Rory McIlroy knew what the first question would be when he began his pre-tournament press conference Wednesday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
“Let’s address the elephant in the room,” one reporter started.
“J.P.’s not that big,” McIlroy quipped, inducing laughter among the media.
McIlroy, speaking Wednesday at Firestone Country Club, said he split with longtime caddie J.P. Fitzgerald because he “needed to mix things up.”
McIlroy, 28, and Fitzgerald had spent nine years together. They first teamed up in July 2008.
“It’s a big change. J.P. has been a huge part of my life for the last decade,” McIlroy said. “A lot of great times on and off the golf course. I still consider J.P. one of my best friends, closest friends, but sometimes to preserve a personal relationship you have to sacrifice a professional one, and that’s sort of the decision I came to at the end. … I was getting really hard on him on the golf course, and I don’t want to treat anyone like that. I felt like it was the right thing to do. Never seems like a good time to do it.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, but at the end of the day I felt like it was a decision I needed to make,” McIlroy continued. “We got to a point where if I hit the wrong shot I was getting mad at J.P., and I’d much rather be angry at myself.”
Reports surfaced Monday morning that McIlroy had split with Fitzgerald, and later that day the Telegraph reported that McIlroy’s friend Harry Diamond would caddie for him at the Bridgestone and next week’s PGA.
The British Open at Royal Birkdale was their last event together, and McIlroy finished tied for fourth. McIlroy also credited Fitzgerald that week for helping turning his opening 18 holes around after a sluggish start.
McIlroy said it wasn’t a firing or breakup, but rather a change. He didn’t rule out reconnecting with Fitzgerald in the future.
“Player-caddie relationships have their ups and downs,” he said. “There were probably just a few too many of those over the past year or so.”
Diamond, a good player in his own right, is McIlroy’s longtime friend and was the best man at his wedding. McIlroy said Diamond will be on the bag the next two weeks and whatever comes after that will be figured out later.
“I’ll take on a bit more of the responsibility, and I have actually enjoyed that,” McIlroy said. “I just needed someone who knew me, and that’s why I picked Harry for the next two weeks. We’ll see how it goes.”
McIlroy won all four of his majors with Fitzgerald on his bag. They also won twice together at Quail Hollow, which next week will stage the PGA Championship, when it hosted the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I have a great record at Quail Hollow and feel like I have a good chance,” McIlroy said, “but I don’t think I have a greater sense of urgency.”
McIlroy tees off alongside Jordan Spieth and Jason Day at 8:10 a.m. (ET) Thursday.