A debut campaign on The European Tour can be a daunting prospect for any golfer making his way in the game, and especially if most of your friends and family are several thousand miles away.
Young American Scott Pinckney finds himself in just that situation, but it certainly helps that he has the reigning US Open Champion and one of the game’s most recognisable names on speed dial.
Pinckney’s joy was there for all to see after he secured his European Tour playing privileges at last year’s Qualifying School Final Stage, where he closed with a best-of-the-day round of 65 to take the 24th card available.
His delight was due not just to the fact that he would soon be rubbing shoulders with some of the game’s greatest exponents, but also because it meant he would be renewing acquaintances with one of his childhood friends, a certain Rory McIlroy.
The pair first met as fresh-faced eight year olds during the Doral Junior Publix, a junior tournament held annually in Miami, Florida.
“We became really good friends after that,” said Pinckney. “We played a practice round together then took each other on at table football and other games, and our friendship just grew from there. Our two families also got to know each other quite well, and they’ve since developed a pretty close relationship.”
So close, in fact, that four years later Gerry and Rosie McIlroy put their young son on a plane bound for Utah. For the next three months McIlroy stayed with the Pinckneys, playing various junior events and generally eating, sleeping and breathing golf.
Pinckney recalls their time together fondly, saying: “We had a lot in common – even at 12, we both had a burning desire to become professional golfers. It never even entered our heads that we would do something else with our lives. It was just golf, golf, golf.
“So we shared the same dreams and aspirations, and we talked about the game a lot. It was pretty clear back then that he had something special. At that age it was obviously only potential, but he’s certainly lived up to that potential ever since.”
Never more so than last June at Congressional Country Club, where an opening round of 65 was the prelude to a victory procession which made the world stand up and take notice of the prodigiously talented 22 year old from Holywood, Northern Ireland.
Pinckney was on hand to congratulate his old friend, having successfully pre-qualified for the event; and whilst their meeting in Maryland was only a relatively brief one, he is hoping to see much more of McIlroy now that they are both plying their trade on the same Tour.
He said: “We keep in touch via email and phone all the time, and this year we’ll hopefully be crossing paths a few times. Before flying onto the Challenge Tour event in India [where he finished tied 43rd], I spent a week with him practising in Dubai, and it was great to catch up with him.
“Obviously when we see each other we don’t only talk about golf, but I do try to pick his brains whenever I get the chance. There’s so much I can learn from him – I really admire his confidence on the course, for example, and the way he handles pressure and being in the spotlight.
“It was heartbreaking to see him throw it away at the Masters, but the way he bounced back at the US Open was so impressive, and really confirmed to me what I’ve always known. He’s a great guy, and a special talent. It’s going to be pretty tough catching up with him, but it’ll be fun trying.”