Rory McIlroy won’t let his Masters disaster affect him.
His upbringing will make sure of that.
McIlroy has been destined for greatness since he was in short trousers. You wouldn’t know it. If ever a golfer had an excuse to be bloated with entitlement, it’s McIlroy. Yet he’s never let success go to his head.
From the day he was old enough to make a passable swing at a little white ball, he has been destined to stand at the very pinnacle of world golf. He was hitting 40-yard drives when he was 2 years old. At 8, he became the youngest full member of Holywood Golf Club, five miles east of Belfast. At 9, he won the Under 10 World Championship at Doral. At the same age he appeared on the Gerry Kelly Show, a popular Irish talk show, where he chipped nine balls out of 10 into a washing machine. At 11, he shot level par around Holywood’s par-69 layout. Two years later, and his handicap was down to scratch.
He played in his first professional event, the 2005 British Masters, at age 15. He won both the West of Ireland and the Irish Amateur Close Championships that year, and smashed the course record at Royal Portrush with an 11-under 61 in the North of Ireland Amateur.
His rise up the professional ranks is well documented. He’s gone from top dog in the amateur ranks to world superstar in just three years.
Seems odd to think of a 21-year-old as favorite to win the Masters. Yet the Northern Irishman arrived in Augusta as one of the favorites. He left with the world asking questions about how he bounces back from a closing a 80 in a Masters that was his to win, which turned into a Masters he lost.
Asked what he learned after the final round, McIlroy said: “I think it’s a Sunday at a major, what it can do. This is my first experience at it, and hopefully the next time I’m in this position I’ll be able to handle it a little better. I didn’t handle it particularly well today, obviously, but it was a character-building day, put it that way. I’ll come out stronger for it.”
Don’t fear for McIlroy. He, indeed, will bounce back from this all the stronger. The smile on his face when he walked off the 18th green said as much. The fact he made himself available for interview when he walked off the 72nd green was pure class. He could have been forgiven for storming off the golf course.
“The thing about Rory is that he takes everything in his stride,” father Gerry once said. “Nothing seems to faze him.”
You have to visit Holywood Golf Club to discover why McIlroy carries himself with such equanimity.
Holywood doesn’t fall into the country-club category of golf club. Far from it. It’s what you would call a proper golf club, a club people join for the right reasons as opposed to some clubs people join because they see them as some sort of status symbol.
It’s the sort of club where members gather in the evening for a few pints, just as others would go down to the pub.
I had the pleasure of visiting Holywood during the 2007 Walker Cup. A rugby game was being shown in the main bar, and members had congregated to watch the action. I was welcomed readily as if I was one of the members.
A few pictures of Rory were on display, but nothing over the top. It was obvious the members were proud that one of their own was playing in the Walker Cup down the road at Royal County Down, but they spoke of Rory as if was just another junior member, rather than one destined for greatness.
Gerry McIlroy worked three jobs to finance Rory’s amateur golf. One of those jobs was running the bar at Holywood. A decent amateur golfer who got as low as a scratch handicap in his day, Gerry and wife Rosie have always made sure Rory’s feet have been kept firmly on the ground.
Rory didn’t experience much failure in his amateur career, certainly nothing to compare to his Masters meltdown. However, he was the star of the show in that Walker Cup, the local boy that drew the Irish crowds. He didn’t deliver.
Rory won just 1.5 points out of a possible four. He lost his opening singles to Billy Horschel when he three-putted the 18th hole. He lost his final day foursomes match alongside compatriot Jonathan Caldwell, even though the pair were 4 up early in the match.
Despite setting his heart on winning the Walker Cup in his homeland, McIlroy took the defeat with the same sort of grace as he has accepted much of his success. He never threw a club or stormed off into the night.
It was the same last year when he backed up an opening 63 at St Andrews with a second-round 80. He eventually finished third, and the experience definitely hurt. Yet McIlroy never ducked a question, never ran and hid.
It will be the same with this Masters experience. Don’t expect the Northern Irishman to hang his head in shame. He’ll bounce back from this and go on to win majors.
“Golf is a bit like an exam paper. I like the fact that each day asks different questions of you,” McIlroy once said.
He faced his toughest examination in this year’s Masters and failed. He’ll chalk it up to experience and bounce back. His upbringing will make sure of that.