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McIlroy Always a Good Bet

In his youth career, Rory McIlroy showed winning promise

Posted Nov 27, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

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When the cheering subsided on the Earth Course at Dubai at the weekend, very few people in the assembled gathering would have heard of Dominic Rooney. Yet in relative terms, the former steward of County Sligo Golf Club, who passed on to kinder fairways early this month, made as significant a contribution to Rory McIlroy’s coffers as the €1.82 million he received as winner of the DP World Tour Championship.

Gerry McIlroy, Rory’s father, would have remembered him.  So, too, the player’s mother, Rosie.  It must be emphasised, however, that Dominic would have made the payment unintentionally, though with admirable grace.

This was the same Dominic who, as unofficial bookmaker to the West of Ireland Amateur Championship was not noted as a morning man.  In fact he definitely preferred to do his business at night.  So it was that when he famously received a knock on the back door of his living quarters at Rosses Point at 8.15 one morning, he had to rub sleep from heavy eyes on being confronted by a giant of a stranger. "Say, guy," the American visitor boomed, "I want to pay the green-fee." To which Rooney replied, "It’ll do when you come in." "But I am in," came the retort.

They enjoy telling that story around the 19th at County Sligo almost as much as Dominic’s involvement in the West of Ireland Championship of 2005.  That was when the talk of the 36-hole qualifying stage revolved around the performance of a remarkable 15-year-old from Holywood, Co Down.  With rounds of 68 and 67 for a seven-under-par total of 135, the debutant had the effrontery to be tied second in a field sprinkled with past, present and future internationals, including Brian McElhinney, who would capture the British Amateur title, later that year.  

By the time the leading 64 competitors had reached the matchplay stage, Dominic and his bookmaking colleague, Tom Gavin, decided they needed one more decent bet to be sure of at least balancing the figures when the time came to assess that year’s venture.   Gently, Gavin enquired off-handedly of his colleague if any further bets had been laid.  "Yeah," said Rooney, totally overlooking the form of the previous few days. "I gave eights on a young fella named McIlroy."  "Oh sweet Jesus, we're ruined," exploded Gavin, with the look of a man who had just caught his foot in a rat-trap.

Unlike his colleague, he was acutely aware of the prodigious talent of the young, Northern lad whom he had noted from the qualifying stage. Later Gavin told me: "We took a hiding when Rory went on to win.”  He further explained that Rory’s Dad had bet €100 each way at odds of 8/1, which would have covered the family’s expenses nicely from a dividend of €1,000.  This, of course, was a time when both of the player’s parents gladly worked two jobs so as to give their talented son every chance of furthering what was then a promising golfing career.

As it happened, McIlroy won his quarter-final match by 3 and 2; went on to beat former Ireland Boy and Youth international, Rory Leonard, by one hole in the semi-finals and then captured the title later that day, by a 2 and 1 margin over David Finn of Mallow in the final.

There is always the danger of over-emphasising the importance of such early victories in a player’s career. Yet by their own admission, successful tournament campaigners such as Luke Donald and Justin Rose will readily acknowledge the importance of having developed a winning habit at a young age.  And for Rose, there was also the huge boost of finishing fourth behind Mark O’Meara in the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

So, with welcome financial help from Dominic Rooney, young Rory continued his journey through Irish amateur championship golf in what would become a remarkably fruitful 2005.  Indeed little more than five weeks after Rosses Point, he was tied eighth in the East of Ireland 72-hole Strokeplay Championship at Baltray.  And a further week on, having celebrated his 16th birthday by then, he secured an amazing double by winning the Irish Amateur Close Championship with a 3 and 2 victory over Galway’s Eddie McCormack in the final at Westport.

All of which, we have to believe, made last weekend’s wondrous happenings in far off Dubai, that bit more attainable.

- Dermot Gilleece

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