Bagging top caddie like JP pays off for Rory McIlroy at Open Championship
Standing alongside every great golfer is an equally great colleague that carries his or her bag.
Throughout the years, the famous player-caddie pairings have been well documented. Tiger Woods and Steve Williams. Phil Mickelson and Jim 'Bones' Mackay. Jim Furyk and Mike 'Fluff' Cowan. All recognisable partnerships.
For, while on the surface all you see is an extra pair of hands to lug the oversized golf bag around 18 holes, a good caddie is worth his weight in gold.
What they can provide on any given tournament week will usually be the deciding factor on who makes a charge for a win, or who is struggling to make the cut, and all are unique in their abilities.
Most will be out walking the course on a Monday or Tuesday, mapping out the various contours, humps and hollows so there are no nasty surprises come Thursday.
Most will add an extra perspective during a round, giving their opinion on what they feel is the best way to approach a particular shot. Caddies will know their players inside and out, from yardages to preferred shot styles.
Most will play the anger management role, acting as a calming influence when a round is going down the drain - Jon Rahm's caddie Adam Hayes has had to play that role on more than one occasion with the emotional Spaniard.
Some caddies will act as a wake-up call.
Enter J.P. Fitzgerald.
As Rory McIlroy floundered his way around the first six holes of Royal Birkdale on Thursday afternoon, Fitzgerald was about to give the best advice that any caddie can give to his player.
"You're Rory McIlroy, what the f*** are you doing?" the Dubliner questioned the downbeat Holywood man as the pair stood on the sixth tee, McIlroy having bogeyed four of his opening five holes.
Disrespectful to his employer? Perhaps. But it worked.
Despite reaching the turn at five-over par, Fitzgerald's words cut through to McIlroy, who fought back remarkably to finish his opening round at just one-over.
Spurred on, McIlroy then fought through the torrid conditions in Southport yesterday to add a two-under 68 and improve to one-under for the tournament.
From being an early write-off, the World No.4 is now inside the top 10 and looks every bit the golfer that has won four Majors in the past.
Who's been alongside him for all of them? Caddie Fitzgerald, an ever-present in the McIlroy camp, and now one of the Ulsterman's most trusted friends.
When McIlroy burst onto the scene in 2007, it was with Fitzgerald on the bag, the Irishman adding experience to the young upstart's raw talent.
It was a match made in heaven. Fitzgerald, having previously been on the bag for Paul McGinley - famously leaping for joy when McGinley holed the winning putt at the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry - Darren Clarke and Ernie Els, was the calming influence in the McIlroy ranks any time the young man got flustered.
Together they won the 2011 US Open at Congressional, a remarkable comeback after the then 21-year old had collapsed at The Masters at Augusta just two months prior.
McIlroy passionately defended his caddie after scathing comments from pundit Jay Townsend in July of that year, further solidifying their relationship, and with Fitzgerald on the bag he added two US PGA Championships (2012 and 2014) and an Open title (2014) to his Major haul.
Without J.P., it's questionable if McIlroy would be where he is. The veteran caddie shaped his fledgling career, and in that time they formed an unbreakable bond that has blossomed into what it is today.
Thursday proved that McIlroy still needs the Dubliner with him every step of the way. Yesterday proved that's not a bad thing at all.
Standing alongside every great golfer is an equally great compatriot that carries his or her bag.
With McIlroy, J.P. Fitzgerald has become one of the greatest.