At just 23 years of age, Rory McIlroy has reached the pinnacle of his sport. And he is well on course to become Northern Ireland’s greatest sporting figure.
The Holywood man launched himself into a new league when he became the youngest golfer to win the USPGA in modern times.
With Sunday’s convincing victory on South Carolina’s Kiawah Island, Rory sealed his place in history as one of the youngest golfers ever to win two Majors.
His success has made him one of the world’s most bankable and recognisable sporting stars. His USPGA victory also triggered a unique bonus for savers with high street bank Santander, one of his sponsors.
Savers who signed up to the bank’s two-year fixed rate Major Isa were in line for a 0.1% bonus if Rory won a Major before the summer of 2014.
Despite having the world at his feet, Rory’s thoughts weren’t far from home in the moments after he got his hands on the Wannamaker Trophy.
He thanked his dad Gerry, who embraced him after he clinched victory, and mum Rosie, who watched from the family home near Holywood. And he was soon on the phone to uncle Colm McIlroy, who was watching his nephew’s exploits in Dublin.
“He’s just delighted,” Colm (49) told the Belfast Telegraph.
“He said to me: ‘What did you think of that?’ And I said: ‘Absolutely marvellous’. His dad could not really speak too much, he could not get the words out.”
Referring to Rory’s slump in form this year, his uncle said there was no doubt he was always going to come back strong.
“He’s younger than Tiger Woods was when he got his first two Majors,” he added. “We always knew he was very good. But we never thought he would get to number one in the world and win two Majors at the age of 23.”
In the 12 months since he won the 2011 US Open Championship, Holywood Golf Club, where Rory honed his skills as a child, has seen an influx of golfers keen to play the greens he grew up on.
First Minister Peter Robinson said the young golfer’s talent “knows no bounds”.
“He is a wonderful ambassador for Northern Ireland and his sport, and I congratulate him on this magnificent victory.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Rory’s resilience despite criticism of his recent performances made him a “true champion”.
He said: “He has bounced back from what was a somewhat indifferent season by his own high standards with an amazing victory in the last of the 2012 Majors — the sign of a true champion.”
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said Rory’s blistering eight-shot win capped a “spectacular sporting fortnight”.
At Holywood Golf Club — where Rory is still a member — there was little doubt that he had it in him to storm to victory.
Stephen Crooks (33), the club’s professional, said he was not at all surprised by the win.
“It’s just the speed that is more of a shock,” he added.
“The level of his consistency is always unbelievable.”
Helena Campbell, lady president of Holywood Golf Club, added: “Rory has been playing here since he was two. He’s marvellous. He had disappointments and triumphs in the same year, but he did it in such style. He’s just a lovely person; he’s so encouraging and supportive of the juveniles at the club.”
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