The timing of the decision rather than the actual ending of the nine-year player-caddie relationship between Rory McIlroy and JP Fitzgerald was the biggest surprise for Paul McGinley.
McIlroy ended a partnership with long-time caddie Fitzgerald at the weekend, a partnership that took the Northern Irishman to four major titles and the top of the world rankings. McIlroy will have a new caddie on his bag at the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational this week.
Fitzgerald’s sacking, which McIlroy is expected to confirm on his arrival at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, comes barely a week after he publicly thanked his bagman for jolting him into gear when he made a poor start to the British Open.
McGinley would be more familiar than most with the two central characters, given that Fitzgerald was his own caddie for more than six years before they parted company, leading some time later to the Rory-JP alliance that enjoyed massive success including four major championships, a number of many other important tournaments and led to huge financial benefits.
“Rory is very much his own man and makes his own decisions,” said McGinley. “Nine years is way past what the average would be so they have survived a long time together in the high pressure atmosphere at the top of the world rankings. They have won four majors and I think they can both walk away with their heads held high. It is one of those things that happen. Is there a player-caddie relationship that has lasted a whole career?
“The timing is surprising. He’s obviously got his reasons. I don’t know what they are, so I don’t want to be critical of him. I haven’t spoken to him. I don’t know what his reasons are. Going into the last major of the year, it’s surprising that he has made this decision going into a major on a golf course (Quail Hollow, Charlotte, North Carolina, for the PGA Championship next week) on which he has won twice with JP.”
McIlroy will answer questions about his caddie tomorrow, according to his manager. There was silence from the McIlroy camp earlier in the day, apart from manager Sean O’Flaherty telling the Golf Channel: “Nothing to share. Rory will address all questions on Wednesday in Akron.”
McIlroy and Fitzgerald have worked together for nine years, taking in his four major wins. Forbes estimated that Fitzgerald earned $1.65 million (€1.39) from his cut of McIlroy’s prize money over the 12 months to June this year. McIlroy, who won his last major at the 2014 US PGA Championship, employed Fitzgerald in 2008 shortly after turning professional. The pair enjoyed a brilliantly successful partnership as McIlroy took over from Tiger Woods as the game’s dominant force and became world number one.
“He has taken me from 200 in the world to major champion,” McIlroy said of Fitzgerald in 2011.
At this month’s Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, McIlroy credited Fitzgerald for getting him going amid a run of bogeys. He said Fitzgerald told him: “You’re Rory McIlroy. What the fuck are you doing?” After fighting back to shoot one-over 71 in the first round, McIlroy told reporters that Fitzgerald had done a “great job”.
It now looks like Birkdale was Fitzgerald’s swan song with McIlroy, who flirted with contention in the final round before finishing equal fourth.
Fitzgerald though has taken a great deal of criticism through his nine years with McIlroy. The boss invariably stood by his man, indeed stoutly defended him and only a couple of weeks ago lauded him for the way he spoke and acted in activating his challenge for the Open Championship.
“Tell me a caddy who doesn’t make mistakes and show me a player who doesn’t make mistakes,” said McGinley who travelled to Lahinch yesterday to join his fellow winners in celebrating their victories in the South of Ireland Championship.
“We don’t know that situation on 10. Maybe JP said to him, Rory it’s a three wood, and Rory said, no, it’s a three iron. We don’t know. Unless you are privy to what’s going on, it’s very easy to be judgemental from the outside. And it’s very easy to be judgemental in hindsight.
“Until you are on the ground and you know, the only person who can answer that question is Rory or JP.”
McGinley preferred not to use the word sacking where the parting of the ways has come about, stressing that these relationships simply are not destined to go on forever.
“You don’t sack, I don’t like that word, it’s more a parting of the ways,” he stressed. “JP was with me for six or seven years. After that time, we sat down and said, maybe this has run its course, maybe it would freshen both of us up if we get different jobs. So I said to him, I’ll tell you what, you keep caddying for me and sound out if there are any other bags going.
“And that’s what happened. Three weeks later he came back to me and said, Thomas Bjorn is looking for a caddy and he’s keen and I said OK, when do you want to start? He said what about two weeks time and I said, fine, that will give me time to get somebody and I got Darren Reynolds. I rang around, Darren was working with Roger Chapman, I spoke to Roger, he said yeah, I understand the Irish scene. And Darren was with me for 10 years and we had a lot of success, two Ryder Cups and won a lot of tournaments.”
So who will replace Fitzgerald on one of the most valuable bags in golf? That appointment is unlikely to be made in the near future because Rory apparently has no fixed ideas and hasn’t anyone lined up – which, of course, makes the timing of the decision so difficult to understand.
Phil Mickelson parted ways with his caddie Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay earlier this month after a 25-year partnership that netted the American five major titles.
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