Iona Stephen: “Rory must question everything… including his caddie”

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Does Rory McIlroy need to part ways with caddie Harry Diamond if he is to win more Majors and complete the Career Grand Slam?

In Iona Stephen’s latest piece for Today’s Golfer, the former golf pro and expert broadcaster analyses what went wrong for McIlroy at the Masters and what needs to change if Northern Irishman is to end his nine-year drought in the Majors.

There had been so much talk that the pressure and analysis of Rory McIlroy always prove overwhelming at the Masters, but I’d never felt like there was less pressure on his shoulders than this year. His relationship with Augusta National changed in that holed bunker shot on the 72nd hole last year and he admitted it’s the first time he’s felt happy at Augusta National, so I expected him to thrive. 

But despite being in fine form heading down Magnolia Lane and seeming more relaxed than ever in the build-up, he looked out of sorts once the tournament started.

Rory McIlroy raised eyebrows by taking part in CBS' on-course feature at The Masters.

His decision to take part in the on-course feature during the first round raised some eyebrows with three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo among those questioning McIlroy’s move.

For the viewer CBS’ innovation was fantastic, and this kind of access and insight could be game-changing for broadcasting. But with a career Grand Slam on the line, I wonder if it was the right time for Rory to agree to participate in such an in-depth piece of golf media. His insight was fascinating, but in a game of fine margins, even the smallest thing could play a part in throwing a player off.

The other question that always rears its head when Rory performs poorly is whether it’s time for a change of caddie. Is having Harry Diamond, his best friend, as his bagman really the best move?

Harry Diamond and Rory McIlroy celebrate after winning the DP World Tour Championship in 2022.

It’s rarely mentioned when Rory’s playing well, winning events and topping the world rankings, but they’ve been together for more than five years and haven’t found the winning formula in Majors. Ultimately that’s what Rory’s judged on.

When he parted ways with JP Fitzgerald in 2017, the caddie who’d helped him to all four Majors and to World No.1 for the first time, he said “sometimes to preserve a personal relationship you have to sacrifice a professional one.”

He admitted he’d been getting tough on Fitzgerald towards the end, saying “this game drives you to it,” and that he felt the change was needed.

Rory McIlroy and JP Fitzgerald pose with the Claret Jug after winning The Open in 2014.

Should he do the same with Harry? It’s a tough call.

Rory takes so much responsibility and I think his attitude is ‘If I can’t win a Major, I can’t win a Major, changing caddie won’t solve that’. Plus, with Harry being Rory’s best friend, he’s very happy, comfortable and confident with him on the bag. Trust and having one less thing to worry about is vital as a player, especially when you have as much to do as Rory. If you’re happy, you should be able to play at your best.

But sometimes when you’re too comfortable and it is too friendly, you’re not being asked to raise the bar and step up to the mark in the way you would be if it was purely professional.

Rory holds himself to extremely high standards and so maybe his self-discipline is well above average, but I would find it difficult to perform with someone who I was too close to.

Shane Lowry and former caddie Bo Martin celebrate at the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush.

We saw Shane Lowry split with Bo Martin recently, the caddie who helped him win The Open at Royal Portrush in 2019. Nothing had gone wrong, but things had become too personal. He wanted something different and wanted to ensure his relationship with Bo wasn’t damaged.

Knowing Rory a little bit, I think the buck stops with him and that’s probably why he’s not susceptible to the narrative that he needs to change caddie. But he has been with Harry for a long time now and I think he needs to go back to the drawing board and question everything, including the caddie relationship.

What do you think – should Rory McIlroy get a new caddie? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter.

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About the author

Iona Stephen is a golf broadcaster and writes for Today's Golfer.

Iona Stephen – Broadcaster and Today’s Golfer contributor

Iona Stephen is a former professional golfer, who has played on the Ladies European Tour, and is a highly-respected golf broadcaster.

She joined Today’s Golfer as a regular contributor in 2023 and offers insight into the professional game from her life working on the world’s biggest tours.

Stephen’s career has seen her work for Sky Sports Golf, CBS, the BBC, and NBC Golf Channel covering everything from The Masters and The Open, to the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup. She has also hosted prize presentations to a global audience at some of the DP World Tour’s flagship events.

The Scotswoman is as comfortable covering the game from the commentary booth as she is broadcasting in front of the camera and from the course, where she is regularly seen interviewing the world’s best players during their rounds.

Alongside her television work, Stephen also has her own YouTube channel – On The Road With Iona – which has welcomed guests including Jon Rahm, Niall Horan, Rick Shiels, Bronte Law, and Martin Slumbers.

She is also the first-ever female on-course commentator in EA Sports gaming history and can be heard on PGA Tour Road to The Masters.

Outside of golf, Stephen is an ambassador for the charity BIG CHANGE, supporting young people throughout the UK to thrive in life, not just exams. She also has an interest in optimizing health and energy for elite performance in sports and life and has a diploma in sports nutrition and a level 2 PT qualification.

She is also a mentor as part of the Stephen Gallagher Foundation buddy system and has a degree in history of art from the University of St Andrews.

Follow Iona on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and TikTok and find out more at ionastephen.com

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