Sneak Peek: This article will appear in the April 29 edition of Global Golf Post.
JUNO BEACH, FLORIDA | On an overcast day with clouds the same shade as a Titleist, the colorful Gerry McIlroy can be spotted several holes away.
His shirt is bright teal. Everything else he wears – shorts, belt, shoes and glove – is white, including the slight bit of hair on his hatless head.
But the radiance bursts through more because of the man. McIlroy, like his four-time major championship-winning son, bounces merrily down the fairways, chatting without burden along the way. When he arrives at his ball, he quickly chooses a club and waggles several times, never coming to a full stop before he unveils a long, flowing swing. McIlroy is a playing partner’s dream, abundantly kind, and an expedient player who carries a tidy 2 handicap.
“He has quickly become our most popular member,” says Bob Ford, Seminole Golf Club’s legendary head professional. “He endeared himself to the membership almost immediately.”
If Ford’s words aren’t enough endorsement to confirm McIlroy’s growing stature at Seminole, a club to which he has now belonged for a little less than three years, his participation in this week’s Coleman Invitational does. His rounds of 77 and 83 don’t have him anywhere near the lead of the senior division, although he did show a glimpse of what he is capable of with a 1-under-par 35 on the back nine of his opening round. Yet his interactions with fellow members during the club’s biggest tournament are telling. He may have taken 160 strokes for the first two rounds, but he shook at least as many hands.
This is McIlroy’s life now and he deserves it. Here is the same man who worked two jobs to ensure his prodigy son could pursue the game he loved without being held back in his training. McIlroy would wake up in time for an 8 a.m. shift cleaning toilets and lockers at a rugby club before leaving at noon to serve as a bartender at Holywood Golf Club in his native Northern Ireland. He would then come home for an hour to be with his wife, Rosie, and their only son before returning to tend the bar at the rugby club from 7 p.m. until midnight. He did that for eight years, sometimes working 90 hours a week, in part because instructor Jim McLean told McIlroy that his then 9-year-old son was destined to be special.
“He likes to say that every day is a Saturday.” – Bryan Norton on Gerry McIlroy
Gerry has long believed in his son but has done so in a humble way that aligns with his blue-collar background. Unlike some other parents of high-profile pros, McIlroy is encouraging but focuses on blending into the surroundings. For most of his son’s career, McIlroy has had a blanket rule of not talking to the media under any circumstances. This is in stark contrast to Rory, who has sometimes been so overwhelmingly honest and open with the media that it has been to his detriment.
One of the only times the elder McIlroy has been in the news – perhaps the only time most will be able to recall – is when he and a few buddies cashed in on 500-to-1 ticket that Rory would win the Open Championship before turning 26. McIlroy and his friends pooled together £400 and made the long-shot bet when the budding star was just 15. It paid off with the group winning £200,000.
Other than that, he has purposely stayed out of the spotlight.
“I’ve had some things twisted by the media in the past, so I don’t do any media,” he said Friday afternoon. “Do you know Rory? You can ask him. I let him do all the talking.”
In some ways this makes Gerry McIlroy a mysterious character, at least when it comes to the public eye. Who he is privately, however, is of little mystery: He plays golf as much as he possibly can, most of it coming on the hallowed grounds of Seminole just a handful of miles from where his son lives. The two of them can often be found playing together at the Donald Ross layout. Today, Rory will be on hand to watch his dad play in his first Coleman.
Gerry’s popularity at Seminole has much to do with his seemingly endless desire to play with as many members as possible.
“He just loves golf,” says Alan Fadel, the Coleman’s tournament chairman. “He will play with anyone on any day.”
One of the big traditions at the club is to have a skins game three days per week, a competition where groups are put together on the fly as members arrive at the course. Playing in different groups at different times is an important reflection of Seminole’s ethos, and the philosophy has fit perfectly with McIlroy’s gregarious and fun-loving personality.
“He likes to say that every day is a Saturday,” says Bryan Norton, a two-time winner of the Coleman Invitational’s senior division. “He’s out here almost every day. Not long ago, he teamed up with Buddy Marucci against me and one of my friends. They beat us, 2 and 1, to take our money. As good of a golf swing he has, he’s an even better person.”
Skins games and friendly wagers aside, McIlroy spends only a small portion of his time playing competitively in a tournament setting. Despite that, he has enjoyed some success. McIlroy was recently medalist in the stroke-play portion of Seminole’s senior club championship and partnered with Rory to almost win the club’s famous Pro-Member event last month. The two combined for a gross 5-under 67, two strokes back of winners Mike McCoy and Cameron Tringale.
There are more tournaments in his future. And a lot more games amongst members he now calls close friends.
Rory McIlroy shares a hug with his father, Gerry, after winning the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. Photo: Michael Cohen, Copyright USGA
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