McIlroy's deep-rooted relationship with Royal Portrush
From chipping on the greens as a child to setting the course record, McIlroy is at home on the course
July 17, 2019
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
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PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – When Rory McIlroy first came to Royal Portrush, he wasn’t the one playing golf. McIlroy would chip and putt on the practice green, but he was there to watch his father, Gerry, play in the North of Ireland Championship.
Rory finally played Royal Portrush on his 10th birthday. He met Darren Clarke that day, as well. A few years later, Rory famously set the course record, shooting 61 in the 2005 North of Ireland.
The Open’s return to his homeland hasn’t added an untenable burden to his shoulders, though. He likes to remind people that his caddie, Harry Diamond, has played more rounds at Royal Portrush than he has.
“I'm from Northern Ireland and I'm playing at home, but I don't see myself as that center of attention,” McIlroy said.
If McIlroy is not the center of attention, he is undoubtedly one of the favorites. He has four consecutive top-5s in The Open, including a win in The Open. He also has the lowest scoring average in that span (69.0 strokes). He is third in the FedExCup thanks to wins at THE PLAYERS and RBC Canadian Open. McIlroy is trying to become the first player since Jack Nicklaus in 1978 to win THE PLAYERS and The Open in the same season.
Not only did Rory set the course record (beating a mark once held by Padraig Harrington), but Diamond made it to the final of the 2011 North of Ireland. He lost on the 19th hole.
McIlroy said his preparation for this week has been similar to other Open Championships. He played Royal Portrush shortly after last year’s Ryder Cup, then played practice rounds Saturday and Tuesday.
He had dinner scheduled with his parents after that Saturday round, but he had to move the reservation up because he spent less time on the course than anticipated. His childhood memories quickly returned, decreasing the amount of prep work he needed to do.
“I think I was making it a little bigger in my head than it needed to be. I’ve played this place enough times to know where to miss it, where not to miss it, where the good leaves are,” McIlroy said. “No matter if there’s grandstands around of not, … it’s the same golf course.”
McIlroy grew up about 60 miles south of Portrush, in Holywood. Of the three Northern Irishmen in the field, his ties to the course may be the loosest. Graeme McDowell grew up in Portrush. Darren Clarke lives here and is a member of the club. The Open’s return after a 68-year absence is important step for a country trying to recover from a long-standing sectarian divide, but McIlroy’s life has largely been untouched by The Troubles.
He knows this week’s significance extends beyond golf, but the enthusiasm that produced the first sell-out in Open history could help.
“I can't just put the blinkers on and pretend that's not all going on. One of my sort of mantras this week is: Look around and smell the roses,” McIlroy said. “This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general. And to be quite a big part of it is an honor and a privilege. And I want to keep reminding myself of that, that this is bigger than me, right? This is bigger than me.
“I think if you can look at the bigger picture and you can see that, it sort of takes a little bit of the pressure off. I still want to play well and concentrate and do all the right things, but at the same time just having that perspective might just make me relax a little bit more.”