Sean O'Shea by Sean O'Shea
Rory McIlroy learns to cope with fame and fortune --Masters leader a kid at heart but a pro when it matters
Posted on Saturday, April 09, 2011 at 06:19 AM
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READ MORE: Irish Rory McIlroy takes charge
It is hard to believe some times that Rory McIlroy is just 21 years old.
He is playing with such maturity and passion at the US Masters that the phrase 'old head on young shoulders' comes to mind.
He is leading golf's greatest tournament after two rounds with Tiger Woods and a host of famous names in his wake.
Sure he is called the 'young gun'and other such nicknames, but this is a guy with $10 million already in earnings and three top three finishes in the last three majors.
He is so mature beyond his years on the golf course, An Irish American friend of mine who is following him around in Augusta this week wrote:
"I'm a member at Augusta CC next door and there usually are 4 groups from Portrush and County Down that play during the tournament and the guy that hosts them told they called in January and canceled due to the economy.
"He had a lot of the Irish community from Augusta following him and tons of kids. I think he is this generation of golfers Tiger Woods. Just a great kid, saw him on the range Wed and he was signing until he got everyone that was around the putting surface then gave a group of kids some balls and his glove. He portrays a great image for our community......"
Yet there is clearly a kid inside too. The New York Times this week recounted how McIlroy and his friends from Northern Ireland were out playing some touch football on the street throwing the football around with McIlroy giving his best Tom Brady impression.
“Sort of got into American football from being over here and just wanted to learn how to throw it a little bit better,” McIlroy said. “Bought a football, threw it around a little bit. Yeah, I was actually told off by the lady living across the street. We were making a bit too much noise. Had to cut it short.”
This is the noisy kid who is now leading the Masters, the most prestigious title in golf.
He has shown new maturity in his work ethic too, especially on a recurrent back problem.
“I’ve worked hard in the gym to strengthen my back,” McIlroy said. “I’m squatting with pretty heavy weights now and I’m happy with how that’s progressed. I haven’t had an issue with my back since maybe August, September, something, autumn last year.
“I can swing the way I want, and as long as I don’t do — as long as I’m not going out and playing tennis or playing football every day, if I’m just playing golf, then my back’s fine.”
In his personal life he and Holly Sweeney who were kid next door sweethearts since they were both 14 have broken up, “It is difficult to have a relationship when I’m on tour and she is in Ireland.”
His parents who have traveled to every major with him stayed home this time, a sign of the growing maturity of McIlroy.
They have been at the center of his life since he hit a golf ball 40 yards at just three years of age and he cried bitterly when aged eight or nine and his parents forced him to come home from the golf course.
Nick Faldo was his hero back then and he seems set to emulate his hero
He is still a kid who likes his toys, having admitted to buying 13 cars since he hit the big time, but not a $2 million car he allegedly bought last year.
He likes a night out too, loving Jagermeister and Red Bull when the spirit grabs him.
This week though it has been all work.
He is a feisty Irishman whose turn at the top may have come.
My friend noted a funny incident this week when McIlroy began his charge to the lead on Thursday.
"Forgot to tell you that some guy yelled, here come the Irish and this Brit that was next to us said in her demeaning tone "actually these Yanks don't realize that he is British".....everybody just gave her a stare that could cut thru glass."
If he wins the Masters, the first Irishman to do so, the Irish will lift the rafters down Augusta way.