There was something strange about the young man standing in front of me with the world at his feet, something that just didn’t make sense.
Rory McIlroy was in Dublin to collect the Irish Golf Writers Player of the Year award for 2009 and all subjects were up for discussion.
We were stood, toe to toe, in the foyer of the Allied Irish Bank headquarters in Ballsbridge in January of last year and the banter was flowing.
As thrilled to see his good friend Shane Lowry pick up the amateur award as he was by his own professional honor, Rory spoke at length about the Masters tournament that was only months away.
He said that night that he was getting used to the demands of Majors golf, that he had started to understand what isolates the four big tournaments from the day to day events of the European and American tours.
He spoke of his confidence that someday soon he would follow in the footsteps of Woods, Nicklaus, Palmer and Faldo and try a green jacket, a US Open, a USPGA or a British Open title on for size.
Rory did live up to his word of course, and in spectacular fashion at that on Sunday evening, after finally turning Major potential into Major achievement.
But back to that Dublin night in January of 2010 – a snowy night if I remember correctly – and the puzzle!
What was different about Rory McIlroy as he stood there, impeccably dressed with black suit and pencil thin back tie?
Then it struck me. And before I knew what I was saying, the cat was out of the bag. What’s so different with your hair I asked the young man of the moment?
Nothing, he insisted. He hadn’t done anything with his hair – bar take his hat off.
That was the secret. For years, like everyone else in Ireland, I had watched McIlroy mature from new kid to the block to champion in the making.
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I had, like anyone else who loves his sport, watched in amazement as a young man of such waif like proportions could hit a white golf ball so far.
I wondered aloud how he could spin the ball with precision, measure putts with deadly accuracy and charm the pants off the world’s press.
And all the time, his mass of curly black hair was hiding beneath a sponsor’s hat.
That’s why Rory looked different that night. He was the same Rory McIlroy we had all grown to admire for his God given golf skills but the full head of hair merely completed the picture.
On Sunday night, Rory McIlroy completed another picture, a masterpiece if you like.
The first strokes, appropriately, were drawn on Thursday when he teed it up in a Major for the first time post Masters blow-out and blew the field away in the opening round at Congressional.
On Friday, he continued where he had left off the day before with a second round that proved the first test after Augusta was no fluke.
On Saturday, moving day as they call it, McIlroy did indeed move - in the right direction at the top of the leaderboard.
And on Sunday the young man born in a town called Holywood got another chance to let his hair down and for real this time.
Hat on or hat off, Rory McIlroy is now a Major champion. His life will never be the same again – but that’s what happens when you reach your destination.
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