“I've won four Majors, how many have you?”
Caddie JP Fitzgerald was still glowing with satisfaction after his man’s US Open victory when Gerry McIlroy popped this priceless question.
McIlroy Snr’s cheeky ball-hop was based on the back-to-back victories secured by Rory at the West of Ireland and Irish Close with his dad on the bag.
“Yeah, but yours were amateur ‘majors’,” the caddie retorted.
Perhaps they were but those first four adult amateur titles won by Rory at age 15 and 16 represented major achievements for the remarkable youngster, who at that tender age had started to play golf coach Michael Bannon believed good enough to make the grade on tour.
Bannon had given young Rory a few tips as a child but his instruction formally began at age 10 in his teaching facility at Bangor Golf club.
“I have videos back that far,” Bannon says. “Look at the swing then and you can always see some similarities. But built it up as he grew so it’d always suit Rory at the time he was playing.
“For example, he’d a swing that suited him at 10 or 11. Then at 12, he got a bit bigger and we had to fit it a bit. At 13, 14 or 15, we looked at it and said ‘this is going well here. There’s a few wee things, maybe your backswing’s a bit too around yourself or a bit flat but I think we’ll leave it there because you’re happy enough at the minute’.”
Any alterations made were “done almost by stealth, almost teasing a change into the swing which will always continue to flow,” he explains.
“I was very lucky because he that he wanted to learn; just soaked up the information and kind of trusted me all the time,” Bannon admits.
“Yet he was also aware of his responsibility in dealing with “such a massive talent. I always knew I was telling him the right things but you’re always kind of nervous, thinking is it the right thing for him, is it going to take him to another level.”
Once McIlroy reached 15, however, Bannon noticed: “how far he could hit the ball for his size and his age. I thought this was fantastic. It was further than a man then and he was able to send it out with regular consistency”.
From that point on “we became kind of a double act there” as McIlroy took an ever greater role in the decision-making process. He was maturing very fast.