Triple major winner Padraig Harrington has a simple message for golf fans ahead of the British Open at Sandwich next week – don’t miss the chance to see Rory McIlroy before he hits his prime.
Harrington, British Open champion at Carnoustie and Birkdale, believes McIlroy has the game and the charisma to transcend golf after his U.S. Open triumph.
The Ulsterman will play his first tournament since Congressional at the Royal St. George club, and Harrington can’t wait to see his rival in action again.
“My message to anyone interested in golf is to see this great talent at 22 so that you have something to compare him with when he is winning majors galore,” advised Harrington.
“He is a talent worth seeing now. He’s right on top of his game but he could go forward from here as one of the all-time greats, and you want to be one of the people who can say to your friends, ‘I saw Rory McIlroy at 22.’
“I would certainly want to come out and watch Rory right now. A lot of other professional golfers will want to as well.”
McIlroy’s Augusta collapse in April prompted Harrington to predict that the young man from Holywood, Co. Down could still smash the Jack Nicklaus record of 18 majors. It’s still a theory he is happy to support.
“I suggested after Augusta that at 22, he’s got 25 years ahead of him as a player in contention at the majors,” repeated Harrington.
“Rory could win a major a year and catch up on Jack. So that’s why I tell people to see him now at a level never seen before.
“You have to come and see him now to make the judgement call and know what that talent is really about at 40 when he has won all the majors.
“Rory could be a player we have never seen before. He has the ability to transcend golf, to bring people into our sport who would never have thought of golf before and that’s to be applauded.”
A British Open and U.S. PGA champion in the recent past, Harrington knows the spotlight will be on McIlroy when he returns to the game on the Kent shoreline after a three week sabbatical. His advice is simple.
“Rory has to enjoy it and walk around with the swagger of a young man lapping up every minute of it,” added the Dubliner, who is still looking for his first win of the 2011 season.
“Everybody is going to want to see him and he has to enjoy it, really enjoy it. He has to enjoy the experience of being U.S. Open champion and accept that people will genuinely want to see him and welcome him because he is the U.S. Open champion.
“He can really enjoy the success of the U.S. Open over the coming weeks -- and again at the Irish Open in Killarney at the end of the month -- and he should.
“Regardless of what he does this month, it is a very special feeling to be holding a major trophy and playing a big tournament.
“He should enjoy that experience. It doesn’t come around all that often so he should make an effort to really draw on it from the crowds, really enjoy the buzz. It is an experience he will never forget.”
Twice Open champion, Harrington won’t lack for ambition at Sandwich despite all the McIlroy flag waving.
“I hope to have won two tournaments before I meet Rory again in Killarney for the Irish Open at the end of July,” declared Harrington.
“I certainly don’t relish being in the shadows but I have always said it is hard to be a rival of Rory.
“If you ever have a conversation with him, you will always come away thinking he’s a nice guy. He is one of the most confident guys I have ever come across but without a glimpse of arrogance.
“So it is hard to be his rival, but I am still motivated about doing my own things in golf. Rory winning majors is great and if I tee it up at a major and don’t win, I would want to see him do it.
“But first and foremost I am trying to win. It’s not a competition with Rory. It’s a competition with yourself.”
Meanwhile, golf legend Jack Nicklaus believes McIlroy will be no one hit wonder after his US Open breakthrough.
The Golden Bear has backed the 22-year-old McIlroy to win more majors ahead of next week’s British Open.
“Of course, there are huge expectations on him after what he did at Congressional,” the 71-year-old Nicklaus told the Sunday Independent.
“Almost immediately there was talk that he would be the man to challenge my majors record. Time will tell if he will become a multiple winner, but the one scenario I cannot imagine is that he will turn out to have been a one-hit wonder.”
The Nicklaus majors record has stood for years, but he sees enough talent in McIlroy to warrant optimism.
“He’s already a good player, but I’m convinced he’s going to become a really good player,” added Nicklaus.
“I like his golf swing and I like his attitude. Does he have the potential to dominate? Yes, if he keeps his head screwed on properly, and he does the things he has to do to improve.”