As Rory McIlroy passes the €1m mark in tournament earnings, Emily Moulton traces the rise of a golfing phenomenon and reports that despite his success, he is still coming home to spend Christmas with his family.
From the moment he took his first swing, Rory McIlroy was destined for great things on the fairways.
The Co Down teenager, who officially became a euro millionaire after finishing in joint fourth place behind Jeev Milkha Singh at the Singapore Open, was just two years old when he recorded a 40-yard drive on the course.
By the time he reached the age of nine, his sporting prowess had golfing pundits predicting big things for the youngster after he scored his first hole in one and his first tournament win in Miami, Florida.
Not since Tiger Woods had anyone shown so much potential at such a young age.
By the time he was a teenager he was already outclassing everyone else in his field, winning the Ulster Boys Under 15 Championship for two successive years then repeating the success in the Under 18s division in the following two years.
At just 16 he played his first European Tour event at The Forest of Arden and became the youngest winner of the prestigious West of Ireland and Irish Close Championships. He then managed to retain both Irish amateur titles the following year.
Reaching a million euro in just 33 starts since turning pro is almost unheard of. It took compatriot Darren Clarke 105 starts to reach the same milestone when he first turned pro.
McIlroy first came to prominence on the opening day of The Open at Carnoustie where he hit a superb opening three under par 68. He was the only amateur in the star-studded field of 156 top golfers in the world to complete their first round of the Open Championship without a single bogey on his card.
He then went on to win the amateur’s Silver Medal.
Following his debut, the Holywood teenager then went on to finish third in his second professional event, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
McIlroy received a staggering €211,321.90 — enough money to assure his place in the top 115 and to become the youngest and quickest Affiliate Member to secure his official tour card in just two events.
However, his brilliant run did not end there. McIlroy placed joint fourth in the Open de Madrid Valle Romano — his third professional event — earning him €41,580 and quashing any doubt about his place on the tour.
Since then, McIlroy has gone from strength to strength. His highest earnings came after he placed second in the Omega European Masters where he received another six figure sum of €222,220. That, along with countless other placings on tour and his joint fourth placing yesterday at the Singapore Open, has ensured the 19-year-old has entered the millionaire’s club.
But his father Gerry says money is the last thing from his mind.
“Rory has never been interested in the money,” he explained. “It’s just been about playing. It’s been great for him (to reach the milestone) but the most important thing is the world ranking.”
The best and richest 19-year-old in golf
Rory McIlroy is now golf's richest, and best, 19-year-old in a game in which the cream of world talent check in their wallets as excess luggage.
It has taken young McIlroy only 12 months to hit the million-euro bull's eye in tournament winnings, and his neon-lit career is still on the launch-pad.
Five top-10 finishes in seven big Tour events since he almost won in Switzerland must have Rory laughing all the way to the bank, but the pride of Holywood has both feet firmly on the ground.
Figures are golf's absolute, and he's more likely to talk about how many times he has bettered par — 18 times in 28 end-of-season rounds for a scoring average of 70.01 – than the sum of his winnings.
“I've had a great run since Switzerland, and naturally feel good about myself," he says.
"It has been a good learning year; like learning how to finish second before you win, and I'm grateful for that. Hopefully, 2009 will be another step up the ladder.”
Europe's new season, the richest, and busiest, in Tour history, began two weeks ago in China, and for McIlroy and Ireland's other big-hitters, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell among them, it looks full of high promise.
The year will culminate with the $10-million Dubai World classic to which only the Tour's top 60 players are invited, and for Rory to be one of them would be a real feather in his cap. In addition to a $1.6m jackpot to the winner, the year's top 15 players will share a bonus pool of $10 million, from $2m up top right down to £250,000 for 15th and last.
Happily, Bob Torrance, coach to three-time majors' champion Padraig Harrington, is a great McIlroy fan.
“I love to watch him in action," says the legenday Torrance. "He's a natural young golfer with a brilliant technique.”