Rory McIlroy's caddie JP Fitzgerald might have given the golf star all the right numbers at Quail Hollow last weekend, but he definitely sprung a surprise on the Holywood youngster the other night.
Aiming for success: Rory McIlroy gets in some practice at Sawgrass last night
McIlroy had been planning to celebrate his 21st birthday over dinner with several friends on Tuesday night, but Fitzgerald had other ideas, organising full-blown party at Lulu's, a seafood restaurant not far from the back gate of Sawgrass.
Nearly 60 people turned out, and the list of those who attended was like a who's-who of Tour golf. Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, and Oliver Wilson were all in attendance.
“It's great to have the respect of your peers,” he explained yesterday morning, bright and relatively bushy-tailed having made it back to his hotel room at Sawgrass shortly after midnight.
“JP organised it and it was a nice little party,” he added. “To be honest, I hadn't expected so many people to be there, and it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces around the room, and I really appreciated that.
“It's good to have a bunch of friends out here, that you know you can go into the locker room and tell them what you're feeling.
“The most important thing to me is if they say I'm a good guy off the course. Then I know that I'm doing the right things,” McIlroy went on.
“It's just nice to go and play some good golf now and again as well.”
Wilson — a teammate of McIlroy at last year's Vivendi Trophy — underlined the significance of Tuesday night's turnout when he said: “It said a lot about Rory and how genuine he is. You never usually see so many professionals together at a social gathering, unless they're supposed to be there.
“Yet you'll never see Rory blank anyone, or walk past them without a friendly word. He has time for everyone,” added the Englishman, a teammate of McIlroy on skipper Paul McGinley's victorious Great Britain and Ireland side at last year's Vivendi Trophy.
McIlroy was inspired last Sunday morning by news of Ryo Ishikawa's final round 58, the lowest round ever shot on one of the world's major tours, as the 18-year-old swept to a sensational seventh career win in Sunday's Chunichi Crowns in his native Japan.
“He's the biggest celebrity in Japan, even bigger than Tiger Woods,” said McIlroy.
“He's under the spotlight the whole time, and it's incredible how well he handles it.
“Ryo won on the Japan Tour at age 15, which is so good that it’s ridiculous. He's so cool — he is my hero.”
Yet McIlroy's 62 last Sunday — and, especially, the manner in which it was achieved — has had a massive impact on the US golf community, both fans and players alike.
NBC TV's most outspoken pundit Johnny Miller was effusive yesterday, when he said: “That 62 is one of the great non-major performances in my time on the PGA Tour.
“It reminded me of my Oakmont round (63 to win the 1973 US Open).
“It had the magic going. This could open the gates for Rory. He could be the next great player.
“He's the kind of guy who's hard not to like,” added Miller. “Like the young Sergio.”
But can McIlroy keep the adrenaline pumping at The Players Championship?
“You cannot let what happened last week affect you this week,” said Rory.
“I mean my swing's the same, and I'm still hitting it great, but if there's one thing from last Sunday I wanted to keep, it'd have to be the mindset.
“Just the total focus,” he continued. “People call it getting in the zone.
“It's when you don't let anything get in the way or faze you. If you could bottle that and take it to every tournament, you'd be doing pretty good.”