ORLANDO — Tim Tucker thought his days as a PGA Tour caddie were over after he parted ways with his former boss, Bryson DeChambeau, abruptly on the eve of a tournament in 2021. Their split came only a few months after DeChambeau bashed his way to a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
And yet two years later, Tucker found himself guiding another golfer, Kurt Kitayama, to victory at Orlando’s famed Bay Hill course. “I’m just so proud of him,” an emotional Tucker said after Kitayama shot a wild 72 in the final round to hold off the likes of Rory McIlroy, Harris English, Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth, Tyrrell Hatton and Patrick Cantlay, among other prominent tour pros, for a maiden PGA Tour win
Suffice it to say, caddieing for a perfectionist like DeChambeau was a highly demanding job, albeit one that Tucker seemed to embrace. He was on the bag for all eight of DeChambeau’s PGA Tour wins, including the 2020 U.S. Open runaway at Winged Foot. In 2021, though, Tucker quit after the Wednesday pro-am at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.
While DeChambeau left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf last summer, Tucker and he have stayed in touch.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Tucker said. “I got a Christmas gift [for DeChambeau] which a friend of mine made. I talk to him all the time.”
After parting ways with DeChambeau, Tucker returned to his roots looping at Oregon’s famed Bandon Dunes and setting up a luxury shuttle service, LOOP Golf Transportation, to take golfers back and forth from the airport to the resort. Tucker also developed a putting alignment marker called True Aim.
It was both those ventures that led Tucker to the bag of Kitayama. Tucker had befriended Kitayama’s brother, another caddie at Bandon Dunes. Last month, Tucker was in Arizona during the WM Phoenix Open for his True Aim product while Kitayama was there for the tournament and looking for a new looper. “When I [wanted] to make a change [in caddies], I was going to give him a call and my brother helped kind of relay that message,” Kitayama said.
Tucker knew Kitayama was special, having won twice on the DP World Tour before three runner-up finishes on the in his two seasons on the PGA Tour. “I thought he was world class,” Tucker said. “I told him you need to clean up the driver and these guys won’t be able to touch [you]. His putting, chipping and ball striking are elite.”
Kitayama, 30, did clean up the driver and got himself into the final group at Bay Hil. Tucker knows the stresses of looping at last season’s fourth-toughest course on the PGA Tour. He was on the tee at the par-5 sixth hole in 2021, watching DeChambeau attempt to drive the green the weekend of his API win.
Tucker again found himself under pressure at Bay Hill when Kitayama made a triple bogey on the par-4 ninth during the final round, going from two in front to one back. But that’s when the veteran caddie earned his keep, helping Kitayama maintain his composure.
“I was putting for triple, and I just told [Tucker], ‘I still feel comfortable. I didn’t feel out of place. It was just one bad swing.’ He kind of backed me up. He said, ‘You look fine.’ And that helped.”
Kitayama settled his nerves with seven straight pars before a career-defining birdie at the par-3 17th when tied for the lead with McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler and English.
After par on 18, Kitayama’s victory came with a $3.6 million payday given it is a designated event. That means Tucker’s share is in the ballpark of $360,000 or 10 percent of the prize.
Tucker voice cracked as he was asked about the journey Kitayama undertook to get to the PGA Tour. After college golf at UNLV, Kitayama canvassed the Asian Developmental Tour, PGA Tour China, PGA Tour Canada, the Sunshine Tour, the Japan Tour, the Korn Ferry Tour, the Asian Tour and the DP World Tour in search of success. He earned a first professional win in 2018 in Malaysia over John Catlin. On Sunday, he held off charges from McIlroy, English, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler and Tyrrell Hatton.
“I’m so proud of unbelievably proud of him,” Tucker said. “He deserves it. Look at him; look at his smile. He got the monkey off his back, proving he can play with the big boys. I’m anxious to see what he can do the rest of this year.”