By Bernie McGuire in St Andrews.
Fifteen years ago this week a curly-haired, freckle-faced Rory McIlroy stood at the back of the famed 18th green at the Home of Golf.
The champion Northern Irish amateur turned pro a week earlier at The Belfry and had just posted a final round 68 on the Old Course at the Home of Golf to be lying third in the 2007 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Standing on one side of McIlroy was Scotland’s Lloyd Salthman, his GB&I Walker Cup team-mate from a month earlier at Royal County Down. On the other was this journalist.
As McIlroy looked out over the 18th green, Paul Lawrie, the winner of the inaugural event in 2001, stood over a birdie putt that if he holed would tie him with McIlroy in third place at 15-under-par for the duo to end the event three adrift of eventual winner, Nick Dougherty.
“If Lawrie misses this putt, that’s my Tour card,” said McIlroy.
Lawrie missed the putt to eventually share fourth place with England’s Barry Lane at 14-under to leave McIlroy alone in third.
The effort earned McIlroy a cheque for €211,321 to along with €15,128 in his debut event as a pro the week earlier in the British Masters at The Belfry, earning McIlroy his Tour card for full status in the 2008 season. A near €10,000 prize a week later after his top-60 finish was the icing on the cake in just three events in 2007 for McIlroy to be credited with 97th on the season-ending money-list.
It then took just five years for McIlroy to reach No. 1 in Europe earning €4.7m in 2012, and now this week in a 229th DP World Tour event he’s tasted success in four majors, earning a whopping €42.5m in DP World Tour counting tournaments alone.
McIlroy was reminded of that moment from 15-years ago at the back of the 18th green ahead of teeing-up in this week’s 21st edition of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
“I think when you embark on a professional career, I just sort of took it one step at a time,” he said. “I wanted to get my European Tour card and once I did that, I wanted to play the majors, the WGCs. I didn’t start off with grand ambitions of, say, Tiger having pictures of Jack Nicklaus on his wall. I didn’t even know he had that.
“So I guess I just wanted to become the best golfer that I could, and whether that meant I was at a certain level or the levels I reached, I just always try to get the best out of myself.
“Yeah, when I look back over the 15 years, it’s an amazing life, it’s an amazing career, provides you with amazing things, obviously. But you still have to remember where you came from and yeah, I have to pinch myself sometimes and I have to give myself that little perspective because you know, even on the 18th green today, I made a putt for eagle. Just stuff like that, even just being in that position to have a chance to win on 18 at St Andrews, it’s just stuff that you dream about as a kid. I get to live out my childhood dreams and not everybody can say that. It’s an unbelievable position to be in.”
It’s also always a great trait of McIlroy’s that if he’s happy, he will tell you so. On the other side of the golfing marker, if he’s annoyed post a round, he will tell you so!
Who then would have thought the then just 18-year-old, while already promising a successful pro career ahead of him, would have had thoughts back in 2007 of where golf would take him.
“I’ve got lots of great memories here for me and for my family and my dad,” he said. “I feel like it’s where my professional career really began and really took off. I got my European Tour card 15 years ago here at this golf course, and you know, it’s been a pretty great journey since.
“It’s a great week. It’s just so nice to be able to sort of share it with my dad and with my family, and we had a great day at Kingsbarns yesterday and we had a great day on the Old Course today. The focus is trying to get us over the line so we can play here again on Sunday. Try to make the cut, play the Old Course again one more time, and yeah, really looking forward to the week.”
And in teeing-up alongside his father this week?
“My dad loves to chat and sometimes he’ll be chatting to someone else in the group and not realise I’m over my shot trying to hit a golf ball. I have to say, “Dad, just tone it down a little bit” at times,” McIlroy said smiling.
“Yeah, if I were to make up a perfect foursome to play golf with the rest of my life, he would obviously be in it. We’ve had the opportunity to play here a number of times. We have played golf pretty much all over the world together, and again, it’s one of the great things about this game that we can do that.”
- Full tee-times HERE