Rory McIlroy confirmed he had parted ways with his caddie of nine years JP Fitzgerald at his pre-tourney presser on Wednesday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The reason provided by the world no. 4 was basically the golfer-caddie version of the breakup line, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But…it actually is you, too. Hey, a relationship always involves at least two people. However, it was Rory’s most honest, diplomatic explanation.
“It’s a big change,” said McIlroy. “JP has been a huge part of my life for the last decade. We started in July 2008 and went all the way up until July of this year. A lot of great times; a lot of great times on and off the golf course. I still consider JP one of my best friends, one of my closest friends, but sometimes to preserve a personal relationship you might have to sacrifice a professional one and that was sort of the decision that I came to in the end.
“I was getting very hard on him on the golf course and I didn’t want to treat someone — I don’t want to treat anyone like that but sometimes the game drives you to mad. I thanked JP for everything. JP knows how much I think of him, how much he means to me, what we’ve achieved together, and it wasn’t an easy decision.
“But I felt like it was a change that I needed to make because I got to the point where, if I didn’t play a good shot or if I made a wrong decision, I was getting more frustrated at him than I was at myself. I would much rather be angry at myself for making a wrong decision than being angry at him.”
That’s well said because there are a fair number of players that are unable to take responsibility of their own actions and use their caddies as punching bags (i.e. Bubba Watson and Ted Scott–this relationship works because Teddy believes its part of his job and would prefer Bubba to blame him if it’ll make him play better and blow off the steam, essentially). IMHO, it’s a character flaw if you can’t hold yourself accountable. I mean, we all have are shortcomings, but just saying this is one that comes to light in the player-caddie dynamic.
It was a tough decision, obviously, and as for the timing that confused some people because of the way McIlroy praised Fitzgerald for the timely pep talk after getting off to a rough start in the first round of the Open at Royal Birkdale a few weeks ago.
“That was just more of a case of giving credit where credit’s due,” said Rory. “I hate the term fired, or sacked or axed …
“I felt like it was the right thing to do and I don’t think there was any good time to do it.”
He added that he and JP and “the talk” last Tuesday.
“It was a really tough decision to make, but I have four tournament rounds here to get used to having someone else on my bag going into the last major of the year,” said McIlroy.
Rory also didn’t rule out the possibility of working with JP again in the future. In other words, he gave golf’s version of “we just need a break, but we might get back together” kind of thing that happens in romantic relationships all the time.
“There’s nothing to say that JP mightn’t work for me again at some point but right now I just felt like I needed a little bit of a change. I just changed my path a little bit, but maybe in the future that path might come back to where it was. Right now I just needed to mix things up a little bit. JP understood that and we’re still all good.”
For now, it is unclear who will be on his bag permanently, but for the next two weeks, his childhood friend and best man at his wedding Harry Diamond will take over the duties. Diamond was a top amateur player and now works for his family’s successful business in Belfast.
“We’ll see how the next two weeks go but I’m not ruling anything out,” said Rory. “It could be two weeks. It could go longer than that. If we have a couple of good weeks here, you never know. We’ll see how it goes. But I think that decision will be up to Harry rather than me. Obviously he’s got his own thing going on back home but a couple of wins might change things.
“He knows me, he knows my game, he’s caddied for me before, he knows my personality. He’s a very good player in his own right but he knows me and that was the big thing about the next two weeks. I just needed someone who knew me and knew my thought process.”
Sounds like it’s a win-win for both Rory and Harry. Since Harry works for his family’s business, I’m guessing he could always take a leave of absence for x-amount of time if it works out with Rory, and even if it’s only for a few months, he’ll probably be able to go back to his former position. Options!
During Wednesday’s practice round, Rory was doing something we haven’t seen him do in a very long time — carrying a yardage book and pacing off numbers.
“I’ve enjoyed the last couple of days of carrying a yardage book, doing my own numbers, pacing stuff out, really getting into the shot, something I haven’t done for a few years,” said McIlroy.
You know, that actually might help Rory. I know other top players that have made similar changes, like carrying a yardage book and getting their own numbers — sometimes working with their caddie and other times not relying on a professional caddie who is just there to carry the bag and provide companionship and conversation. Basically, I’ve heard guys say that it’s helped them with their focus/concentration and just to get their head into the game. Which is essentially what Rory said.
So, this switch could be a really good thing. (And FFS, the course management that we’ve seen just this year from Rory and JP… I mean, how many times have we seen him make solid contact and then look in confusion when the ball flies over the green? Too many times. So, I really think Rory doing his own yardages is a positive.)
We’ve also seen success from other players when they sack a professional caddie and replace him with a good friend who is also a great golfer in his own right (and many of the pro caddies are former pros or had solid amateur careers). One recent example: last year Tommy Fleetwood hired one of his best mates Ian Finnis to loop for him and received criticism/skepticism for the move.
Since the start of 2017, Fleetwood went from no. 99 in the world rankings to no. 15 (as of this week’s edition of the OWGR). I remember after Tommy won in Abu Dhabi — where he held off Dustin Johnson — that he mentioned how he’d gotten a hard time taking on Finnis and how the victory validated his decision. Fleetwood has also notched an additional seven top-10 finishes worldwide, including runner-up at the WGC-Mexico Championship and fourth at the U.S. Open.
“I think that can’t be underestimated,” said Fleetwood during the U.S. Open in June “…Having your friend with you…No matter what, that’s something when you’re always going to walk up the 18th green with your best mate.”
Meanwhile, I got a chuckle out of this answer from Jordan Spieth during his presser:
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 2, 2017