Rory McIlroy’s family insist €180m sponsorship deal won’t change him
RORY McIlroy's eye watering wealth will not change him, according to friends who knew him at a time when every penny counted.
"He has all the money he needs, but it's not the money any more. It's about winning majors and staying the world's No.1," said his uncle Colm.
"He'll just be the same Rory - up for the craic, a joke and the banter."
His new multi-year sponsorship deal with sports manufacturer Nike, reportedly worth up to €180m, means he becomes one of the richest sportsmen on the planet but just a few years ago his parents worked all hours to pay for their only child's golf - Gerry as a barman with two jobs, and mother Rosie, on night shift at a factory making masking tape.
His father also swept the changing room floors of a nearby sports club to make ends meet. They still live in Holywood, Co Down, but apart from the occasional visit, it is unlikely Rory will return for any length of time.
Home now is a luxury pad he bought before Christmas at West Palm Beach, Florida which he shares with his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozaniacki. He had a huge house in the hills above Belfast, complete with practice area, but that is up for sale - another sign of his plans for a permanent life on the other side of the Atlantic.
Two men, one of them an international businessman and the second based in London, are bidding for the property.
Michael Rodgers, the estate agent handling the £2m, sale said: "With such earning power, can you really blame Rory? It is not as if he's 65 with a limited life. He is only 23, and it is all there in front of him. His earning capacity knows no bounds, and good luck to him. He is such an inspiration to so many youngsters."
His decision to switch sponsors had been on the cards for months. Friends claimed he has been practising with his new clubs since the day after Europe triumphed over the US in the Ryder Cup at Medinah, Chicago, last September.
But no matter what he carries in his bag - or the amount in his bank balance - Rory will be the same Rory, according to Stephen Crooks, 23, head professional at Holywood. His game will not change either, no matter the new equipment.
He said: "The first four or five years on the tour hasn't changed him, and I doubt very much if the clubs will. The money certainly won't.
"He is pretty much set in his ways, a contented, genuine guy who just wants to play golf and win. We haven't seen him around here since July and I'd imagine he'll only pop in to see us when he is over for the Irish Open and the (British) Open in the summer. That's just the way it is. Rory has moved on.
"The last time he was in Holywood he helped raise £60,000 for the club which is into the next stage of major refurbishment, including a new professional shop for myself. That's the sort of impact he has made. It happens everywhere he goes."
His father used to be the club barman and when he wasn't there, he was pulling pints at the CIYMS sports centre in east Belfast where he was also in charge of the changing rooms.
Rory's uncle Colm, 49, who runs a power hosing business, said his parents sacrificed everything for their son who hasn't forgotten where he came from. Or friends and family he grew up with.
Colm's son Fergus, 14, got a set of specially adapted clubs from his famous cousin at Christmas 2011.
He said: "I can't see him changing, but I doubt if we'll see him as much as we would like. It seemed a good idea when he had his own place here, even with all the wind and rain. But he is now playing 80% of his time with the sun on his back and its no real benefit to him.
"He'll come back from America every once in a while, maybe two or three times a year. The money he is earning is crazy, but Rory is not about money. It doesn't matter any more because even before this agreement with Nike, he's made more than enough to do him.
"For him, it's all about winning majors and staying the world's No.1. He is still the same Rory. Any time I speak with him, text him or phone him, he still the same. The craic, the jokes and banter. It never changes."
But does he ever envisage the day when Rory might even go a step further?
Colm, the course record holder at Holywood, said: "I met Caroline for the first time at Royal Portrush (last summer's Irish Open). Rory is very, very fond of her, but I wouldn't know where the relationship goes from here. Both of them seem deeply dippy."
McIlroy was unveiled as Nike's new ambassador in Abu Dhabi this afternoon, with a new advertisement featuring him and Tiger Woods also being released.