Tait’s Take: I was wrong about Rory McIlroy's 61 at Royal Portrush

AP Photo/Peter Dejong

Tait’s Take: I was wrong about Rory McIlroy's 61 at Royal Portrush

British Open

Tait’s Take: I was wrong about Rory McIlroy's 61 at Royal Portrush

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There will be a lot of hype about Rory McIlroy’s course-record 61 at Royal Portrush in the buildup to next week’s Open Championship. Rightly so. It was a special round. I just didn’t think it was that special at the time.

I was wrong.

McIlroy’s 61 came in qualifying for the 2005 North of Ireland Championship when he was 16 years old. I wasn’t jumping up and down when I heard he’d conquered one of Ireland’s greatest links. I wasn’t entirely sure about Rory’s potential.

I first saw the wunderkind from Northern Ireland in the 2003 British Boys Championship at Royal Liverpool. I ventured out with much anticipation to watch him play the first round against an unknown English kid called Graham Benson. The experience was underwhelming. Benson won.

I wondered then if McIlroy was the subject of too much hype.

I was eager to reappraise my judgment during the 2006 British Amateur Championship at Royal St. George’s. Eager because of his Royal Portrush course record the previous year. I didn’t get the chance. Rory shot 78 around Royal St. George’s in the opening qualifying round and never turned up for the second round at Prince’s.

I saw a lot of Rory in 2007. I watched him three-putt the final hole to lose the Lytham Trophy to Lloyd Saltman. I saw him lose to a then little-known Danny Willett in his opening round of the British Amateur at Royal Lytham.

Of course, I saw him take the silver medal at Carnoustie when Padraig Harrington won the 2007 Open Championship. Rory finished T-42.

I witnessed McIlroy three-putt the final green at Royal County Down to lose a singles match to Billy Horschel on the opening day of the Walker Cup. The following day he and Johnny Caldwell lost 2&1 in foursomes to Horschel and Rickie Fowler despite being 4-up after five holes. Great Britain & Ireland lost the match 12 ½ – 11 ½.

You can see why I had reservations about the future superstar tag everyone was hanging around Rory’s neck.

If you asked me after that Walker Cup who would go on to have the better career, I probably would have picked Saltman. Besides the Lytham Trophy, the Scottish player won the Irish Open Stroke Play to appear in his second consecutive Walker Cup match. He won the Brabazon Trophy and St Andrews Links Trophy in 2005. Saltman placed T-15 when he won the silver medal in the 2005 Open Championship at St Andrews.

I was also wrong about Saltman. He’s appeared in just 55 European events in his career. He’s currently playing the EuroPro Tour, a British mini-tour. His current world ranking is No. 2079, 2,076 places below McIlroy.

McIlroy, Saltman and many others are the reason I no longer speculate on the future careers of up-and-coming amateurs. I could probably rhyme off a dozen players who were supposed to go on to be big stars only to crash and burn once they turned pro.

As for predictions about Rory winning at Royal Portrush next week, he has no chance!

He can thank me when he lifts the old claret jug……

 

 

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