Commentary: This is simply McIlroy's destiny
Geoff Toye spent years trying to get Rory McIlroy to play in the Jacques Leglise Trophy.
He never succeeded. Rory had other plans.
Rory McIlroy at the 2011 U.S. Open
Check out photos of Rory McIlroy at the 111th U.S. Open Championship
Toye was chairman of selectors for the Great Britain & Ireland Jacques Leglise team. The Jacques Leglise features the best juniors from Great Britain & Ireland against the best juniors from Continental Europe. Rory was head and shoulders above everyone as a junior, but he never played in the match.
“It would have been great to see him play just the once,” Toye said. “I would have loved to have led a team with him in my side.”
McIlroy wasn’t being big headed, it’s just that he was on a fast track to professional golf. He didn’t want to waste time on events that didn’t help him achieve his destiny.
I first saw Rory play at Royal Liverpool in 2003 when he was just 14. McIlroy lost in the opening round to England’s Graham Benson. A year later at Conwy, Wales, he lost in the second round. However, both times I saw him it was clear he was something special.
Indeed, McIlroy only played in two British Amateur Championships I covered. He failed to qualify for the 2005 British Am, and had to withdraw from the 2006 Championship at Royal St George’s because of illness.
I believe the only reason he didn’t play in the Jacques Leglise, and only played the two Boys Championships and two Amateurs was due to the fact they were match-play events. McIlroy had his eyes on the professional game, and match play isn’t the best preparation for the pro ranks.
The youngster signed a letter of intent to play college golf at East Tennessee State. Coach Fred Warren has built a pretty good team off the back of British and Irish players. In fact, McIlroy’s caddie J.P. Fitzgerald played college golf for Warren at ETSU.
McIlroy never did suit up for the Buccaneers.
“I saw him as the sort of player I could build a team around,” Warren said. “I knew about him from an early age through the British and Irish guys I had on the team. I wish he’d played for me a couple of seasons at least, that would have been a real privilege. Truth is he was too good. He was good enough to play on tour when he was 16.”
McIlroy hung around the amateur game long enough to play in the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down, but I believe it was only because it was in his own backyard. I’m convinced that if the match had been anywhere but Northern Ireland, Rory would probably have turned professional after winning the silver medal in the Open Championship at Carnoustie that year.
That Open was where he announced himself to the world. A flawless opening 68 en route to a 42nd-place finish told the world that McIlroy had the right stuff to play with the world’s elite.
Remember what winner Padraig Harrington said at his victory speech? That he was happy to win his first major before Rory started winning them. Harrington knew McIlroy had the caliber to win the titles that really matter.
Maybe the most impressive aspect of the 22-year-old is that despite all the success he’s had, all the praise and column inches that have been written about him, he’s never let it go to his head. McIlroy is as genuine now as he was when I first met him when he was just 14.
His working-class background has kept him grounded. Father Gerry worked three jobs to fund his son’s dream. He and wife Rosie poured everything into giving Rory the chance to make it.
Moreover, Holywood Golf Club is not the sort of club that would welcome arrogance. It’s a working/middle class club with no airs and graces. The members would soon have put him his place if he’d showed any signs of egotism.
Winning the U.S. Open won’t change McIlroy. He’ll be the same affable kid he’s always been. Winning majors is what he’s had his mind on since he first followed father Gerry to the Holywood fairways with junior 3-wood with a blue grip.
To quote Seve Ballesteros, it is part of his destiny.