Saturday 17 March 2018

Mercurial Rory McIlroy - a young man in a hurry

Rory has never been afraid to make tough decisions from an early stage of his career as he seeks to shape his destiny at the highest levels of professional golf

Rory McIlroy with his caddie Harry Diamond at Bridgestone this weekend. Photo: Getty Images
Rory McIlroy with his caddie Harry Diamond at Bridgestone this weekend. Photo: Getty Images
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Rory McIlroy has never shirked from making tough decisions that he feels are in the best interests of his career.

The latest example of McIlroy's single-minded approach was the split with caddie JP Fitzgerald after nine years treading the fairways of the world's golf Tours together.

How that works out in the short term at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA Championship next week remains to be seen.

It does, however, serve to remind the world that McIlroy has always shown himself ready, willing, and able to embrace change, particularly in the personnel around him, from a young age.

He is only ten years in the pro game and already has altered course in a number of key areas, notably management companies, in a relatively short time.

Consider this: Darren Clarke started with Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler's International Sports Management in 1990, and is still in the ISM stable.

Pádraig Harrington's first, and only management company, has been IMG (International Management Group) which he joined in 1995 when he quit the amateur ranks.

Paul McGinley spent years with ISM before opting out to look after this own affairs.

Tiger Woods was an IMG client since August 1996 and only left them in 2011 when his agent and friend Mark Steinberg parted company with IMG.


McIlroy has had three management companies handling his affairs, the most recent being his own firm, Rory McIlroy Inc, set up in 2013 after he left Horizons Sports Management.

To an extent, he is a young man in a hurry who has initiated many of the changes that he felt were required at particular stages of his development as a person and as a tournament player.

On the golfing front, Rory, at the tender age of 28, feels he is overdue a fifth Major, and he is willing to make any changes necessary to propel him forward in his career.

Ultimately, for a player of his quality, Major championships are the measuring stick.

So far, McIlroy has four, leaving him just two short of Nick Faldo's European record of six. Given his talent, he can reasonably target beating Faldo's tally.

In the meantime, McIlroy remains a fascinating character on and off the course.

He can thrill the galleries and destroy the opposition when he is on song, and watching him perform at his best is a treat for golf fans worldwide.

Away from the golf course, McIlroy combines a naturally friendly, outgoing personality with a hard-nosed practicality when he feels the time has come for a change. His status and charisma make him box-office in terms of popularity and news worthiness.

He certainly can't please all the people, all the time. Here are some of the people and firms that have experienced highs and lows with McIlroy in the last decade.

Gordon Faulkner

September 2007 - July 2008

Faulkner was McIlroy's first professional caddie. The Derry-born Faulkner was an experienced bagman who worked with McIlroy in the last stages of his amateur career, including the 2007 Open at Carnoustie where he won the Silver Medal as leading amateur, and the Walker Cup that September. "Obviously I was disappointed when I lost the job with Rory, because I could see what great potential he had. We have remained friends and I have nothing but admiration for what he has achieved," said Faulkner in 2011.

Holly Sweeney


Rory and Holly were childhood sweethearts and their relationship lasted from their schooldays into the early years of McIlroy's golfing career.

It ended very publicly when the golfer linked up with Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, and Holly was devastated. "Obviously we'd separated before, but that wasn't for any other reason than that we thought we were too young to be in such a serious relationship. This was a different thing altogether," she told the Sunday Mirror in 2011, but all's well that ends well.

Holly and partner Jeff Mason, an ice hockey star, got married last year and Rory sent good wishes, as did Holly for the golfer's recent wedding to Erica Stoll.

Chubby Chandler and ISM

September 2007 - October 2011

A long-established connection and friendship with Darren Clarke helped bring McIlroy into the ISM fold when he turned professional. Chandler negotiated a string of deals for his young protegé and all seemed well until Rory, then 22, told the ISM boss after the Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda that he wanted to leave.

Tim Rosaforte quoted Chandler in Golf Digest as saying: "I thought we had a better relationship than that, but he had his reasons. He said he wanted to freshen things up a bit. It's one of those things; he's a 22-year-old with a very strong head who wants to make his own decisions, and one of his decisions was he didn't want us to manage him any longer."

Graeme McDowell, who had left ISM in 2007 to join Horizon Sports, denied he had any influence on McIlroy's decision. The 2010 US Open champion said: "I've heard I'm supposed to have enticed Rory, well I purposely took a back seat in it all.

"Rory makes his own decisions. I certainly wasn't going to sway him."

Horizon Sports

October 2011 - May 2013

The signing of McIlroy - who would be their number one player in a stable that included McDowell and Shane Lowry - was a coup for the Dublin-based company at the time.

Nobody could have predicted the split that was to happen in May 2013, particularly as it came just a few months after McIlroy signed a huge deal with Nike, rumoured to be worth around $200 million over ten years. A new company, Rory McIlroy Inc, was set up and the ensuing legal dispute about commissions and loss of earnings was settled eventually in Dublin in February 2015.

Neither side disclosed the terms of the settlement, but reports suggested that Horizon were to receive $25 million (€21.8 million) plus costs.

Caroline Wozniacki

2011 - May 2014

The Danish tennis star and the golfer became a celebrity couple, jetting around the world to see each other when their respective professional lives permitted.

They were engaged to be married but McIlroy got cold feet. Unfortunately the wedding invitations had already been sent out. "The problem is all mine. The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realise that I wasn't ready for all that marriage entails.

"I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for the great times we've had. Obviously it's quite a difficult time for Caroline and myself. It was mutual and amicable and we both thought it was the best for us, the best for both of us."

That was not Wozniacki's view. "I was shocked, I thought at least I would get a face-to-face or something but there was nothing. It was just a phone call and then I did not hear from him again," she said in an interview a few months afterwards.

JP Fitzgerald

July 2008 - July 2017

Nine years is a long time for a player-caddie relationship. On average, these partnerships last about three years, so McIlroy and Fitzgerald beat the odds by a considerable margin. That's no great consolation to Fitzgerald who received a phone call from McIlroy last Tuesday week telling him it was over.

"I thanked JP," he said. "JP knows how much I think of him, how much he means to me, and what we've achieved together.

"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'd much rather be angry at myself, and angry at myself for making a wrong decision, than being angry at him."

Irish Independent

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