THE PURSUIT OF AWESOME: RORY MCILROY
Born in Holywood, Northern Ireland, MBE and professional golfer Rory McIlroy was always set for international sporting stardom. Picking up a golf club at the tender age of two fuelled a passion and desire within to become one of the world’s greatest golfing heroes. On the professional scene since 2007, he has taken the world of golf by storm, gaining both the respect of peers and fans alike.
A philanthropic man, Rory founded the Rory Foundation in 2013 to help give a helping hand to children’s charities around the globe.
“I’ve no real memories of the first time I lifted a golf club. There are, however, some very embarrassing family photos of me on holiday in Spain swinging a plastic club on a beach. I doubt there was anything natural looking about those early attempts – I was just trying, as a two-year-old, to copy my dad. I started to play golf as a toddler so my dreams and ambitions were probably always golf related. I think I did dream of being the world’s No1, even though I was far too young to know what it really meant – that came in the first couple of years in primary school…
I was bitten by the golf bug from the moment I began playing and by the time I was about five, I was determined that playing and practicing golf was what I wanted to do every day. Beginning to witness my game improving made me want to improve all the more. I spent every moment I could on the golf course – and every moment my mum and dad could spare! I set myself targets to aim for, such as getting my handicap lower, and tried to become as good as the best golfers at the club. I also studied the game and how clubs were made, spending time in the professional’s shop watching clubs being gripped and broken ones repaired. By the age of seven, I was being coached by Michael Bannon, our club Pro, who’s still my coach to this day.
Thinking back, it was a little weird when I first turned professional to be playing in the same tournaments as the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. I had, of course, played in a number of professional events as an amateur against the world's best but it was a little more intense, with a lot more to play for, when it was a level playing field.
Growing up, I had the greatest respect for a lot of golfers- the first I really remember was Sir Nick Faldo. It was definitely a little strange meeting him for the first time when I was selected for the Faldo Series as a fourteen-year-old. It was when I was about ten that Tiger woods came onto the scene and utterly transformed the game of golf. I was mesmerized. His aggressive style of play, fearlessness against any competitor and mental strength really took me, and the rest of the world, by storm. I followed every tournament he played and read every word written about him for many years.
I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career and my highlights reel is an exciting one! My first golfing highlight was winning, as a nine-year-old, the Under 10 World Championship in Doral, Florida. That win really gave me the belief that I could go a long way in golf. Second has to be my first European Tour win in Dubai in 2009. I’d turned Pro about 18 months before and it was a real confidence-builder to win against Europe’s best at the age of nineteen. Most recently, my Open Championship win in 2014 was a very special highlight of my career to date. I had dreamed for years of winning what I always called my home Major, so to get it done, with my mum coming to give me a hug on the 18th green, was something truly special.
My parents have been so committed and supportive over the years. After my first major win, I remember them saying: “You owe us, big time!” I’m joking, of course. Their belief in me, encouragement and support was utterly selfless. I can’t remember their exact words after my first win but I know they were delighted for me, proud of what we’d all achieved and the journey we’d been on. I still feel that encouragement every time I step out on the course.
It’s not always easy, though and there have definitely been testing times and I think my ability to dig that bit deeper comes from having experienced both success and disappointment. I have won tournaments against the odds and let tournaments slip away when they were mine for the taking. During the last round of the PGA in 2014 at Valhalla, I had the lead at the start of the last day, lost it on the front nine and then had to fight very hard through the closing holes to win the tournament. I was able to convince myself on that occasion to find the motivation and focus that I couldn’t find in the early part of the round. I don’t like to lose…!
As a rule, I don’t count my trophies but I do have a few trophy cabinets between my home in Northern Ireland and my place in Florida. I’ve quite often sent my trophies up to my local club in Hollywood to be put on display there for the members or visitors to see. I have to admit, I’m really very fond of the trophies that came with my Major wins, especially the Open Championship’s Claret Jug.
For young people, boys and girls, wishing to pursue a future in sport- it can be an incredibly rewarding career. But, like everything else, the hours are long, difficult and you have to be prepared for a lot of sacrifice and be willing to endure more disappointment than success. Just look at my own stats: I play up to 24 events a year in the hope of winning 4 or 5 of them – and that’d be seen as an excellent return. While there were no guarantees that I’d enjoy success as a professional golfer, the journey up to that point would still have been worth it. I always felt that the discipline and dedication required to take sport as far as possible can be applied to almost any challenge in life.
As I’ve sort of got the hang of this golf thing, I’m probably as well sticking with it… Seriously, though, golf’s my life and I still have a lot I want to achieve in the long career that lies ahead of me. I can’t put a figure on the amount of tournaments I’d like to win but I am still greatly motivated to keep improving, in my golf and fitness, and will always aim to be the best I can. And what also keeps me interested is the great balance I’ve always enjoyed between golf and time away from the Tour spent at home with friends and family.”