The BigMac - Upward Curve
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The BigMac - Upward Curve

interviewinterviewThe Big MacComparisons to Tiger Woods will continue to haunt RoryMcIlroy, but, as Tom Pountney discovers, the boyfrom Northern Ireland is not just another golfing geniusFor an unassuming ladfrom County Down inNorthern Ireland, 15minutes from the heart of Belfast,comparisons to Tiger Woodsstrike an uncomfortable note.Since springing down the 18thfairway at the CongressionalCountry Club in Maryland to holethe winning putt at the 2011 USOpen, he is, undeniably, the mostexciting golfing prodigy since Tigerhimself. That landslide victorymade him the youngest US Openwinner for 78 years, and withit, among a series of tumblingrecords, the proud engineer ofan all-time record US Open lowscore of 268, 16 under par. Butfrom either side of the pond, thetwo paths of Tiger and Rory veerapart, and cross inexorably. Thefoundations undermining suchcomparisons are that the lattergolfing superstar has becomeentirely his own man.The 23-year-old only childof Gerry McIlroy and Rosaleen(née) McDonald grew up inHolywood, (not to be confusedwith Hollywood) in a communitythat was 90 per cent protestant.His Catholic grandfather, Jimmy,repaired cranes on the Belfastdocks – where the Protestantworkforce built The Titanic – whenhe wasn’t honing his reputationas the man to beat at HolywoodGolf Club. Jimmy’s brother Joewas murdered by a Protestanthit squad, determined to stopCatholics settling in ‘their areas’,in 1972, but the family stayed inHolywood, true to their faith.Forty years on, Rory does notlet the past define him. Althoughhe doesn’t forget where he hascome from and how he got therehe is solely focused on the future.This allows him to spring downfairways the world over with anair of detachment from the heavypast. The Holywood Golf Club hestill hails home has always beenmore concerned by golfing abilitythan which church its membersattend on a Sunday morning. Andit was here that the 10-montholdRory crawled upon the teeswhile his father – a scratch golfer– practised driving before servingin the clubhouse bar. On hissecond birthday, after breakingplastic clubs with such a forcefulstrike, Rory received a cut downiron and went to bed clutching theclub with the exact grip his fatherhad shown him – incidentally thesame rare grip he uses today, alsoused by Tiger Woods and JackNicklaus. He would ask to playgolf every day and his choice oftoddler television was a Nick Faldotechnique video. By the age ofseven, he became the HolywoodGolf Club’s youngest member,and today the ex-HolywoodPro Michael Bannon is his ➤Below: Rory received his firstiron for his second birthday andhas never looked back14 Upward Curve July-September 2012 July-September 2012 Upward Curve 15

interviewcoach and mentor. His golf wasplayed in an environment thatsought to downplay any religiousdifferences. “I have so many greatmemories from Holywood,” hesays. “And I’m sure I’ll have manymore over the years.”Before long, the modestpupil at Sullivan Upper School,an institution that promotedpolitical moderation regardless offaith, was knocking on the doorof the costly under-age circuit,and McIlroy’s father took on a90-hour working week, whilehis mother worked extra factorynight shifts. He represented theAll Ireland Golfing Union of Irelandand adorned the shamrock on hisblazer, years before representingIreland alongside fellow Northern-Irishman Graeme McDowell in the2009 Golf World Cup and vowingto play for Team GB at the 2016Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.The truth is that thepersonable, curly-headedposter boy of the post-troublesgeneration is not interested in oldbattles and debates, and his calm,all-encompassing nature shines alight of unity for the whole island.Sadly, Rory returned to theworst sectarian violence in Belfastfor years following his maidenMajor victory, but with the sameaptitude that it took to put his2011 US Masters capitulationbehind him, the US Openchampion stays firmly focused onthe future.“I know that 99.9 per cent ofthe population don’t want to seethat,” he laments. “Everyone justwants to live in peaceful times.I am aware that I’m going to beportrayed as a role model. I haveto be very careful in what I sayand do.”In preparation for the USOpen, McIlroy only managed ➤Right: At the European Open inthe UK in 2008July-September 2012 Upward Curve 17

interviewLeft: Rory likes to keep it simplewhen it comes to playingtwo rounds at the Congressional,spurning the week-long practiceopportunity to get his eye in atthe Pine Valley Golf Club in NewJersey. He also took a two-daytrip to Haiti as part of his role as aUNICEF ambassador.Behind-the-scenes his sixyearrelationship with childhoodsweetheart Holly Sweeney fromProtestant Belfast was on therocks and he needed focus.“The thing about playingMajors,” he explains, “is that thereis so much going on around youthat you really need to conserveyour energy and focus it onplaying golf because you can getside-tracked very easily. It is aboutgetting back to not thinking aboutthings too much and playing likea kid again. Go hit it, find it, hitit again. Hole the putt, go to thenext tee. Most of the things thatgo wrong in golf are the basics –posture, alignment and the normalfundamentals of the golf swing. Ilike to keep it simple.”Sure, Rory McIlroy likes finewatches and expensive cars. Hehas a top-of-the-range Audi andFerrari. Three months after turningpro in September 2007, he boughthis father a silver Mercedes. Helives in a luxurious detached housein Holywood with a purpose-builtpractise facility and he now datesthe Danish former world numberone tennis sensation CarolineWozniacki. Between prize moneyand endorsements, he has thepotential to become the highestearner in the history of sport. Butneighbours often see him in theaisles of his local supermarketwith a shopping trolley after he’scome home from a tour to findthe fridge empty. He’s an avidManchester United fan. The UStelevision series 24 is his favouriteprogramme and he relaxes bylistening to R&B and hip-hop onhis iPod. He practises what hepreaches, and this is what hasmade him the world number onein March 2011 after winning theHonda Classic in Florida.Even at the age of 18, after hisastronomical rise to professionalgolf winning the 2007 OpenChampionship Silver Medal (foramateurs), McIlroy knew howto keep his feet on the ground,declining an invitation to the TargetWorld Championship by noneother than Tiger Woods to stay athome and play tournaments on hisrookie European Tour Card.He went to the meet thegreat Jack Nicklaus, who had ahuge impact on his ability to stayrooted. “It was an unbelievableexperience,” says McIlroy. “It wasgreat to sit down and talk to himand see his approach to winningand what went through his headwhenever he was in contention,and what things he might havedone differently than other people.It was probably one of the best90 minutes I’ve ever spent. I thinkone of the biggest things that Itook from it was patience, and justto learn to wait, bide your time andknow that it will happen.”And Team Europe will needhis head clear and focused inSeptember if they are to repeatthe heroics of 2010 at the 39thRyder Cup at the Medinah CountryClub in Illinois. McIlroy’s first tasteof The Ryder Cup – one win, twohalves with Stewart Cink andone defeat to him – at Wales’Celtic Manor two years ago was“the best week of my life”. Howdifferent it could have been afterhis third shot from the sand by thefinal green rolled back in. But hemanaged to get up and down todraw the match. With an in-formTiger on the prowl, Rory won’t beso quick to “fancy his chances”against the one-time greatestgolfer. One thing though is forsure: he’ll be keen to shake theTiger off his back and re-establishhimself as world number one. n18 Upward Curve July-September 2012

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