How local hero Rory McIlroy became golf's new superstar

  • 5 March 2012
  • From the section UK

The rest of the world may be stunned by the spectacular rise of golfer Rory McIlroy but no-one is surprised in his home town.

"Easy, easy, easy," chanted 200 people gathered round a television in the bar at his home club, Holywood, as young Rory lifted the US Open trophy.

"This is only the beginning. Watch out Tiger," shouted one member as the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland secured his first victory in a major golf event.

In the town of Holywood, three miles from Belfast, Rory always stood out - he was the kid with a putting green in his front garden.

While other children had football posts or climbing frames, the McIlroys had an all-weather golf surface outside their modest semi-detached house.

An 8ft-high wooden fence was built round the garden to stop people staring, and help Rory's concentration.

His father Gerry was a barman until his son hit the golfing big time.

No-one had more faith in Rory's ability over the years than his dad, and he was prepared to invest in him.

In 2004, Gerry and three friends gathered £100 each and placed a £400 bet on Rory McIlroy to win The Open before he was 25. At the time, he was 15. The bookmakers gave them odds of 500-1.

They must have smiled as they took the money, and thought: "Rory who?"

They are not laughing now.

Rory has his eyes firmly fixed on cashing in his dad's wager at next month's Open at Royal St Georges Golf Club in Sandwich, Kent.

When the bet was made, Rory was still at school, Sullivan Upper in Holywood, a two-minute walk from his home.

He made good friends, including his long-standing girlfriend Holly Sweeney. However, he could not wait to leave the classroom and go out on the nearby golf course.

He recently admitted this in an article for the school's magazine.

"I knew at the end of the day I wasn't going to end up being a doctor or a barrister - I wanted to play golf. In that respect, I felt that exams did not matter to me as much," he wrote.

He played some hockey at school but gave it up as it affected his golf.

Washing machine trick

From the moment he could walk, he could swing a club. Friends say even at the age of four, he had an effortless, smooth swing.

He quickly made a name for himself and appeared on a local TV programme showing off his party trick - chipping golf balls into a washing machine.

Soon he was out-driving the adults at Holywood Golf Club. Then he started winning local youth tournaments. Before long it was national and international competitions.

Image caption A mural honouring Rory McIlroy recently went up in his home town

He turned professional at the age of 17.

As his earnings grew, so did the size of his house and car - but not his head.

He did not stop walking around Holywood and going to the same coffee shop, Paninis on Church Road. He would still go for a ride on his mountain bike along the path of Belfast Lough.

Apart from his distinctive large mop of curly black hair, he looked like all of the rest of the teenagers in Holywood.

Since he entered golf's top 10, he has not been back home as often, but he can still be spotted around the town every few months.

A wall mural was recently painted in his honour near the town's train station. He is the local hero.

Nonetheless, people tend to give him space. They have got used to having a sporting superstar in their midst.

Girlfriend Holly tweeted on Sunday night: "First major down, millions to go!"

It will certainly be millions more dollars. Rory can now afford a Hollywood-lifestyle now rather than one in Holywood, County Down.

But in spite of his fame and riches, will he still regularly fly back to this small, quiet corner of Northern Ireland to see his mum and dad?

You bet he will.

Follow Mark Simpson ontwitter- @BBCMarkSimpson.

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