Players and caddies typically have the staying power of Hollywood marriages. McIlroy acknowledged that his longevity with Fitzgerald bucked the odds. “To last nine years out here, it’s way longer than the norm,” he said.
But McIlroy also acknowledged, “You spend so much time with someone, the little things can start to annoy you.”
The caddie carousel may always be spinning, but few foresaw McIlroy stopping it to eject Fitzgerald on the eve of this tournament, and with the year’s final men’s major, the P.G.A. Championship, coming up next week.
The parting was also particularly surprising because it was delivered in a phone call five days after McIlroy credited Fitzgerald’s fiery pep talk for turning around his opening round at the British Open after he bogeyed five of the first six holes.
At his scheduled news conference Wednesday, the fourth-ranked McIlroy opened by expressing his excitement at returning to a course where he has posted four top-nine finishes in six appearances. Then it was time for questions. A reporter opened by saying, “I’m just going to address the elephant in the room.” McIlroy laughed and interjected, “J. P.’s not that big.”
“I still consider J. P. one of my best friends, one of my closest friends,” McIlroy added, “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.”
In golf, where one season bleeds into the next, there is no good time to make a caddie change, said McIlroy, who didn’t rule out the possibility of working with Fitzgerald in the future.
“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,” McIlroy said. “I would much rather be angry at myself for making a wrong decision than being angry at him.”
McIlroy’s explanation about asserting his independence came on the same day that his main rival, Jordan Spieth, heaped praise on his caddie, Michael Greller, for his role in Spieth’s British Open victory.
Spieth’s bad stretch came on the last day, not the first, and Greller, he said, was a calming influence through it all. Greller…