AKRON, OHIO – Boiled down to its simplest form, Rory McIlroy ended his nine-year working relationship with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald because it was time.
Player-caddie relationships aren’t forever – Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” Mackay are evidence of that – and McIlroy made the difficult decision to cut Fitzgerald loose after a frustrating week at the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
“I still consider J.P. 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,” McIlroy said Wednesday in advance of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club.
For at least the next two weeks – McIlroy will be among the favorites at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club next week – Harry Diamond, a longtime friend, will caddie for McIlroy. After that, McIlroy will evaluate what to do for a long-term caddie.
Fitzgerald and McIlroy began their working relationship in 2008 and though some had suggested a change was due, McIlroy had remained fiercely loyal.
It was Fitzgerald who barked at McIlroy early in the first round at the Open, saying, “You’re Rory McIlroy, what the **** are you doing?” and earned the player’s praise for helping to reverse a lackluster start.
By the end of the Open, McIlroy had decided to replace Fitzgerald. He wanted to do it after the final round but ultimately informed Fitzgerald of his decision in a phone conversation two days after the Open.
“I thanked J.P. for everything,” McIlroy said. “J.P. 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 at the end of the day 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 and angry at myself for making a wrong decision than being angry at him, and that was really why.”
Fitzgerald was on the bag for all four of McIlroy’s major championship victories. After McIlroy won the FedEx Cup last year, he paid Fitzgerald $1.05 million, prompting the caddie to say “a tsunami” had landed in his bank account.
McIlroy said he didn’t like hearing Fitzgerald was “fired or sacked or axed,” insisting that’s not what happened. McIlroy called it a change in his career path and did not rule out the possibility of Fitzgerald caddying for him again in the future.
“I think we did as well as we could,” McIlroy said. “We maybe could have won a couple of more times and we probably want a couple of rounds back that got away from us. But I think we both walked away from at least the player-caddie relationship with our heads held high and really happy with what we’ve achieved together.”
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McIlroy said he is pacing off his own yardages and finds it refreshing. Diamond is an accomplished player himself, having won tournaments at home in Ireland, and he has caddied for McIlroy before. Diamond has business interests that may keep him from becoming a full-time caddie but McIlroy said he is keeping all options open.
“I just needed someone who knew me and knew my thought process, McIlroy said. “I might think a little bit differently than some of the other players out here, might come to decisions in a different way. I might go in a different way to get to the same decision. I just needed someone that knew me and that’s why I took Harry for these couple of weeks and as I said, we’ll see how it goes.”