Rory McIlroy forcefully defends 'unfair' U.S. Open caddie criticism

GULLANE, Scotland — The last few weeks have provided ample time for Rory McIlroy to reflect.

Some golfers choose to double-down on their heartbreaks with more golf, while others chase their shot of pain with a sip of cold reality, but McIlroy’s approach to the latest shin-kick in his major championship life hasn’t been a response at all. It has been silence. Since his stunning final-three-hole collapse at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst last month, McIlroy has not spoken to media, spent much time on social media or played a single hole of competitive golf.

Until Wednesday morning in Scotland, that is, when McIlroy, who is the defending champion this week, resurfaced after a morning practice round at the Renaissance Club and faced the music. This week’s Genesis Scottish Open is the site of McIlroy’s return to golf after the panic in Pinehurst, and Wednesday morning was the time for his first media obligations since fleeing Pinehurst on Sunday evening.

McIlroy’s press conference, which was conducted at 10:45 a.m. local time (before sunrise in even the earliest parts of the U.S.), was typical Rory: wide-ranging and introspective, addressing his U.S. Open disaster and its aftermath in candid, open-minded, optimistic terms. But that tenor shifted when one reporter asked about the person who most deeply shared in McIlroy’s loss, his caddie (and longtime best friend) Harry Diamond.

McIlroy was visibly annoyed as he addressed the criticism faced by Diamond in the wake of the U.S. Open, explicitly calling out two of the caddie’s post-national championship critics — former pro/current broadcaster Smylie Kaufman and teacher/media personality Hank Haney — by name.

“You know, it’s certainly unfair,” McIlroy said. “Hank Haney has never been in that position. Smylie has been in that position once. I love Smylie, and he was out there with us on 18, but just because Harry is not as vocal or loud with his words as other caddies, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t say anything and that he doesn’t do anything. I just wish that, you know, these guys that criticize when things don’t go my way, they never say anything good when things do go my way.”

“So where were they when I won Dubai earlier year, or Quail Hollow, or the two FedExCups that I’ve won with Harry, or the two Ryder Cups … or whatever?” Rory said, his eyes rolling. “They are never there to say Harry did such a great job when I win, but they are always there to criticize when we don’t win.”

McIlroy and Diamond have been a formidable pairing since their union late in 2017, winning 12 times together, excluding two home Ryder Cup victories, but that partnership also has come with its costs. McIlroy’s major-championship drought has stretched from three years to a decade during Diamond’s time on the bag, and Diamond has witnessed some of his boss’s most devastating major championship near-misses (at Pinehurst in June and St. Andrews in ’22, to name just a few) from up close.

Inevitably, Diamond’s correlation to McIlroy during those struggles has led some to imply causation. Maybe Diamond’s staid, mellow demeanor doesn’t jive with McIlroy’s full-tilt moments; or maybe that demeanor is to blame for them. Caddying, after all, requires backbone as much as it requires a soft touch — could it be, as the critics have openly opined, Diamond has too much of the latter and not enough of the former?

Perhaps, but as McIlroy’s impish tone on Wednesday implied, only two people know the real answer to that question.

“At the end of the day, they are not there,” McIlroy said. “They are not in the arena. They are not the ones hitting the shots and making the decisions. Someone said to me once, if you would never take advice from these people, you would never take their criticisms, either. Certainly wouldn’t go to Hank Haney for advice. I love Smylie, but I think I know what I’m doing, and so does Harry.”