By now, all the usual spin will probably have been put on the situation to say that the parting of ways between Rory McIlroy and JP Fitzgerald, his caddie of nine years, was amicable. In fairness, that is maybe the only way to proceed when the two of them will be seeing each other at every tournament for the foreseeable future.
However, though word has it that McIlroy sacked Fitzgerald, not a few will be asking if that is the right way round. Could JP have sacked McIlroy?
It would be something of a miracle if the true story does not have its origins in what happened on the Thursday of the Open. That was when McIlroy was 5-over-par for six holes and looking like a man who was 5 over. His shoulders were slumped and he was giving a sad shake of the head every time he missed a putt.
Fitzgerald, who was more than mildly irritated, decided to speak out. Though plenty of caddies think twice about delivering home truths, Fitzgerald was in no mood to tread carefully. He said precisely what was on his mind, and everyone else’s for that matter, “You’re Rory McIlroy for heaven’s sake. What the —- are you doing?”
McIlroy mumbled a grudging, “Whatever,” but he would later concede just how much that rebuke did for him: “It helped, it definitely helped.” By the end of the week, as everyone knows, the player was 5-under par as opposed to 5 over and picking up the $480,000 prize-money attached to a share of fourth place. (Presumably a healthy amount of that went to JP?)
Now the trouble is that golfers, whatever they might say, don’t really like to be told anything they don’t want to hear. They are used to people saying, “Yes” to them, and it would only have taken someone in the McIlroy camp to have said, “JP shouldn’t be speaking to you like that,” for the seeds of doubt to be sown.
Just listen to what Johan Elliot, owner of the Sportyard management company and a man who has had such stars as Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer on his books, had to say about why he is nowadays more likely to take women athletes under his wing than male golfers. Elliot suspects that golfers, at a certain level, stop realising what is important in life and what isn’t: “Golfers tend to lose perspective. I don’t blame them, because the whole arena fosters that.”
The intriguing thing about the McIlroy situation, if any of the above is applicable, is that McIlroy spent long years backing JP to the hilt when the media and others were saying that the caddie did not have enough in the way of authority. Take, for instance, McIlroy’s meltdown at the 2011 Masters. When that happened, McIlroy spelt out to the press that it was not JP’s fault that he had lost. It was his and his alone. The pair went on from there to win the next major on offer.
JP has grown into one of the best caddies in the business and won four majors with his man. He will get another bag for sure if that is what he wants. Yet, he is no less well-qualified to do as Jim “Bones” Mackay – Phil Mickelson’s ex-caddie – has done in being snapped up by one of the TV channels.
He would be as good an ambassador in that environment as he has been in the caddying community.
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