Three days on, and it is standing room only in the Holywood clubhouse. Into the glare of a hundred flashbulbs, Rory McIlroy is trying to remember all the sporting totems who have sent their plaudits since last Sunday’s spectacular US Open victory: Rafael Nadal, Greg Norman, Arnold Palmer. No mention, you will note, of Tiger Woods.
Has he received any communication from Woods, the man McIlroy once idolised but to whom he is now more often compared? Negative. It sounds as if the two, despite their similarly explosive introductions to winning majors, are rarely in touch. “I don’t have his phone number. He sent a little thing to the press tent on Sunday, just to congratulate me, so that was nice of him.”
That “thing” would be a message, conveyed on Sunday by NBC anchor Dan Hicks, which read: “Heck of a performance. Congrats. Enjoy it.” Woods’ missives lack, dare we say it, the personal touch. At least he stopped short of announcing it on Twitter.
McIlroy delivered a resonant tweet himself upon landing back in Belfast: “I’m a golfer, not a football team.” That sentiment directly informs his self-deprecating attitude as he confronts his rapt Holywood audience. There cannot be many 22 year-olds who would not yelp for joy at seeing their friends, their distant cousins, even their secret admirers jostling up the stairs just to catch a view of them.
But upon encountering this madness, McIlroy is a little shy. It is a response to explain why he has flatly turned down any suggestions of open-top bus rides. “There was never any thought of doing anything like that,” he says.
“If in boxing, you win a world heavyweight title, there is only the one. There are four majors in golf a year, so it’s not as if this is going to be the last one. I hope it’s not! I have a lot more opportunities to win these things. I just want people to realise that.” Amid this clamour, rational thought tends to fly out of the nearest window.