Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

McIlroy’s example not one to follow

Rory McIlroy

YOU read the headline. I can hear you saying: “What is this guy on about?” Rory McIlroy — a wrong 'un? A bad example to the youth of Ireland? Has Kelly lost the last of his marbles?

Your confusion is understandable. Remember, we're talking here about a 20-year-old who has taken golf by storm in just five short years.

This is the Holywood boy who stomped into the history books aged 15, becoming the youngest winner of the West of Ireland championship and, for good measure, adding the Irish Close title eight weeks later in 2005.

Then he went out and won the two of them again the following year before claiming the European Individual title and topping the World amateur rankings.

He also played in the Walker Cup in 2007 at Royal County Down, then turned professional and defied the expectations of hardened professionals by winning enough money between September and November to earn his Tour card for 2008.

Now he has amassed over €2.5m in tournament earnings and the rule of thumb says you can double that in endorsement contracts.

And, buzzy stuff indeed for the younger generation, McIlroy is featured in the latest edition of EA Sports' hugely popular ‘Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10'.

McIlroy bought his first Tiger Woods PGA Tour game 10 years ago; now he can play against himself. Cool, eh?

So, what's the Kel's problem with the guy? None, actually. Not directly with McIlroy.

The problem is that a lot of kids are focusing on the fact that McIlroy quit school at age 16 to concentrate on his golf. And they are making a connection.

“Rory quit school, and look where he is now. Hey, great idea, if I dump the books, then I can be like him in a few years.”

Wrong, guys, wrong. Tempting, yes, but there is a context here.

All the circumstances that coalesced to place McIlroy at the hub of world golf are unique to him.

Number one was the raw talent with which he was born with. Next came the affirmation and nurturing and encouragement of parents Gerry and Rosie.

Then there was McIlroy's basic love of golf and desire to get better, and his winning mentality.

Don't forget too, that Gerry and Rosie worked hard and invested in holidays that gave McIlroy the chance to play in top under-age international events.

They had no guarantees it would work out as everyone hoped, but they forged ahead.

Hindsight now shows it all came together, but even McIlroy will admit that the decision to drop out of education was a big one for he and his family — and it's not something he'd recommend.

“Leaving school was a big decision, and a lot of thought and talk went into it. It was a tough one, tougher probably for my parents than me, and they had a number of meetings with the school principal.

“He was great about it and said I could always return to my studies if the golf didn't work out.

“But remember, I was 16, I had already won the West of Ireland and the Irish Close twice and the European Individual championship.

“I had a pretty good idea of the direction I was going in the game and I wanted to give myself the best part of two years to get into the Walker Cup in 2007.

“I was also very lucky to be involved with the GUI and the GB&I squads. For two years they sent me all over the world. I was playing golf virtually full-time, and all at their expense. You couldn't afford to do that yourself.

“Unless you're on GUI and English and other national Golf Union squads and so on, you couldn't think about doing what I did.

“And one thing a lot of people don't know is that I was very close to going to college in America. I had signed a letter of intent with ETSU (East Tennessee State University), and pulled out at the last minute.

“Padraig (Harrington) did it different to me. He got his degree and turned pro in his early 20s. There are many great players who have come out of the American college scene and been very successful.

“Golf is a long career, so there shouldn't be a rush to get out there. It's up to individuals to decide for themselves, but there are a lot of different options and ways to combine education with golf.

“I'm just lucky it has worked out for me,” he said.

McIlroy plays this week at the Vivendi Trophy — Great Britain and Ireland v Continental Europe — in Paris.

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