Belfast Telegraph

Rory McIlroy's home town revels in local boy made good

By Maureen Coleman

It may be a world away from the glamour of its Los Angeles namesake but Holywood, Co Down, found itself thrust, once again, into the spotlight yesterday.

With the town's most famous son Rory McIlroy claiming his fourth major win, residents and business owners prepared for the now-familiar influx of journalists, photographers and television crews.

At Holywood Golf Club, the course where it all began for young McIlroy, members and visitors were full of praise for the young golfer and the role he has played as an ambassador for Northern Ireland.

Stephen Crooks, Head Pro at the club, has given dozens of media interviews since McIlroy's US Open triumph in 2011.

But he said he believed this US PGA victory would mean the most to McIlroy.

"This major is different from the other three because he really had to show huge strength of character to win it, so I think it'll mean more to him," he said.

"Rory said himself this week that he's in a good place mentally and he's been showing a lot of confidence and inner belief. His body shape has also changed a lot since he was 18/19, even 20. He's in the gym now twice a day and has changed his diet.

"It's pretty unbelievable to think that the world number one golfer comes from Holywood. He's certainly put this town and Northern Ireland on the map and everyone is very proud of him."

Stephen said that due to the poor weather, the course was closed on Sunday, so fewer people than normal were around to watch the dramatic game. But those who didn't make it to the clubhouse to cheer him on watched at home, into the early hours of Monday morning.

Peter McMillen, who has been a member of Holywood Golf Club for 40 years, said he wouldn't have missed watching McIlroy storm to glory in a one shot victory over Phil Mickelson. The Quarry Road man also said he had always known McIlroy would go on to become a golf superstar.

"I remember bringing my two daughters Tess and Heidi to the putting green and we bumped into Rory," he said.

"He was only about 13 or 14 at the time. I got a cap and asked him to sign it for the girls, telling them 'one day he'll win the British Open'.

"He's a great lad and never changes. Whenever he comes home, he's just Rory. It's amazing to think that such a small place like Northern Ireland can produce three great golfers in Rory, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke."

Coming off the ninth hole, visiting golfer Barry Steele said it was "surreal" to think he had played the same course as the world's number one. The Manchester man, part of a group of six, said he had sacrificed his sleep to watch McIlroy win.

"I stayed up at home to watch until around 2.30am and then booked a taxi for 4.30 to get me to Manchester airport," he said. "We had an early flight to Belfast so there was no point going to bed.

"We're on our way to Buncrana but wanted to come here to play first.

"I booked our tee-time weeks ago so it was just coincidental that we're here today, a few hours after he won. But it's pretty surreal to be playing the same course where it all began for him.

"We're all huge fans of Rory's and we're delighted for him.

"He'll definitely go on now and win the Masters.

"If he doesn't do it next year, he'll do it in the next few years for sure."

Paul Weir, a member at Holywood for 30 years, paid tribute to McIlroy's parents Gerry and Rosie for their hard work, support and dedication.

"Rory has matured so much in recent years and he is a great ambassador for Northern Ireland," he said. "But enormous credit must go to Gerry and Rosie for the work they've put in."

Holywood man Barry Dobbin said McIlroy had inspired a generation of young golfers. The former club president was accompanied by his grandchildren Katie Jones (11) and Calum McCausland (10), both big fans of golf.

Barry said: "Rory is a one-off but he's given great impetus to young people to take up golf as a sport so maybe this club will produce another superstar some day."

At Orr's Butchers in Holywood's High Street, Stephen Moore said the whole town was buzzing with excitement.

Stephen, whose sister is McIlroy's aunt, said everyone who called into his shop was talking about the US PGA win.

"It seems to me that everyone has a spring in their step and a smile on their face today because of young Rory," he said. "We are all so very proud of him."

And at Skinners Bakery next door, special 'Rory McIlroy' biscuits and buns were flying off the shelves.

Valerie Skinner said: "It's become something of a tradition now. This is the fourth time we've baked our special Rory biscuits. They always sell out."

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