is not easy,” Cowan continues.

He’s referring to the cumbersome staff bags that Tour players use, mainly to help display their sponsor logos on the TV broadcast. On the Champions Tour, where Cowan has been caddying for Furyk as of late, lightweight stand bags are perfectly acceptable.

“I hope [Furyk] gets back healthy. That’s who I want to caddie for,” he says.

When asked to pick a favorite shot or memory from his decades on the PGA Tour, Cowan understandably can’t select just one. But Woods’s name of course arises.

“I saw a lot of incredible shots when I worked for Tiger,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of incredible shots from every player I’ve ever worked for. Picking one? Impossible.”

Woods, 48, will return at the Genesis Invitational next week for his first official tournament start since withdrawing from last year’s Masters. The week will be a fascinating indicator of Woods’s competitive form after his subtalar fusion ankle surgery. At the unofficial Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas this December, Woods came in 18th out of 20 players but expressed optimism about playing “one tournament a month.” If he remains healthy, those events will more than likely include the four major championships.

Will Woods add another major to his résumé?

“I have no idea, just like the rest of the world,” Cowan says. “I’d like to see Tiger win another one. Whether that happens or not, as they say these days, it’s in the clouds,” he says.

After a historic career, Cowan hopes to extend his tenure one more year, then hang up the caddie bib.

Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty

Not many are aware that Cowan’s expertise as a caddie stems largely from his own playing prowess. According to Brad Faxon, his tried-and-tested experience allowed him to help his players with all facets of their games—from swing mechanics to mental fortitude. Faxon, an NBC analyst, gravitated toward Cowan as a young New Englander on Tour. When the Rhode Island native heard Cowan’s thick Maine accent, it felt like home.

“What was underrated about Fluff was that he was a very good golfer with a very good swing. Fluff was one of those guys who could help you almost as a sports psychologist, a swing instructor—he knew so much about the game. His demeanor is so calming.”

Jacobsen says the looper was a scratch golfer for the majority of his life and had a memorable competitive edge, even when going head-to-head with top-ranked players.

“Mike always had a little bit of a devil in him,” Jacobsen says. “He’d challenge these big-time major championship-winning pros at any time on a par-3. He would say to Seve Ballesteros, ‘Hey, closest to the pin for $10?’ He owned Curtis Strange. He never lost to Curtis. I think six or seven times Curtis could not get it inside Mike.”

Cowan’s athleticism is proven by his longevity as a caddie. Jacobsen also reveals that the looper has a mean three-point shot, and he’s never lost a game of H.O.R.S.E. But Cowan’s ability to achieve PGA Tour-level stamina was always supplemented by a good smoke.

“Well, he went through all kinds of cigarettes if you follow what I’m saying,” Jacobsen says. “He smoked quite a few.”

Everyone has a Fluff story. Davis Love III points to one particular moment outside the clubhouse at Riviera—the host site of next week’s Genesis—when he met him for the first time in the late 1980s.

“The first time I met him was either ’86 or ’87 at Riviera, back when I was buying Tommy Armour MacGregor drivers looking for a backup for the only good driver I had in my bag. He was sitting on the wall outside the locker room with a 1-2-3-4 wood set of beautiful blond Tommy Armour woods. I looked at the driver and fell in love with it. I asked him how much it would cost and he said $1500. I said, ‘Well I definitely don’t need the 2 or the 4-wood.’ He just looked up, flipped his cigarette ash, and said, ‘It’s a set.’ Now I still have some worthless Tommy Armour fairway woods somewhere,” Love says.

Pan missed the cut at the WM Phoenix Open on Saturday, and it’s uncertain when we’ll see Fluff back on the PGA Tour again. But it’s clear from the internet’s reaction to Fluff’s on-site appearance at TPC Scottsdale that his legendary status is alive and well. 

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