Harry proves a Diamond in the rough as Rory McIlroy returns to winning ways

Caddie played vital role with advice to take drop on the 18th following wayward tee shot

 Rory McIlroy celebrates with caddie Harry Diamond after winning the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Golf Club on Sunday. Photograph: Jared C Tilton/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy celebrates with caddie Harry Diamond after winning the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Golf Club on Sunday. Photograph: Jared C Tilton/Getty Images

 

Michael Jordan, the basketball legend, had his own take on that oft-used inspirational phrase. “There’s no ‘I’ in team,” he’d say, before adding: “But there is in win!” And, listening to Rory McIlroy after his win in the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow – the 27th win globally of his career, his 19th on the PGA Tour but first for over 18 months – there was clear messaging from the player that his ending of that drought was all about team work.

In various acknowledgements, his long-time coach Michael Bannon, his newest addition to the coaching ticket Pete Cowen and renowned sports psychologist Dr Bob Rotella were given credit for their work in getting McIlroy back to winning ways.

Yet, it was the man who treads the fairways alongside him and carries the load, physically as well as mentally, who was rightfully recognised. This was the sixth win dating back to 2018 that McIlroy claimed with Harry Diamond as caddie and, while the personal connection of friendship has always been apparent, it was the professional bond – with the player actually listening to the advice offered on the 18th hole and which led to the penalty drop rather than an over-ambitious rescue shot – that proved the winning of the championship.

“Harry was awesome out there, especially that decision on the last. I was ready to get in there and try to play that with a lob wedge and he was like, ‘Let’s take a step back, let’s think about this, where’s the best place you’re hitting your third from?’ So he sort of calmed me down and slowed me down a little bit and said, ‘Pal, let’s just think about this a little bit’.”

The inter-action between the two ultimately led to the right decision but it was also interesting in demonstrating McIlroy’s willingness to actually listen. A sign of maturity? Perhaps. But also a sign of mutual respect in what McIlroy later claimed of the win as probably “our best one”. As he explained: “The tough parts that I’ve had to endure over the last few months, he’s been with me every step of the way and it’s nice to come through all that with him and to get into the winner’s circle again.”

Rory McIlroy celebrates with the trophy alongside wife Erica and daughter Poppy at Quail Hollow. Photograph: Jared C Tilton/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy celebrates with the trophy alongside wife Erica and daughter Poppy at Quail Hollow. Photograph: Jared C Tilton/Getty Images

Certainly, given McIlroy’s issues with getting over the winning line since his 2019 success in the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in China, this latest career win – coming just ahead of next week’s US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in South Carolina – provided validation for the work away from the course that has been done.

“There’s been a lot of hard work. I’ve put my head down, I haven’t really looked too much in either direction, I’ve just tried to do what I need to do. You know, for a couple of months there, all that hard work seemed like it was not really getting anywhere, wasn’t providing me with much,” admitted McIlroy, who revealed he had been troubled by a neck injury which occurred after hitting a 3-iron on the range on the eve of the tournament and which required medical attention.

Given how recently Cowen has been added on to McIlroy’s coaching ticket, that he closed the deal provided satisfaction, as he sets about adding to his career haul of four Majors (the last of them back in 2014). “It’s satisfying to see the work is paying off, but it’s just the start. There’s so much more I want to achieve and so much more I want to do in the game.”

History tells us that a win can spark a period of dominance for McIlroy. For example, his PGA Championship win at Kiawah Island in 2012 was followed up the following month by back-to-back wins in the Deutsche Bank Championship and the BMW Championship in the FedEx Cup playoffs; while, in 2014, his Open Championship win at Royal Liverpool was immediately followed by wins in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA.

McIlroy – who moved from 15th up to seventh in the updated world rankings – isn’t playing this week’s PGA Tour stop, the Byron Nelson in Texas, and will seek to take his winning form on to next week’s second Major of the year.

“This victory’s very important going into Kiawah in a couple weeks’ time,” he explained. “Obviously I played really well there last time. I’m honestly not sure whether they’ve made any changes to the golf course since, but I’ll go up there and try to do my homework and refamiliarise myself with the layout a little bit.

“It’s certainly great timing. This is obviously a huge confidence boost going in there knowing that my game is closer than it has been. I mean, I’ll be able to poke holes in everything that I did, it’s certainly far from perfect, but this one is validation that I’m on the right track.”

McIlroy wins with Diamond

2018
Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill (by four strokes)

2019
The Players at TPC Sawgrass (by one stroke)
RBC Canadian Open (by seven strokes)
Tour Championship (by three strokes)
WGC-HSBC Champions (in playoff)

2021
Wells Fargo Championship (by one stroke)

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