Scotland is the home of golf, America’s its greatest stage, but Ireland this week is the beating heart of the game after Rory McIlroy stunned the sporting world with a win for the ages Sunday in the U.S. Open at the Congressional club in Bethesda, Maryland.
Mcilroy’s win came a year after fellow Northern Ireland man Graeme McDowell captured the Open title at Pebble Beach and it resulted in a back-to-back victory for Irish golf that will be remembered as long as the game is played from Antrim to Kerry.
Mcilroy’s win - along the way the 22-year-old from County Down broke 12 golfing records - produced an extraordinary raft of statistics that would have seemed beyond remotest possibility just a few years ago.
Going back to Padraig Harrington’s 2007 British Open triumph, Irish golfers have now won five of the last fifteen golf majors, and four of the last twelve.
And in the last four majors, which total 16 rounds of golf, McIlroy on his own has led at the end of eight of those rounds.“To see obviously what Pádraig did in ‘07 and ‘08, seeing Graeme win this trophy last year and then me, Irish golf is obviously in a very healthy state at the moment,” said Mcilroy after he posted four sub-70 rounds, and won by eight shots over his nearest rival in the field.
The Congressional win, which was witnessed by Rory’s father Gerry on Father’s Day, sparked huge celebrations all over Ireland this week but none more heartfelt that in McIlroy’s home town of Holywood, County Down, where he first placed his hands around a club as a toddler.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the McIlroy runaway win as “one of the greatest achievements in sport.” Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, also sent their congratulations.
All three political leaders, together with tourism chiefs on both sides of the border, will be hoping that McIlroy’s success will translate into even bigger interest around the world in Ireland as a golfing destination.
“This is fantastic for Ireland, fantastic not just because of McIlroy’s golfing success but because he’s such a wonderful young man,” said Joe Byrne, New York-based Executive Vice President North America for Tourism Ireland.
“This is extraordinarily important for Irish golf and tourism on the island. It will be a real tourism boost. Money can’t buy this kind of publicity,” said Byrne.
In what may turn into the opening round of a phenomenon called the “Rory effect,” backers of the Irish Open, to be held in Killarney in August, are breathing sighs of relief this week. The tournament was facing the possibility of oblivion because right now it has no big money corporate sponsor.
But it does have Rory McIlroy signed up to play, and also Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington.
McIlroy is expected to take a break from tournament golf in the coming days before competing for the British Open title in Sandwich next month.
In winning at Congressional, meanwhile, McIlroy became the youngest U.S. Open champion since 1923, and at 22 is four months younger than Jack Nicklaus when he won his first of 18 professional golf majors, that being the U.S. Open in 1962.