Split not personal, strictly business

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy hits a shot during practice at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The world No. 4 recently ended a nine-year professional relationship with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy hits a shot during practice at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. The world No. 4 recently ended a nine-year professional relationship with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

McIlroy insists dissolution was on good terms as best friend caddies for him at Bridgestone

AKRON (Ohio) • Rory McIlroy has explained how the maintenance of a valued friendship with J.P. Fitzgerald was key to the Northern Irish golfer parting company with his caddie of nine years.

McIlroy, who refused to rule out a reunion with Fitzgerald, also admitted to unease following terse moments between them in recent times.

News that the world No. 4 had called time on one of the most high-profile alliances in sport broke on Monday. The four-time Major winner, who will have his best friend, Harry Diamond, on the bag for the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational this week and the US PGA Championship after that, addressed the matter at Akron on Wednesday.

"It's a big change," he said. "J.P. 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 on and off the golf course.

"I still consider J.P. one of my best 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."

He recently missed the cut at the Irish Open and the Scottish Open before rallying to finish in a tie for fourth at the British Open.

He accepted the blame and opened up on the split with Fitzgerald, who previously worked for four-time Major winner Ernie Els.

"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," said McIlroy.

He also stated that Fitzgerald had not been "fired, sacked or axed". He said: "There's nothing to say that J.P. might not work for me again at some point, but right now, I felt like I needed a bit of a change."

It remains to be seen whether one of the most coveted caddie jobs will actually come up for grabs.

For now, Diamond, who is part of a successful family business in Belfast, appears happy to go with the flow.

"We'll see how the next two weeks go, but I'm not ruling anything out," McIlroy said. "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 needed someone who knew my thought process."

McIlroy has 22 pro victories, 13 of them on the PGA Tour, but has not won a title since claiming the Tour Championship to wrap up the FedExCup title last September.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2017, with the headline 'Split not personal, strictly business'. Print Edition | Subscribe