Northern Ireland is steeped in golf tradition and has produced six major champions in the past five years. Rory McIlroy is the greatest of them all.
Born in Holywood, County Down—a town of 12,000 residents that lies on the shore of Belfast Lough on the country’s eastern coast—on May 4, 1989, Rory is the only child of Gerry and Rosie McIlroy. Rory’s grandfather, Jimmy McIlroy, repaired cranes at the nearby shipyard where the Titanic was built and was one of the best players at Holywood Golf Club. Jimmy had three golf-playing sons, the most talented of which was Gerry, a scratch player that once shot a course record in County Donegal. Young Rory was introduced to golf at age three and, one year later, could hit a 60 yard drive. He took a golf club to bed with him each night and fell asleep rehearsing the interlocking grip he studied from an instructional video made by Nick Faldo. At seven, McIlroy became the youngest member in the 92 year history of Holywood Golf Club. The lad was a prodigy but the McIlroy family was of modest means—his father managed the bar at the Golf Club and his mother worked the night shift at the local 3M plant—so both parents took on additional jobs in order to pay for their son’s blossoming golf career. Gerry took on two additional jobs and worked 100 hours a week while Rosie added a shift at the plant so their son could travel the world. Their sacrifice paid off, as the nine-year-old McIlroy traveled to Miami and won the 1988 Doral-Publix Junior Golf Classic in the 9-10 year old bracket. Shortly after winning at Doral, McIlroy wrote a letter to Tiger Woods, who was then the number one player in the world, in which he warned, “I’m coming to get you. This is the beginning. Watch this space.” The second place finisher in the ’88 Publix Junior Golf Classic was Scott Pinckney, of Orem, Utah. The McIlroy and Pinckney families hit if off during the competition and decided that Rory would come to Utah for “seasoning” against American competition, and McIlroy moved in for the summer of 2000. Scott Pinckney went on to play golf at Arizona State and competed against McIlroy in the 2011 U.S. Open, finishing 79-75 to miss the cut. At 15, McIlroy was a member of Europe’s winning Junior Ryder Cup team. One year later, he became the youngest-ever winner of both the West of Ireland Championship and Irish Close Championship and successfully defended both titles the following year. At 15, McIlroy signed a letter of intent to play collegiately at East Tennessee State but decided to forgo the scholarship and continue to play in Europe. He shot 61 to break the course record at Royal Portrush Golf Club when he was 16 and qualified for the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie—his first major–and shot an opening round 68 to earn the silver medal as low amateur.
“Wee Mac” turned professional at 18 and finished 42nd in his debut at the Quinn Direct British Masters. One month later, he finished 3rd at the Alfred Dunhill and the following week became the youngest player to earn a card in the history of the European Tour. McIlroy had six top-10 finishes in 2008 and finished the season ranked 79th in the World Golf Ranking. His first professional win came on the European Tour in February of 2009 at the Dubai Desert Classic. Later that season, he turned his attention to the PGA Tour, where the 5’9”, 163 pound Irishman tied for 10th at the U.S. Open and T-3 at the PGA Championship to climb to number ten in the world. Mr. McIlroy secured his first PGA Tour win in May of 2010 at the Quail Hollow Championship, setting a course record and earning a two year Tour exemption in the process—and he was not yet 21. In April of 2011, McIlroy was atop the leader board at the Masters for the first three rounds and took a four shot lead into Sunday before suffering a monumental collapse,shooting 80 finish tied for 15th. Two months later, he shot a record 16-under par to become the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923 and finished the year by becoming the youngest player to reach $ 10 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour. McIlroy’s breakout year came in 2012, when he won four times on the PGA Tour–including a record eight stroke victory at the PGA Championship– and once on the European Tour to win the money titles on both the PGA and European Tours. He capped the season by earning three points to help Europe retain the Ryder Cup. In July of 2014, McIlroy won the Open Championship by two shots over Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia to capture the third major of his career. Two weeks later, he won the World Golf Championship to return to world number one. The following week, he won the PGA Championship, edging Phil Mickelson by one stroke.
Rory McIlroy has 18 professional wins, including 11 on both the PGA and European Tours. He has 46 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour and has made 87 cuts in 99 events. McIlroy has twice earned the money titles and been named Player of the Year on both tours in the same year [2012, 2014]. Twice he has won the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average on the PGA Tour and he has played on three European Ryder Cup teams, winning each time. Rory McIlroy has spent 95 weeks as the world number one player and is one of three players, along with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, to win three majors by the age of 25. Northern Ireland has a population of 1.8 million, placing it between West Virginia and Idaho. Three players—Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy—all live less than 100 miles from one and other and each has won a major championship since 2010. Rory McIlroy has won four of them.
“I like his swagger. I like the way he handles himself. I like his desire to be great. I like that in a young guy.”– Jack Nicklaus, speaking of Rory McIlroy