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Success begets success for big-hearted Rory McIlroy

Irishman shows his true character after winning ‘one of the most gruelling wins’ in Irish Open by giving his US$1 million prize money away to his charity

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 May, 2016, 6:31pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 May, 2016, 6:30pm

It was coronation day in the republic, a place where royalty has often been a four-letter word. But no matter because at Ireland’s regal K Club, just 30 minutes west of downtown Dublin, there was no doubt who the crowd came to cheer home. Even the title of the event left little ambiguity: The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation.

Despite his plethora of accomplishments, McIlroy is all of 27 and not even near his golfing prime

Born and raised in County Down in Northern Ireland, golfer Rory McIlroy is arguably the most famous and accomplished Irish sportsman of this generation and has seemingly blurred the demarcation line between the north and south.

The former world number one and current number three, McIlroy, had the option of either representing Great Britain or Ireland when golf returns to the Olympics in Rio this summer. After great consternation he chose Ireland because he had represented the country when he was younger.

Raised Roman Catholic in a predominantly Protestant Belfast suburb, McIlroy has conspicuously avoided matters of politics or religion and perhaps it is a sign of a changing generation that he is just as popular in the north as he is in the south.

Of course, having won four majors by the age of 25 and spending 95 weeks as the world’s number one golfer will garner you an avalanche of support and exposure. And while he was largely accommodating and cooperative, his high profile dalliance with tennis star Caroline Woznicaki also attracted a great deal of exposure and not all of it good.

Far more damning has been his shaky form on course in the past year or so. He has been marginalised by the greatness of Jason Day, the Australian world number one who has won seven of his past 17 tournaments, including the PGA and the Players Championship.

But none of this mattered in the least to the legion of Irish fans showing up on the final day to crown their king of golf. McIlroy has admitted that after the majors, the Irish Open is the one event he covets the most and also admits to pressing in the past, resulting in a series of poor finishes.

Compounding matters is trying to win a tournament that you are hosting because there is no end to the off-course obligations.

McIlroy’s foundation has raised millions for disadvantaged children and he has been tireless in his efforts by travelling to remote corners of the world. But the main way for the charity to flourish is for his golf game to flourish and keep him relevant.

Coming into Sunday’s final round McIlroy was tied with Scotland’s Russell Knox, but the pressure seemed to get the best of the more seasoned McIlroy, who was down by one stroke with three holes to play. On the par-five 16th, McIlroy was forced to wait a good 10 minutes, an interminable pause, to hit his second shot as players up ahead finished. He needed a birdie, he knew it, but hail balls were littering the green and frost was in the air.

Not exactly conducive to birdies, still after a mammoth drive, he thought why not? Why not be the only golfer in the field today to get home in two on the 570-yard hole. And that is what he did after hitting a laser of a shot some 250 yards to the centre of a slim green surrounded by water.

He birdied and Knox bogeyed giving him a one-shot lead that held coming into the final hole, also a par five. Another mammoth drive and a knee-knocking approach from 250 yards on his second shot that landed 20 inches from the hole for an eagle assured him of his first and greatly cherished Irish Open win in front of a delirious crowd. Fairy-tale finish for a fairy-tale character.

The relief was palpable for McIlroy, who said through damp eyes that it had been one of his most gruelling victories. And just to put a ribbon on a remarkable day for a coronation, McIlroy donated all of his US$1 million in prize money to his foundation and children’s charity.

Despite his plethora of accomplishments, McIlroy is all of 27 and not even near his golfing prime. He’s made some mistakes – still who hasn’t, particularly in such a high profile position.

He also said he wants to be number one again and knows it will be a challenge with the likes of Day and Jordan Spieth around.

But now that he is the undisputed king of Irish golf, he also knows one more thing: you have to keep winning to keep winning. The more relevant he is, the more relevant his foundation is.