McIlroy Breath Of Fresh Air For Golf

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Some bemoaned the fact that there was not a tighter finish to the Race to Dubai; rather more saw the week of the DP World Championship as a celebration of a thrilling young talent. On or off the course, the 23-year-old Rory McIlroy is never dull. His every round is lit with a couple of believe-it-or-not recoveries while, when it comes to his press conferences, he always laces diplomacy with a delicious – if inadvertent – touch of the unexpected. In which connection, his proud father, Gerry, will tell you that not too much has changed. While watching his offspring last week, he recalled one of those precious Sundays of 15 or so years ago when he would take a rest from juggling the three jobs which helped him to fund Rory’s golfing sorties. On the Sabbath in question, he had played his usual nine holes with the child and accompanied him to the driving range before finally slumping in his chair. That was when Rory approached and insisted they return to the range – he had more work to do. “No, Rory,” protested Gerry. “We’ve done enough.” To which Rory hit back with an unanswerable, “Don’t you want me to get better?” McIlroy’s coach, Michael Bannon, threw in a favourite old story of his own. It concerned how, when he handed Rory a scorecard for one of his first nine-hole children’s competitions at Holywood GC, he noticed that the little lad had labeled himself “Rory Nick Faldo McIlroy.” Bannon, the Holywood professional for 15 years before moving on to Bangor GC, mentioned in passing that any jealousy towards McIlroy in those early days was short-lived; the culprits recognised almost at once that they were not in his league. “The jealousy would switch to awe,” he remembers. It has been much the same across McIlroy’s triumphant first five years on the European Tour. Listen to Anders Hansen on the subject: “If anyone feels anything in the way of resentment after what Rory’s done for the Tour, they would have to be mad,” suggested the Dane. Everything about McIlroy startled Hansen at the outset. “I first saw this curlyhaired kid on the putting green at a British Masters and didn’t have a clue whether it was a boy or a girl,” he began. “Long before I saw Rory hit a shot, I could see he was something special. Everything came so naturally to him. “What makes him even more admirable,” he continued, “is that he’s one of the nicest guys out here. I wouldn’t say that of a lot of them but he really is that nice. Where he has it over Tiger is that he’s more approachable. He’s a good boy who carries his stardom better than anyone I know in any sport. I can’t think of anyone who comes close.” McIlroy interacts with spectators during his practice rounds – and always they return for the tournament days. Again, he is friendly with the photographers. They can snap him and he never snaps back. Dave Cannon, the supremo among cameramen, cites a day at the Open when his state-of-the-art-camera went off on its own on the 18th tee as McIlroy was about to hit. McIlroy pulled out of his drive and waited patiently for him to sort things out. “Are you ready now, Dave?” he asked. Matthew Harris, another photographer par excellence, said that McIlroy passes the ultimate test: “Even if he’s had a 76, he’ll stick with arrangements. Others, after a bad round, will give you a brief ‘Not today’ at best.” When, at the start of last week, George O’Grady awarded McIlroy – a five-times winner this season – his gold money-clip for 2013, no-one could have responded more graciously. “I’ll always be loyal to the European Tour,” he promised. He carried on saying all the right things and it was only when someone hit on the theme of how his wrapping up of The Race to Dubai had stripped the tail-end of the season of its excitement that he slipped up a tad. Asked if he would find it tough to get motivated for the week, he came up with an engagingly truthful, if rather too forthright, explanation as to why that would not apply. “Obviously, I’ve got to hang on till the end (to collect his Race to Dubai winner’s loot) so I might as well make the tournament count by winning a second trophy.” Another moment to savour came when he was asked about his switch – allegedly for $250 million over ten years – to Nike. Was he at all wary of changing clubs? The answer was in the negative. “Today’s clubs,” he began, “are all much the same and they’re mostly all made up at the same factories.” Warming to his theme, he added that he could probably get by with a hockey stick and an orange. You had to feel for those Nike club-makers who might even then have been working on the finishing touches to the world No. 1’s new set. Mind you, the chances are that they would have given a knowing nod to what the young man was saying. He is that gifted.

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