Watching the glitter turn into golfing gold – Brian Rowan on Rory McIlroy’s third Major win

 

This morning, I turned the golfing pages back seven years – back to when Rory McIlroy was still playing the amateur game and when we were still pontificating and predicting how good he might be.

Just look at his baby-faced photograph in the 2007 Walker Cup programme and look too at the then 18-year-old Ricky Fowler.

 

Turning back the pages – McIlroy and Fowler pictured in the 2007 Walker Cup Programme

 

How far they’ve come since that event at Royal County Down to being in the final pairing on the final day of the 2014 Open.

There was a day, in August 2007, when I watched McIlroy on the Rosapenna Links in Donegal…

Watched him play in gold-coloured shoes and, in typical roller-coaster style, watched as he turned a potentially disastrous round into something much more respectable.

At the time, I wrote: “His play over the opening five holes of the second round was so un-McIlroy like – bogey, triple-bogey, par, par, double-bogey for six over after five.

“Then came the golf to match those golden shoes.

 

2007 Rowan writing about the golden golf in gold-coloured shoes

2007 Rowan writing about the golden golf in gold-coloured shoes

 

“He played the rest of the round six under for a level par 70 – his shot of the day driving the par four seventh.”

McIlroy has always been that special player, capable of transforming his clubs into some kind of magic wands.

But, as I followed him those seven or so years ago as part of a documentary I was making for Ulster Television, did I believe that by now he would have reached world number one, played on winning Ryder Cup sides and tucked three Majors into his cabinet?

No I didn’t.

Potential and achievement are two very different things.

He comes, of course, from a golfing family.

Over many years, I watched his grandfather Jimmy and father Gerry walk the not many strides from the family home at Wood End to the Holywood Golf Club.

I lived in the same street, but none of us could have imagined that the next generation of McIlroy golfers would come with all this glitter and genius.

This morning I chatted on the phone with his uncle Colm: “I don’t think they will make much of a dent in that lead,” he said of the overnight six shot advantage his nephew took into the final round.

“I think he will start better and coast in,” he predicted.

He did start better with a birdie at the first to stretch his lead to seven, but then he stuttered with bogeys on five and six and, as McIlroy stumbled, so Garcia closed.

The gap was just two shots after 14 holes.

But that advantage that McIlroy took into the final day meant he would always be comfortable if not coasting.

Garcia and Fowler managed 15 under, with McIlroy two better at -17.

When did I really believe that this young golfer could and would play with the world’s best?

Probably when I followed him during the final round of the Dunhill Links tournament at St Andrews in October 2007.

It was just his second tournament as a professional and he finished third ahead of some of the biggest names in the game – among them Els and Harrington.

It was then that I really began to believe.

Seven years ago, during that Walker Cup event, I wrote: “McIlroy is capable of  play to make the hair or the grass stand on the neck of golf’s fairways.”

 

 McIlroy's play can make the grass stand on the neck of golf's fairways

McIlroy’s play can make the grass stand on the neck of golf’s fairways

 

As an armchair watcher of his progress now, I’ve seen that many times in recent years – watched the glitter of those amateur days turn into golfing gold.

 

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