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McIlroy Comes of Age

The timing of Rory McIlroys first PGA win does not surprise Dermot Gilleece

Posted May 03, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

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Perhaps the dismal economic climate had something to do with it.  Whatever the reason, I lost count of the number of times in recent weeks when grim, even doom-laden predictions were being made about Rory McIlroy.  One suspects the thinking will be rather different in the wake of an astonishing performance at Quail Hollow in North Carolina over the weekend.

Interestingly, with all the concerns being expressed about nagging back problems after successive missed cuts from McIlroy in the Houston Open and the US Masters, the one admirer who remained steadfast was Padraig Harrington.  And the Dubliner, who was tied seventh, waited around the score-recorder's area at Quail Hollow to greet McIlroy in his moment of triumph.  A pat on the back was accompanied by the words: "You're some bit of stuff."

Prior to last weekend, Harrington had no doubt about the youngster's capacity to ride out what he viewed as no more than a minor glitch in McIIlroy's development as a player of stunning potential.   Indeed back in McIlroy's amateur days, I can recall Harrington urging golf fans to go to the Irish Close Championship at The European Club in 2006 simply for the joy of watching the then 17-year-old in action.     

"Rory has always been destined for stardom," he said.  "After winning the West of Ireland Championship as a 15-year-old, he became the amateur to beat, first on his home patch and then in Europe.  He would have thought it odd if he wasn't being hyped up.

"So it was a natural progression for him to become the next young professional star, first of all in Europe and now in the States.  And I honestly don't think it's going to put any extra pressure on him.  It's what he wants.  He certainly has the ability. He's loving it.  Maybe he should be sponsored by McDonald's!"

The three-time major winner went on to talk about McIlroy's attitude to tournament play.  "It's terrific," he said.  "Rory really loves playing golf and it certainly showed over those final holes on Sunday.  He plays with such enthusiasm, just like the way he did as a kid.  He stands there and tries to rip every drive down the tight line on every hole.  I imagine there are times when poor J P (his caddie, J P Fitzgerald) feels he'd have to break the driver for him not to hit it.  But he hits it so well.  I think he's a great driver of the ball."

If there was a weakness in McIlroy's game, it was generally acknowledged to be with the blade.  However, by working over the last 12 months with Paul Hurrion, Harrington's putting guru, he has made huge strides in that crucial area, certainly on the evidence of 16-under-par for his weekend 36-holes at Quail Hollow, culminating in a course-record 62 on Sunday.  "You won't find a player who could be considered complete in every area of the game," said Harrington. "There's always an area of weakness in there among their strengths.  Seve (Ballesteros) was a great example of this, with a glorious short game compensating for his wild driving.

"The great thing about Rory is that he recognised his weakness and worked on it.  And he's young enough to find a gradual improvement, rather than be looking for something dramatic.  In my own experience, if you want to become a good putter, the trick is to start missing a lot of greens, which is what I did as a kid up in Stackstown."  Then he added with a grin:  "Maybe I shouldn't be giving other guys these putting tips."

Events at Quail Hollow last Sunday confirmed another golfing truth.  As Phil Mickelson proved in the Masters, it can be dangerous to place too much store in current form, particularly in the context of a player of McIlroy's prodigious talent.  In a golfing sense, it could be said that he came of age two days before his 21st birthday.

Meanwhile, the brief meeting outside the score-recorder's and the logo on the collar of McIlroy's shirt, revived memories of a challenge match at Lough Erne Resort in Co Fermanagh last July.  That was when the development was officially opened by a challenge match between McIlroy and Harrington.  Which, interestingly, the younger man won.

- Dermot Gilleece                 

 

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