Belfast Telegraph

Rory McIlroy has Holywood smiling... and youngsters are hitting the golf course

By Rebecca Black

In Holywood they are already searching for the next Rory.

In the hills overlooking the town where The Open winner's incredible career began, there was a crowd of young wannabes yesterday taking their first tentative steps to stardom.

At Holywood Golf Club little Noah, aged just 8, described himself as Rory's "first best fan" and how one of his proudest possessions was a cap signed by his hero.

He also loved golf despite his young age, but very modestly did not think he would ever reach Rory's heights: "He's just too good".

It was on these same greens and fairways that Rory's journey began while he was still in primary school. A former captain of the club remembered the young McIlroy as a seven-year-old earnestly promising to obey all the rules if they would let him become a member.

Eddie Harper was youth convenor at Holywood Golf Club when Rory first applied to become a member.

"I interviewed Rory in 1996 as a seven-year-old," he recalled. "At that age we wouldn't normally take people into the club – normally you have to be 10.

"But Rory's father urged us to give him a chance and got the committee to agree to bend the rules because of his exceptional talent. I remember Rory coming in for the interview with a suit, shirt and tie on,. He said: 'There will be no problem, I know the rules'."

Eddie recalled how at the age of seven Rory's handicap was 18. Within two years it was down to a single figure, and after another two he was playing off scratch.

"As a juvenile player, he was never any trouble. Never arrogant, always so polite. His parents worked hard to support him in those days. Being an amateur is expensive, with all that travel. The club assisted, too. We know it is an expensive sport and we have never regretted it. He still remembers Holywood Golf Club and I hope he always will."

Current manager of Holywood Golf Club Paul Gray also remembers Rory as a youngster and observed that he always preferred to be a small fish in a big pond, always competing against someone better and determined to push himself.

"I remember Rory's dad pushing him in a pram up the hill here," he said. "Literally from when he was walking he had a golf club in his hand. By the time he was seven or eight he really had a game you would look at and think that kid is looking accomplished. It was highly unusual.

"He kept pitting himself against people better than him, he was always pushing himself, and continues even now. He has his eye on winning the Grand Slam."

His home town revelled in their favourite son's victory yesterday.

"We love Rory" cheered the ladies in Sweeney's Pharmacy on Holywood High Street, summing up the sunny, celebratory mood.

Sweeney's, like many businesses in Rory McIlroy's hometown yesterday, was displaying triumphant pictures of their hero in the window just hours after he claimed the Claret Jug.

Staff member Elizabeth Laing said: "Last time time Rory won a Major there was such a feelgood factor around the town and it is the same this time, although him winning The Open so close to home makes it even more special."

Oasis Travel was also proudly displaying Rory's face in its window, as well as on their own faces with masks.

Office manager Lisa Sprake said everyone is "really chuffed". "We were all glued to the TV – one of the girls here is related to him and another is the course manager so it was extra special for us," she said.

One of their customers, Margaret, plans her holidays to avoid missing any of the major golf tournaments. She, too, was delighted with Rory's latest triumph.

Along the street, Stewart Millers was displaying newspaper coverage of Rory's victory in its windows and also Rory masks. Manager Alison Muir said his victory was "wonderful for the town".

Further Reading

Rejoice in Rory McIlroy ... everyone knows where he's from

The modest, shy (and very proud) mum who gave Rory his drive 

McIlroy is unable to emulate Tiger's heroics: G-Mac

Major record is there for taking if Rory drives on 

Biting Back: The righteous indignation was overkill 

In feelgood Holywood, everyone's smiling... and youngsters are hitting the golf course  

McIlroy is carving his name onto the pages of history 

A hero returns home, and they all want to see him  

Hoylake links attracts fewer fans than Woods glory 

The Open: Rory McIlroy shows elite sport and relationships just don't mix 

The Open: Rory McIlroy stars in another Holywood blockbuster 

The Open: Fred Daly set standard for Rory to follow, and now he can master Augusta 

Rory McIlroy: From boy to £25m superstar

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