Sport Golf

Saturday 16 December 2017

Karl MacGinty: McIlroy master of own destiny

Rory's talent nurtured by sacrifices of proud, not pushy, parents

Karl MacGinty

THE young woman from 'The New York Times' seemed to have difficulty grasping the concept. Naturally, she was impressed that Gerry and Rosie McIlroy would work all the hours God sent to give their gifted son Rory every opportunity to fulfil his potential.

"So they must have really pushed him to succeed?" she surmised ... then recoiled with surprise when I replied with a firm: "No!"

It was Sunday afternoon at the US Open and Rory McIlroy was romping to his record-breaking victory. As often happens when a young player from abroad is in contention, reporters from his homeland expect the local media to come knocking.

Usually it's a pleasure to oblige... one rare exception that Sunday afternoon was a writer from a Continental newspaper, who approached the Irish contingent and baldly asked: "What is Rory's religion?"

"His own business," I retorted instantly, making my annoyance plain.

Yet our friend from 'The New York Times' couldn't have been more polite -- it just seemed difficult to get the message across.

For sure, McIlroy was introduced to golf as a toddler by his dad, Gerry. Yet from a remarkably young age, he was driven not by his parents but by his own passion for the game.

And it is this innate passion within which has turned McIlroy and so many other naturally gifted young men and women into sporting superstars.

To illustrate the point, I told my New York colleague of the time Rory first clapped eyes on Tiger Woods. Late one evening in the McIlroy household in Holywood, Rory's mum, Rosie, was in the kitchen when her young son excitedly called her into the livingroom to watch "this wee boy play".

Of course, it was Tiger. It was 1996 and Woods was playing in the final of the US Amateur Championship.


Rory, just seven, was already tuning into late-night golf at an age when most lads were finding it tough to sit through an episode of 'Thomas The Tank Engine'.

America, as home of the brave and land of the pushy parent, is more used to hugely imposing and outspoken dads like the late Earl Woods or even the overbearing BJ Wie.

Gerry McIlroy is the polar opposite. Where at all possible, he avoids the limelight. He prefers to leave public pronouncements to his son and his ever-eloquent clubs.

So it was nice to hear just a few remarks from him at the weekend, in which he modestly outlined why he and Rosie sacrificed so much for their son.

The 51-year-old, who used to hold down three jobs toiling 100 hours a week as a cleaner and barman, said: "We worked very hard to get him where he is. If we'd not put the effort in at the time, I could be here wondering what might have happened and regretting not doing it."

It costs a great deal to give the gifted young golfer the opportunities he needs to develop his potential. For example, McIlroy family holidays were devoted to bringing their son to world-class junior events in California and Florida from a very young age.

"It was expensive -- hotels, air fares and everything, but we worked to get where we are," Gerry said.

"We are very lucky with Rory. Of course there are times everyone gets fed up working, but as the years went by Rory got better and better, so it was more of an incentive. I didn't mind and Rosie didn't mind. Rory is our only child so you can just do the best you can for them. We didn't know what was going to happen. All we did was try our best for him."

Then came the salient point: "He drove it all," Gerry explained. "We just helped him. You can't push kids into anything. But once he decided he wanted to do it, we were 100pc behind him."

With the US Open trophy resting on the sideboard, weighty decisions taken in the past all appear eminently justified -- like allowing Rory, with the full approval of his headmaster, to leave school in his mid-teens to concentrate full time on playing golf.

How might things have turned out, one wonders, if McIlroy had taken up the offer of a scholarship at East Tennessee University and studied for a degree instead of turning professional in 2007?

As McIlroy rises to a career-high world No 3 this week, Rickie Fowler drops out of the top 50 for the first time since breaking into golf's elite last June.

Both 22 and good friends, McIlroy and Fowler were on opposing sides at the 2007 Walker Cup, but there their career paths parted.

Fowler remained at college in Oklahoma State, building friendships that'll last a lifetime. He turned professional after a second taste of Walker Cup success at Merion in 2009.

Judging by their relative progress as golfers, McIlroy has developed better, with three professional victories to his name, while Fowler strives earnestly for his first.

Whether to enrol in professional golf's school of hard knocks or remain at college is a question which Patrick Cantlay (19) faced last Friday after a staggering second-round 60, the lowest score ever posted by an amateur on the PGA Tour, gave him the lead going into the weekend at The Travelers.

Cantlay, the NCAA Player of the Year who gave the wider world notice of his ability by finishing tied 21st behind McIlroy at the US Open, insists he'll complete his four-year college education at UCLA.

The $140,000-plus Cantlay might have earned as a pro at Congressional and in a share of 24th place behind first-time Tour winner Freddie Jacobson at TPC River Highlands on Sunday is, he insists, of no consequence to him as an amateur.

While Graeme McDowell insists three years at college in Birmingham, Alabama, helped ready him for professional golf, McIlroy, Italian teenage sensation Matteo Manassero and former Irish Open winner Shane Lowry are three young men who took the earliest opportunity to go out on Tour.

If Cantlay's golf is good enough to handle the ultimate challenge, it seems a pity for him to remain amateur ... yet, after all's said and done, the young fella must be allowed to decide for himself.

Revitalised Garcia ready to break major duck

AS Padraig Harrington continues to scramble desperately for confidence, it's encouraging to see Sergio Garcia once again stepping into the light.

Harrington slipped to No 54 in the world yesterday after failing to join the birdie-fest at The Travelers, where the Dubliner finished tied 63rd on four-under.

Garcia, meanwhile, leapt to world No 51 and the cusp of the elite top 50 after following up an encouraging eighth-place showing at the US Open by taking Pablo Larrazabal all the way to sudden death on Sunday at the BMW International in Munich.

Now 31, Garcia showed his enduring quality by shooting three birdies and two eagles in five sensational holes through the turn.

Though he fell back with four bogeys, he then showed renewed confidence with his putter by holing a six-foot clutch putt for an all-important birdie at 18.

Larrazabal won with a birdie on the fifth tie hole after a splendid sudden-death battle between the two Spaniards.

As the British Open at Sandwich beckons, might Garcia be ready at last to break his duck at the Majors?

Irish Independent

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