When he graduated from California State University, Chico in the spring of 2004, J.J. Jakovac never thought he’d make a living as a professional caddie on the PGA Tour.
Playing at the NCAA Division II level, Jakovac enjoyed a decorated amateur career, winning a pair of individual national championships in 2002 and 2004, and helping Chico State to a second-place finish as a team in ‘04, the school’s best showing since it captured the national title in 1965-66.
He was invited to play on the 2004 U.S. Palmer Cup Team, a competition between college players from the U.S. and Europe. It was honor rarely bestowed upon a player from the Division II ranks, but Jakovac was different. He had qualified for four consecutive U.S. Amateurs (2001-04) and two U.S. Amateur Public Links, and also reached the finals of the 2003 Western Amateur. On a regional level, he had won the 2000 Northern California Golf Association’s Public Links Championship.
"I thought I would be playing," the now-31-year-old Jakovac said after being eliminated from this year’s U.S. Mid-Amateur, 2 and 1, by Brian Higgins in the first round on Monday at the Country Club of Birmingham’s West Course. "But I like how it worked out because I love my job."
For the past two years, Jakovac has caddied for Ryan Moore, who in 2004 enjoyed one of the most successful amateur seasons in recent memory when he claimed the 2004 U.S. Amateur Public Links, U.S. Amateur, Western Amateur and NCAA Division I individual titles. Moore won his second PGA Tour title last year in Las Vegas, his adopted hometown, where Jakovac also currently resides.
Jakovac was not highly recruited coming out of high school in Napa, Calif., but gained notice following his freshman season at Chico State.. Division I schools, such as Arizona and Oregon, tried to convince him to transfer, but he remained loyal to the only school that had believed in him from the start.
Like so many others today, Jakovac tried to play professional golf. By 2007, he had tired of playing on tour and agreed to caddie for Matt Bettencourt on the Nationwide Tour.
In 2008, he was still working for Bettencourt when he asked his boss if he could Monday-qualify for the Nationwide Tour event in Eugene, Ore. Bettencourt gave him the go-ahead and Jakovac made the field, but missed the cut by a shot. Bettencourt went on to win the tournament, costing Jakovac $12,000 in earnings.
"That was an expensive week," said Jakovac.
That’s when he realized it might be more lucrative to make his living carrying a bag.
In 2009, Bettencourt and Jakovac split and the latter went to work for former University of California-Berkeley standout Peter Tomasulo, who won the Nationwide Tour’s 2010 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic with Jakovac looping. In 2011, after earning a promotion to the PGA Tour, Tomasulo had to shut down his season due to an injury, so Jakovac landed gigs with Zack Miller and John Merrick. When he rejoined Tomasulo for the 2012 PGA Tour season, the partnership lasted for one start before Tomasulo injured himself again, at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego.
Through college golf and the 2004 Palmer Cup, Jakovac became acquainted with Moore. Early in 2012, Moore, who was seeking a caddie, contacted him.
By the end of the year, Moore had secured his second PGA Tour title. Moore enjoyed another solid year in 2013, earning nearly $1.5 million in 22 events to finish 51st in the FedEx Cup standings.
"It’s a good job," said Jakovac. "He’s a great player. I’ve learned a lot of patience from him. He lets things come to him instead of forcing a lot of stuff."
Since leaving the pro ranks and regaining his amateur status in 2011, Jakovac hasn’t played much tournament golf. But depending on the city or the schedule, he’ll sneak in some practice time or a friendly round.
Knowing that the Mid-Amateur would be contested during a break in the PGA Tour schedule, Jakovac asked Moore if he could qualify. Moore, a three-time USGA champion and member of the 2003 Walker Cup Team, told him to go for it.
Once in the field, Jakovac played two solid stroke-play qualifying rounds, shooting even-par 70 on the East Course on Saturday and an even-par 71 on the West Course in Sunday’s rainstorm to earn the No. 10 seed. Unfortunately, his strong play abandoned him late in Monday’s match with Higgins.
After Jakovac took a 2-up lead with a birdie on the par-5 10th hole, Higgins won the next two holes. Jakovac briefly regained a 1-up advantage on 13, but then double-bogeyed 14 and closed with consecutive bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17.
"I wish I could have played better today," said a dejected Jakovac. "I was a different guy out there today. I just couldn’t hit. I three-putted a couple of times and [Higgins] played pretty well to beat me."
Jakovac won’t have too much time to dwell on the loss. Next week, he’ll caddie for Moore when he defends in Las Vegas. Then, it’s off to Asia for two events in Malaysia and China.
"A lot of travel", he said. "But I really like working for him."
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.