Sunday 22 April 2018

Who is JP Fitzgerald? The man who helped Rory McIlroy go from 200 in the world to major champion

JP Fitzgerald has been Rory McIlroy's caddie since 2008
JP Fitzgerald has been Rory McIlroy's caddie since 2008
Cormac Byrne

Cormac Byrne

The most successful partnership in the history of Irish golf appears to be coming to an end.

Since becoming his caddie in 2008, JP Fitzgerald has stood alongside Rory McIlroy through triumph and disaster, through major wins, Medinah miracles and Masters meltdowns.

Fitzgerald has earned a lot of money from their exploits (Forbes estimated that Fitzgerald earned $1.65 million from his cut of McIlroy's prize money over the 12 months to June, 2017) over the last nine years and will be a highly sought-after caddie if he finds himself searching for employment this week.

Originally from Castleknock, Fitzgerald represented Baltray as an amateur and lowered the colours of Darren Clark in the semi-final of the Irish Close Championships in 1987.

He attended East Tennessee University on a scholarship.

He would become caddie to his close friend Paul McGinley and was on his bag when the Dubliner sunk that unforgettable putt at the Belfry in 2002.

Darren Clarke was the next Irish golfer to benefit from Fitzgerald's ability as a caddie. Fitzgerald was drafted in as a stand-in caddie at the Irish Open when Clarke's then caddie Billy Foster returned home to Manchester after the birth of his second daughter.

Clarke and Foster parted ways and at the beginning of 2003, Fitzgerald became his permanent bag man.

The pair win the 2003 WGC-NEC Invitational at Firestone but parted ways after the 2004 Masters in Augusta, with Clarke saying that they did so for the sake of their 20-year friendship.

Before joining forces with McIlroy, Fitzgerald also advised Greg Owen and Ernie Els.

Fitzgerald has helped to guide McIlroy to four major wins, Ryder Cup success, three Race to Dubai titles and the FedEx Cup last year.

The advice he has been giving McIlroy hasn't always been praised by golf analysts.

BBC Commentator Jay Townsend suggested in 2011 that McIlroy should fire the Dubliner.

During his on-course commentary, Townsend was critical of McIlroy's decision making as he struggled in for a one-under 70 after being four-under after 10 holes. But it was on Twitter where Townsend was most expressive.

“Some of the worst course management I have ever seen beyond under 10s boys golf competition,” wrote Townsend, after stating that McIlroy should hire Steve Williams, Tiger Woods's ex-caddie, because “JP [Fitzgerald] allowed some SHOCKING course management today.”

The reference to Fitzgerald enraged McIlroy. He tweeted: "shut up ... You're a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing!"

He later said: “I’ve got to stand up for my caddie. JP is one of my closest friends, and I’ve had to deal with it for three years and not really say anything and he’s just kept at him and at him. I just had to say something.

"You know, it’s unfortunate that some people are so opinionated. It started in Switzerland back in 2008. JP has taken me from 200th in the world to major champion and now fourth in the world. I don’t know what it is about Jay or if he has something against JP but some of the criticism that JP takes from him is very unfair.

"I don’t care if he criticises me, because I’m the golfer; I’m the one that hits the shots. I can take the criticism. It’s JP who doesn’t have to do this and can’t stand up for himself in the media.”

Fitzgerald illustrated his ability to say the right thing at the right time during the second round of the recent Open Championship at Royal Birkdale when he delivered some blunt words after a series of bogeys from the Northern Irishman.

“He said to me, ‘You’re Rory McIlroy, what the f*** are you doing?” McIlroy revealed. “At that point, I just mumbled and replied, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ But it definitely helped. He reminded me who I was, what I was capable of.”

It sparked a revival from McIlroy and prompted the world number four to praise Fitzgerald for his conduct.

Hopefully, if McIlroy does seek a new caddie, he maintains his friendship with Fitzgerald, just as Darren Clarke has.

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