Gentleman. That was the word most often used by horse-racing great Mick Fitzgerald following his thrill-of-a-lifetime round with Tiger Woods at Adare Manor.
The 13-handicapper confessed that facing the massive fences of a Grand National at Aintree or the pressure of riding in the green and gold hoops of his former boss JP McManus in the Cheltenham Gold Cup was no preparation for a game in the company of the golf’s greatest living player.
Despite his nerves, Fitzgerald still managed to hold his game together and help his “Callisto” team of 15-time champion jockey AP McCoy (who had Ruby Walsh as his caddie) and 70-year old Jim Brewer from Barbados card a magnificent round of 13-under par 59 in the second round of the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am.
Asked about his pre-round butterflies, Fitzgerald said: “It was funny, I was on the range this morning, hitting a few balls, warming up, and I was hitting it really good. Then Wobbly, who caddies for Soren Hansen, came up and said ‘pressure’s on today, playing with Tiger’ and I looked around and there he was hitting balls.
“I suddenly thought, wow, I’m playing golf with Tiger Woods today and suddenly it all went awry. It just hits you but, thankfully, I’d just one bad swing all day. The rest of it was okay.”
Fitzgerald confessed that standing alongside Woods on the first tee was “daunting, daunting,”, adding: “The difference is when I was riding, I was in my own game. You just get out there, get on the horse and get on with it. It was easy. But it was a different ball game today. I wasn’t in control of the situation.”
Woods repaid the compliment, confessing that he was in awe of jockeys like Fitzgerald, Walsh and McCoy, who risk life and limb on the racetrack.
“It was incredible,” Woods said of his round with the Irish racing legends. “These guys, what they put their bodies through. We had a chance to talk about injuries and have broken pretty much every single part of their body but still want to get back up there and ride, which is quite remarkable; a testament to how tough these guys really are.”
Asked if he’d enjoyed the day, Fitzgerald grinned broadly.
“That’s probably the silliest question I’ve ever been asked,” he said good humouredly. “It was unbelievable. Something I’ll never be lucky enough to experience again but if I don’t, I’ll die happy.
“It was an amazing day and he was fantastic to play with – he was really good company and he played awesome. A gentleman.
“He talked about a couple of things but he was just a nice guy. He was really pleasant. He helped us. If we wanted a line on a putt, he lined me up a couple of times. He couldn’t have been more helpful.”
The highlight of Fitzgerald’s round was a birdie on the par-five seventh but he picked out the 10 foot par putt he holed at the par-five 18th to give his team a 59 as his abiding memory.
“I think probably sinking my putt on 18 when the team needed it,” Fitzgerald said, adding the reason why it was so special. “Because I’d a shot and Tiger looking up and saying ‘nice putt’.”
As for average golfer Walsh, he won’t be caddying for a living any time soon
“It was great fun but don’t think I’ll ever get a job as a caddie, though,” Walsh said. “AP was pretty much clubbing himself. I’m not taking the blame for anything. He was good at getting it out of the sand – he was in 14 bunkers … okay, maybe eight.”
And Tiger? Good guy?
“Gentleman,” Walsh said. “He just talked away, talked to everyone and is a very nice person. If you asked him something he answered it, just a regular type of guy.”