Rory McIlroy: I'm so proud to be from Northern Ireland
Rory McIlroy swapped the manicured greens of Hoylake for the lush lawns of Stormont Castle yesterday as he spoke of his determination to bring many more golfing majors back to Northern Ireland.
The 25-year-old Open champion strolled around the castle gardens to pose for photos with the First and Deputy First Ministers as they toasted his landmark third major title during a celebratory trip home.
But there wasn't a golf club in sight – nor was there any sign of the famous Claret Jug.
The golf star said it was getting a spruce-up after he taken it out the night before to celebrate his big win with friends in Belfast.
As he was welcomed home by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, McIlroy spoke of his pride in coming from Northern Ireland – and his plans to bring home more sporting glory.
"I am very proud and honoured to be come home as the Open champion and to be congratulated by everyone. I am very proud to be from Northern Ireland," he told gathered reporters.
"I am very proud of where I come from; I will never forget where I come from and to be able to share these sorts of moments with the people from back home and friends and family is absolutely wonderful."
He added: "Hopefully there will be many more to come. Hopefully, a few more visits back here in the future."
The world-famous Holywood sportsman arrived at Stormont just two days after sinking a final putt at Hoylake to clinch his first Open win on Sunday.
Mr Robinson said he was delighted to welcome Rory once again to Stormont Castle to celebrate yet another big win.
"He came about three years ago with his first major trophy and on this occasion, of course, he has won the most important of all – the Open," said the DUP leader.
"And he is on his way to getting the full collection after he succeeds in getting the Masters. If you are a gambler, get your money on now.
"It is great to have him. We are really proud of him, not only because of the achievement of a fantastic golfing career and the competition he has won but he is a tremendous ambassador for Northern Ireland.
"It gives the kind of message about Northern Ireland we want people to hear, a good news story for Northern Ireland... and apart from that he is a thoroughly decent fella."
Mr Robinson told the young champion: "Welcome to Stormont, congratulations on a fantastic success and and we look forward to seeing you increasing the trophies in the cabinet over the coming months and years."
Mr McGuinness congratulated Rory on a "magnificent achievement".
A few weeks ago, Mr McGuinness said he and Mr Robinson had been in Royal Portrush Golf Club and held the Claret Jug and marvelled at the thought of a Northern Ireland golfer bringing it home just a few weeks later.
"What a tremendous achievement it is for Rory to win what is undoubtedly the greatest prize in world golf. We are all so very very proud of Rory, proud of his achievements and proud of the way he conducts himself throughout the world and very proud of his ambition to achieve all of the challenges which lie before him over the next 25, 30, 40 years." Rory interupted to joke: "Stop at 25 there."
The Sinn Fein man added: "It has absolutely been a huge buzz for all of us. We are living in a world where there is an awful lot of sadness and this just brings just so much happiness and joy to all of the people here that one of our own is deemed to be one of the greatest golfers in the world today."
Rory McIlroy: "To be able to share these moments with the people from back home and friends and family is absolutely wonderful."
Peter Robinson: "He is a tremendous ambassador for Northern Ireland."
Martin McGuinness: "We are all so very, very proud of Rory, proud of his achievements and proud of the way he conducts himself throughout the world."