Rory all tweetness and light for his adoring fans
Published 11/02/2014 | 02:30
NOT so long ago, standing for hours outside a stage door or players' entrance was the only way to get close to the stars. Golf tournaments around the word still echo to the noise of kids baying excitedly for balls, gloves, autographs and anything else the game's leading professionals and their caddies are willing to part with as they leave the course.
And high-profile players continue to get swarmed in the car park, knowing well that some of the things they sign will be on ebay within minutes.
Still, it's a thrill if you manage to get the squiggle of a sporting legend – I'll never forget the satisfaction of emerging from a massive scrum outside Dalymount Park in 1972 with Pele's signature on the cover of my match programme.
Indeed, as a boy, my most treasured possession was a Leeds United souvenir autograph book, signed by the entire first-team squad. It simply turned up in the post one morning in a plain brown envelope ... a gift from Leeds United's Welsh international goalkeeper Gary Sprake.
He'd acquired the book from the club shop, passed it around the dressing-room and posted it across the Irish Sea simply because I'd written a fan letter saying how much I admired him as a 'keeper.
What an incredible gesture.
The excitement of receiving simple acknowledgement from one's sporting idols remains just as strong today, even if the medium has changed.
A perfect example arose last week, when Rory McIlroy, with a few minutes to kill after his flight from Dubai was delayed, offered to answer questions from any of his 1.83 million followers signed-in on Twitter.
Among the flood of questions was one from '@nkeyser3' which stated "are you serious about this whole engagement thing? Because I am single and available!"
"Haha!" McIlroy responded: "Yes, very serious," he added, sweetening the pill by attaching a smiley.
For the record, '@nkeyser3' is a girl and, judging by her online reaction, heaven hath no joy like this young woman spurned.
"On my God, oh my God, oh my God, Rory McIlroy just tweeted back at me!" she gushed, using capital letters for added effect. Adding the hashtag 'bestdayofmylife', she also reproduced an enlarged picture of McIlroy's tweet. One suspects a copy is on her bedroom wall by now.
It didn't take Sherlock Holmes to discover that '@nkeyser3' is Nicole Keyser, a third-year business major at Flagler College in St Augustine, Florida.
A member of the university's golf squad, her team profile lists Rory McIlroy as her favourite sports figure.
Bless her. It's wonderful to see such old-fashioned innocence thriving on the internet. Still, Keyser's tweet stirred some interesting reaction.
One chap asked McIlroy if he'd checked out her picture before responding, leading another to retort: "did she check his out because it's not his looks this girl is after?"
Some interesting insights arose from McIlroy's session with fans before boarding his flight to London for extensive physical fitness testing at the GSK Human Performance Lab.
On the subject of fitness, he was asked who'd win a 100m dash between himself and his fiancée. "Me, but she'd kill me at endurance," said McIlroy.
He recently took on Wozniacki in a mini-triathlon, revealing: "she got me in the swimming but the cycling and the running were pretty much equal!"
Social media helps the modern fan get 'closer' to their heroes, while the excitement clearly remains undiluted.
It makes the effort of those stars who go out of their way to engage with fans appear all the more insightful.
By acknowledging every shout he receives or by making eye contact with and saying thanks to every person who seeks his autograph, Phil Mickelson shows he truly gets it!
Often, but not always, Rory does too.