2017 has been a year of change for, world number four, Rory McIlroy; new clubs and ball, in Taylormade, a new adventure with wife Erica Stroll, and just as the season draws to an end, a new caddie on the bag.
After finishing tied-fourth in the Open Championship in their last start, Monday morning was set to be as calm as any other, but Reuters broke the news early of the split between McIlroy and caddie of nine years, JP Fitzgerald.
Firstly, JP and McIlroy have achieved greatness together and rocketed Rory’s image and career to millions. McIlroy, winning his last major at the 2014 U.S. PGA Championship, teamed up with Fitzgerald in 2008 shortly after turning professional and since then has won four major’s in total.
News: Rory McIlroy & caddie JP have split.
📆: 9 years
⛳️: 29 wins
🏆: 4 Majors
🏅: Player of the year
💰: 🇺🇸 & 🇪🇺 money list
Successful team. pic.twitter.com/Tyk21Mf73Q
— Harvey Jamison (@HarveyJamison) July 31, 2017
13 victories on both the PGA and European Tours, four Ryder Cup appearances. plus a list of honours the length of my arm and I’m 6ft 2″!
The pair has been a silent but deadly partnership in the past when getting the job done, unlike the inseparable Phil and ‘Bones’ or brute pairing of Tiger and Steve Williams.
But, why now? The news came as a huge shock to many fans across the world, including myself. Especially after JP telling Rory all the right things at Birkdale last week, turning his tournament around.
If all it takes to get Rory McIlroy firing on all cylinders, in a firm voice from his caddie, is ‘You are Rory McIlroy. What are you doing? What the f*** are you doing?, then where has that been at Augusta National since his meltdown in 2011?
That, to me, is exactly the reason and it’s too little too late for the pair. McIlroy is a sportsman, he plays full of emotion and blows hot and cold throughout rounds and tournaments, with the latter seeing him fizzle out of contention on the leaderboard, a sight we’ve seen this far too often in recent months.
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) July 20, 2017
He has the game. Just like every commentator points out before the Masters opening round if he plays his best stuff then he can beat the likes of Spieth and DJ. But his mood suffers and as an athlete who pours all his emotions into every single movement on the course, he grows impatient and undoubtedly needs someone to boost his confidence.
Just like every good football team has a weathered captain on the bridge of a ship, the world’s most talented golfer needs a firm voice by his side in the most desperate times.
Compare it to what Tiger Woods had with Stevie Williams for twelve years, a bull dog keeping his man in the zone all round long. Herding fans away and whacking down cameras was all part of the job, to let Tiger be Tiger and just concentrate on executing his next exquisite shot.
Take nothing away from JP, this shouldn’t dent his armour, he has brought Rory huge success and offered him what every golfer desires on the fairways a friend, someone you can always rely on.
With McIlroy already giving his long-time friend the highest praise:
He has taken me from 200 in the world to major champion, McIlroy said of Fitzgerald in 2011.
But McIlroy wants to change.
Come the Sunday evening of the 2017 US PGA Championship, if the Northern Irishman does not win then twelve major championships would have passed without him even contending; six top-tens, three missed cuts, and one solo 17th.
On paper, they alone are mostly stellar achievements, but McIlroy is hunting to go that step further.
This change for McIlroy could offer him a more hardened and ‘all out’ attitude to be gutsy and fearless, to not explode and go in reverse after hitting one bad wedge shot long.
2011 may have shown early signs of the pair not fully coping well under the highest of pressure, after the final-round collapse when a four-shot lead heading into the final 18 holes at Augusta bowed out with a closing 80.
McIlroy could be seen to be notably distressed on the back-nine but there was no rousing Birkdale rally, that took six more years.
Since 2015, even with McIlroy continuously sidelined with injuries, the pair has been stuck in a lackluster rhythm. One of hard-to-take missed cuts, putting woes, magnificent rounds sidetracked by crushing meltdowns and the evading Green Jacket.
Maybe a fresh set of eyes is best for the 28-year-old, a pair that can see Augusta National as a new track, a place that should play into McIlroy’s hands. High-towering drives, high-launching, and soft-landing iron shots should dominate the tournament that has evaded him the most.
These eyes could give Rory McIlroy a renewed sense of playing freedom.
After nine years as caddie the pair won’t part on bad terms, neither party has a bad word to say about the other. Forbes has estimated that JP earned $1.65 million from his percentage of McIlroy’s prize money over the last 12 months until June this year.
It certainly doesn’t do Fitzgerald’s CV any harm having previously caddied for Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke, and Ernie Els. He has been a fantastic side-kick to McIlroy and kickstarted his career, this fresh change is to keep the competitive fires burning for Rory. A change that won’t have been easy to make.