After days of wishing and hoping from members, Rory McIlroy paid a very welcome visit to Holywood Golf Club — the course where it all began.
The champion golfer embarked on a whirlwind victory tour in Northern Ireland since his spectacular win at The Open Championship at Hoylake, Liverpool, on Sunday.
The Holywood man arrived at Belfast City Airport on Monday clutching the coveted Claret Jug which then adorned the table of a Belfast nightclub as the 25-year-old celebrated his win with friends that night.
The following day the three-time Major winner met with the First and Deputy First Ministers at Stormont Castle and apologised for not having the cup by saying it needed a bit of a clean.
Speculation was rife as to whether the star’s busy schedule would allow for him to return to his home club and yesterday, on an unannounced visit complete with the Claret Jug, he stopped by the place where it all began.
At around 5pm McIlroy arrived and was spotted immediately by players and members young and old, who swarmed over to the superstar as the trophy gleamed in the sunlight.
McIlroy happily signed autographs and posed for photographs — including plenty of selfies with both him and the trophy — which he assured them had been cleaned. One man who was happy to see Rory back was Eddie Harper, who was the juvenile convener when Rory first applied to join the club aged seven — normally you have to be 10.
He said: “He hasn’t changed one iota from my recollection of him as a juvenile member here.
“He was very approachable, very pleasant, spoke to all the juveniles, allowed photographs to be taken, signed caps including one that I gave him and the proceeds of which will go to charity
“It was very much appreciated by everyone at the club.”
He added: “He came up here and you wouldn’t have thought he had been away. He talked to everyone like he had been here all his life.
“He recognised people straight away and cracked jokes with some of the members and was totally unaffected by his stardom.”
Mr Harper said the club hopes that if Rory gets a replica of the trophy he might be able to let it have it for the display cabinet.
Among those who got a selfie with the Holywood golfer and even got to hold the Claret Jug, was Rory’s cousin Fergus.
He said: “It was really good to see him back and all the members were really happy to see him.”
Stephen Crooks, a professional golfer at Holywood, has known Rory since he was 11.
He said: “To come back and parade the Claret Jug is special and I’m glad he fitted us in.”
It is understood Rory is on his way to America today, where he will spend the next 11 weeks.