As a drowsy but delirious Rory McIlroy touched down in the torrential rain of Belfast, his father Gerry was already quietly plotting the next phase of his son's path to global golfing domination.
At every stage of a tumultuous US Open week, McIlroy Snr has been ever-present in the champion's entourage: eating with him at the Bethesda Marriott, scrutinising each one of his shots on the Congressional fairways, and finally sharing a touching Father's Day embrace by the 18th green.
“I'm ready to go home,” he said on his final return flight from Heathrow to George Best Belfast City Airport. The 51-year-old — sitting in seat 1A, as befitting a parent to Northern Ireland's finest sporting property since Best himself — says he expects ‘Rors' not only to improve, but to win another Major championship by the end of the year. “Can I tell you something? I think he's going to win another one this year. It's just a feeling.”
Pressed on whether the prophecy would be realised at Royal St George's for the Open, or at Atlanta Athletic Club for the US PGA, he said: “Royal St George's, if it's not too windy.”
It is a disarmingly bold statement. The feat of two Majors in one season has not been achieved since Padraig Harrington in 2008.
But with McIlroy poised to usurp even Tiger Woods as the most powerful draw in the world game, his father perceives no limits to the heights he can attain.
Gerry, it should be noted, stands to earn £200,000 from a wager he made seven years ago that Rory would win the Open by 2014. This pales into significance against the seven-figure sponsorship deals Rory stands to acquire should he continue on his dizzyingly steep trajectory to the top. No wonder many have wondered aloud how a burgeoning bank account might affect his famed humility.
“Money does not mean anything to Rory,” Gerry said emphatically. “It has never made any difference to him whatsoever. He never has it when I ask if he has any on him. Rory's just an ordinary guy who enjoys golf and gets on with it. He loves getting home to his mates and schoolfriends whom he has known for years. He will always be grounded.
“Rory has handled everything since Sunday so well; signing autographs, being kind to people. On the night we didn't get away from the course until about 11.30pm.”
Rory's first task on the domestic front is to invite Gerry and mother Rosie over for dinner at his lovingly designed Co Down estate.
His powerful attachment to the community will be on display this afternoon when he holds a homecoming press conference at the Holywood club where, as a toddler, he would dream of holding his first major trophy.
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