Belfast Telegraph

The Open: Rory McIlroy stars in another Holywood blockbuster

Hometown club goes wild as hero wins third Major

By Ivan Little

They call the leafy laneway leading up to Rory McIlroy's hometown club Nun's Walk, but there were no vows of silence or abstinence as the devoted disciples of the greatest golfer in the world celebrated their idol confirming his place in history by winning the greatest golf prize in the world.

And as the supremely-gifted genius on the global stage who comes from just down the road sank his final putt to win the Open, the roar for Rory in Holywood could probably have been heard across the Irish Sea in Hoylake.

But amid the noisy and frenzied scenes high in the Holywood hills there was the unmistakable sense that surprise wasn't among the gamut of emotions they were feeling at Rory's glory in the place where it all started.

For this was the party that Holywood always knew it would throw.

It was a day of destiny for the wonder kid from the Belfast Road who was born to be the undisputed king of golf.

Why, even Rory's father Gerry and three of his friends had backed their hunches about his inexorable rise to superstardom 10 years ago by placing £100 bets at odds of 500-1 that the tousle-haired teenager would realise his prodigious potential and win the Open by the age of 25.

And yesterday as the golfing juggernaut that is Rory McIlroy hoisted the iconic Claret Jug at Hoylake, the quartet of winners were preparing to fill other glass containers with the sparkling stuff, leaving bookies to count the cost of accepting their gamble.

At least one of the victors watched from the Holywood members' room but declined to talk about his spoils or about reports that he had almost sold his betting slip a couple of years back for a few thousand pounds.

Elsewhere in the club, whose extended trophy cabinet has become a glittering shrine to Rory's fantasy fairytale journey to the zenith of the golf firmament, other members weren't quite so reticent as the media besieged the clubhouse for the latest hurrah for Holywood's hero.

Rory's 15-year-old cousin could barely contain his excitement. But Fergus McIlroy had been given the inside track about his victory by ... Rory McIlroy.

"He was home a few weeks ago," said Fergus. "And he told me he was going to be in contention for the Open. And here he is – it's fantastic.

"He's been playing so well and he really deserved it.

"I've been watching all the golf from the outset but I was really nervous for him and I didn't start to get confident until about four holes before the end."

Fergus, who could just be the new Rory McIlroy, added: "I play here regularly and my game is progressing well.

"Rory gives me advice all the time and I have been able to learn from playing with him."

Outside, the fairways and greens were strangely quiet yesterday afternoon.

"That's because they're all in the bars watching Rory," said one club official.

"There's never been a better day if you want a quiet round – a really quiet round – of golf."

Indeed, there were ghost towns which had busier streets than Holywood yesterday.

One man who was walking aimlessly on Church Road with a faraway look in his eyes told me he was too nervous to stay at home to watch Rory's exploits.

Back on Nun's Walk, they cheered and applauded every one of Rory's good shots on the big screens before groaning at the poorer ones, though the golf swings were nothing compared to the mood swings as the man who'd been showing the Midas touch all week birdied and bogeyed on the last nine.

But when Rory's rival Sergio Garcia ended up in a bunker and failed to get out of it at the first attempt, the gloating cacophony of glee was deafening until senior Holywood members chided the merrymakers who clearly thought this was no time for sportsmanship.

As the clock ticked down to the finish it became clear that only a catastrophe could stop Rory – once dubbed the 'Tiger Cub' by Holywood – from clawing his way to the Major win he coveted more than any other.

Even the TV director seemed to think there could be only one outcome now and as he lingered on the camera shot of an Ulster flag fluttering in the Wirral breeze, the decibel levels in the clubhouse soared to new ear-splitting levels.

After a hiccup with a bunker on the 18th Rory finally putted out for the big one and his mother Rosie – attending her first Major – rushed to hug him, which was the signal for her friends in Holywood to wipe away the tears. And not just the ladies, either.

Club professional Stephen Crooks backed Rory's tactics on what could have been a difficult day.

"He played the right game plan. Even though Garcia put him under pressure early on, I think Rory was always in control," he said. "What he has done for himself, his family and this club is quite incredible.

"We are fully loaded with young junior players because of what Rory has achieved."

Club captain Terry Malone said: "We knew he'd lift the Open. But it was just a case of when. Two weeks ago his dad Gerry told me he would win one of the two remaining Majors.

"And I think it's only a matter of time before he completes the foursome of Major victories."

Like so many Holywood veterans, Terry was convinced that Rory would be a champion.

"I've known him since the day and hour he was born because I played golf with Gerry," he said. "We could all see from the age of six or seven that he could hit a ball with staggering power.

"Rory and I were even on the same Junior Cup team, and I am a lot older than him.

"But we are all very proud and he's made a great difference to Holywood Golf Club.

"He's really down to earth and it was good to see a couple of his old mates standing with him at Hoylake."

Rory has even managed to turn Holywood into a Hollywood-style tourist attraction for golfers from across the globe

Recently a busload of 30 women from Toronto Golf Club turned up unannounced at Nun's Walk after getting their driver to take an unscheduled detour away from their planned route from Killarney to Donegal. "They didn't want a game," said Terry.

"They just wanted to see the course where Rory played and they bought a load of souvenirs.

"We often get people from the big cruise ships calling in, too."

The celebrations at Holywood went on into the night.

Paula Denvir, who'd watched all 18 holes from a front row seat in the clubhouse with her husband Tony, said: "I just hope the party will continue into next week as well."

For the word in Holywood is that Rory will do what he did after he won the US Open three years ago and come home to show off his latest trophy to the people who helped mould him into what he has become – arguably the finest golfer the world has ever seen.

Belfast Telegraph


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