Record-breaking Rory back on home ground
US Open star Rory McIlroy touched down at Belfast City Airport last night carrying the trophy he clinched for his record-breaking win.
McIlroy flew into London and then on to Belfast following his victory. He is expected to return to Holywood Golf Course today.
As a drowsy but delirious Rory touched down in the torrential rain of Belfast, his father Gerry was already quietly plotting the next phase of his son's path to global golfing domination.
At every stage of a tumultuous US Open week, McIlroy Snr has been ever-present in the champion's entourage: eating with him at the Bethesda Marriott, scrutinising each one of his shots on the Congressional fairways, and finally sharing a touching Father's Day embrace by the 18th green.
"I'm ready to go home," he muttered on his final return flight from Heathrow to George Best Belfast City Airport. The 51-year-old -- sitting in seat 1A, as befitting a parent to Northern Ireland's finest sporting property since Best himself -- says he expects 'Rors' not only to improve, but to win another Major championship by the end of the year.
"Can I tell you something? I think he's going to win another one this year. It's just a feeling."
Pressed on whether the prophecy would be realised at Royal St George's for the British Open, or at Atlanta Athletic Club for the US PGA, he replies: "Royal St George's, if it's not too windy."
It is a disarmingly bold statement. The feat of two Majors in one season has not been achieved since Padraig Harrington in 2008.
But with McIlroy poised to usurp even Tiger Woods as the most powerful draw in the world game, his father perceives no limits to the heights he can attain.
Gerry, it should be noted, stands to earn £200,000 (€225,000) from a wager he made seven years ago that Rory would win the Open by 2014.
This pales into significance against the seven-figure sponsorship deals Rory stands to acquire should he continue on his dizzyingly steep trajectory to the top. No wonder many have wondered aloud how a burgeoning bank account might affect his famed humility.
"Money does not mean anything to Rory," Gerry says emphatically. "It has never made any difference to him whatsoever. He never has it when I ask if he has any on him! Rory's just an ordinary guy who enjoys golf and gets on with it. He loves getting home with his mates, schoolfriends whom he has known for years. He will always be grounded.
"Rory has handled everything since Sunday so well; signing autographs, being kind to people. On the night we didn't get away from the course until about 11.30pm. We stayed up until about three, had a few drinks as the hotel kept the bar open. We had a bit of singing and all. It was good craic."
Rory's first task on the domestic front is to invite Gerry and mother Rosie over for dinner at his lovingly designed Co Down estate.
His powerful attachment to the community will be on display this afternoon when he holds a homecoming press conference at the Holywood club where, as a toddler, he would dream of holding his first major trophy.
For Gerry, who used to run the clubhouse bar, you might imagine the symbolism of the moment could be too much. What distinguishes him, though, is the serene faith in his son's talents. It is simply an unwavering belief borne of being at Rory's side from when he was still pitching balls into a washing machine to the point where he was waltzing to victory at golf's most difficult major.
Did that Woods-like winning margin surprise him?
"No. When Rory plays well, there's no one who can touch him. That's coming from me, so I might be a little bit biased."
Augusta, Gerry admits, proved the turning point. To watch Rory unravel in such grim fashion at the Masters, with a final-round 80 to fritter away a four-shot advantage, was awkward from any paternal point of view.
"I knew Rory would come back. He just didn't handle the lead at Augusta, but he knows what's what now.
"He's a very, very quick learner. I said, 'Just go out there, Rory. I mean you're good enough.
"You're one of the best players in the world. Go out and do it, Rors. Enjoy yourself. Do what you have to do'. That's what he did. It all worked out."
Yes, it most emphatically did.