Holywood hero always a champion in the making

WHEN Pádraig Harrington added the 2008 US PGA Championship to the British Opens of ‘07 and ‘08 many felt a wonderful era for Irish golf had reached its zenith.

How wrong they were.

Graeme McDowell held off the game’s greats to win last year’s US Open at Pebble Beach by a single shot. His victory contained all the varying elements of drama, excitement and unbelievable nervous tension. Now, Rory McIlroy has emulated that achievement but done so in totally contrasting fashion as he decimated the field at Congressional and defied all predictions and expectations with the quality of his ball striking and scoring.

Records tumbled along the way to the precocious 22 year-old from a golfing hotbed 20-odd miles east of Belfast and now Holywood in County Down is set to become one of the most famous sporting spots on the globe thanks to the exploits of this remarkable young genius.

After the bitter disappointment and embarrassment of his meltdown in the Masters at Augusta in April, McIlroy has demonstrated not only has he been blessed with a rare talent but also that he has the mental capacity to take all the knocks and still come back for more.

Rory wasn’t yet 22 when what many shrewd judges regarded as the “disaster” of Augusta happened. Four shots ahead and apparently in control with 18 holes to play, he got off to a bad start with a bogey at the 1st and compounded the lapse with a few dodgy moments before finally losing the plot completely at the 10th when still in possession of a one-stroke advantage.

Older, far more experienced people, might have lost themselves in the crowd in search of the nearest point of refuge after such a horror show. Instead, he marched to the scorer’s tent with his head held high, embraced his father, Gerry, on the way, and emerged to speak honestly and openly and without a scrap of self pity.

He satisfied all the media requirements, joined family and friends for a meal and the following morning jetted off to the Malaysian Open, an event he led well into the final round before settling for the runner-up spot.

All the time, he maintained his composure. Rory relied on the trust and support placed in him by his parents, Gerry and Rosie, and his close circle of friends. When it came to tuning his game, he remained loyal to Michael Bannon, his coach from his boyhood days, while wisely working with Dave Stockton, the well respected American putting guru, on his short game that malfunctioned at Augusta.

Nobody has ever doubted Rory’s ability. He was earmarked for greatness from his earliest years, his skills honed by the dedicated members of theGolfing Union of Ireland, who now take quiet satisfaction not just in his success but also in that enjoyed by so many others who have gone through their educated hands.

As is invariably the case in these situations, Gerry and Rosie have been the greatest influence of all. Just as they made major sacrifices (including each taking more than one job at a time to keep the finances afloat) to transport him all over this country and several others through his teenage years, Rory has reciprocated that generosity and selflessness in spades.

The McIlroys do things quietly — it was interesting to spot Gerry jump out of his son’s courtesy Lexus and vanish out of sight of the television cameras on arrival at the course on Saturday — and they have imbued in Rory desirable attributes of courtesy, respect and good behaviour.

There are those who regularly raise what they perceive to be a certain disinterested approach once things turn against him in lesser events. They talk up his unfortunate remark on hearing that golf would be part of the 2016 Olympic games that he fancied being part of Team GB. He took a fair bit of stick for once suggesting that the Ryder Cup was more an exhibition than a major golfing event. He found out differently at Celtic Manor last October, admitted as much and promised a different mindset in future.

But those who knock him for these and other foibles seem to forget how young McIlroy is. In my view, hehandles himself extremely well, is a credit to his family and friends and all those who have helped him to realise the enormous talent that has got him to where he is today.

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