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Monday, 20 June 2011
Rory McIlroy with his Dad, Gerry (Belfast Telegraph)
Rory McIlroy with his Dad, Gerry (Belfast Telegraph)

The home club of Rory McIlroy erupted with pride as the mercurial golfer sealed his US Open win.

He became the youngest champion since 1923 and gave Northern Ireland back-to-back victories following last year's success of Graeme McDowell.

The triumph of McIlroy, 22, was greeted with cheers and standing ovations at a packed Holywood Golf Club clubhouse near Belfast where regulars supping pints of Harp were quick to hail him as the next Tiger Woods.

The sporting protégé said: "For such a small nation to win two US Opens in a row is pretty special."

Friends and well-wishers cheered every great shot with clenched fists at the clubhouse where it all began.

They fell into a hushed silence of anticipation but cheered as McIlroy's father Gerry and McDowell gathered to watch the final shot.

A photograph on the wall showed the champion after he won his first schoolboy trophy, fresh-faced and dressed in a green blazer. He took the Ulster Boys Under 18 Championship in 2003 but adopted the sport much earlier.

McIlroy used plastic club and balls to practice his swing, aged two or three, in the club lounge and his prowess was evident even then.

Junior convenor at the club Philip Brady said: "We have always enjoyed a fantastic juvenile membership and the fact that Rory came along has only endorsed that.

"Rory has been an inspiration and a great support to those juvenile members, both in terms of resources and physical support and encouragement."

As he got older his father Gerry would take time out from working behind the bar to teach his only son. Soon the young protégé was overtaking him.

He would practice for hours upon end on the lush Co Down fairways overlooking Belfast and the picturesque Belfast Lough.

Friend Owen Gunning recalled how McIlroy would play two rounds in a day and then return for another round at night.

"Rory is a fantastic fella, so down to earth yet such a professional," he added.

"He mixes with the young lads and would always say hello and always has time for you. He is cool, calm and collected on the golf course."

Also on the wall was a photograph of McIlroy with the shield he won last year in the Quail Hollow Championship in the US.

Underneath it was the slogan: Living the Dream.

Club President Derek Reade paid tribute to McIlroy's parents Gerry and Rosie for helping make that dream a reality.

"Gerry put so much energy and time into Rory's coaching," he said.

"He would have done anything to support his son."

He said McIlroy was incredibly dedicated.

"Rory did not let sex, drugs and rock and roll get in the way," he added.

He said it was good to see a local person doing well on the world stage.

"The youngsters worship him, they mimic the style of his hair, his mannerisms," he added.

"He has the perfect swing and hits it for miles."

Robert Cooley, 62, a former secretary and treasurer of the club, has been a member for 25 years.

"His talent was recognised at such a very young age," Mr Cooley said.

"You could see there was something special there."

He added: "He had a self-determination that from an early age to wanted to be a golf professional, not only a golf professional, he wanted to be the best golf professional."

By the age of 13 or 14 he was far superior to most of the adult members.

"He could drive the ball forever, chip the ball better, he was a great putter. He has an analytical brain and he has the mettle and fortitude to be the best," Mr Cooley said.

He added: "Every young golfer wants to conquer, it is a game that you always try to conquer but it is a game that always brings you back to earth when you think you are the best it will throw you."

The club is open to all classes of people. It was founded in 1904.

Mr Cooley added: "It is often criticised for its steep slopes, they often say you have got to have one leg longer than the other to be able to play it."

Club professional Stephen Crooks predicted McIlroy would go on to win seven major trophies, catapulting him into the league of Tiger Woods.

"He is just unbelievable, I just think this is a stepping stone to what is going to materialise over the next 10 years," he said.

"He will be world number one, he will win seven major trophies and he will dominate golf."

McIlroy's former headmaster admits the Ulsterman's dominant victory at the US Open came as "no surprise".

Jon Stevenson, head master at Sullivan Upper School in Holywood during McIlroy's time there, told BBC Five Live: "He was always a prodigious golfer and it was no great surprise when he became a professional golfer, it was always his intention.
"The talent was always there, people who knew about golf knew he was fantastically talented and it was a case of when he would turn professional and what route he would take.

"It is no surprise that he has reached the dizzy heights he has, maybe somewhat earlier than people may have expected.

"Everyone in Northern Ireland, Holywood and Sullivan Upper School are thrilled and delighted with his performance."

Sullivan also paid tribute to McIlroy's resolve as he showed no side effects from his Augusta disappointment, where he threw away a four-shot lead entering the final day to finish 10 shots off eventual winner Charl Schwartzel.

"I think the talent is a given with Rory," he said. "The question mark has been about his attitude and maybe his character, but he has two tremendous attributes.

"This boy really learns, this is what the golfing fraternity had not fully understood about him, every experience he has he builds into that golf computer in his brain and he learnt from the Masters.

"On top of that he has got steely determination. He is a young guy, he looks good and he is friendly but don't underestimate the attitude he brings to his game. He showed it in spades at the US Open."



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