Rory's victory echoes in his home town

The young Ulsterman's triumph at the US Open has brought smiles to the faces of folk who knew him way back when. By David McKittrick
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The Independent Online

The first poster congratulating Rory McIlroy was up by 6am yesterday in his home town of Holywood; tacked up by Margaret Hamilton in the window of the Oxfam shop in the High Street.

Mrs Hamilton was proud to be the first, but like the rest of the County Down town, was even prouder of Rory. "Everybody's delighted," she said. "It's marvellous, just brilliant."

Further down the High Street, Valerie Skinner of Skinner's home bakery was also quick off the mark, downloading a picture of Rory off the internet, arms raised in triumph. She printed this on a hundred buns. By mid-morning they were all gone.

Meanwhile, Holywood Golf Club started taking bookings for the Rory McIlroy classic in August.

"The time sheet went live this morning," said a club official," and within 10 minutes was booked solid."

In Holywood yesterday none of this smacked of a rush to clamber on a Rory bandwagon. Rather, this generally good-natured town projected genuine happiness and pride at his extraordinary success. This is mostly due to his talents, but in local terms it is also because of his personality and his family. "He's been very good to the juveniles," they say at the club. "He still comes down and chats to the people as normal and he has made very generous donations." And the McIlroy family is held in high regard everywhere.

"A good family," said a jogger near the golf course. "Very good. Couldn't say a bad word against them."

Even the High Street bookie was chuffed with the result, in spite of many locals placing bets on Rory. "It's great. Great. I'm pleased for him," said Stephen Forde.

Like the McIlroy family and indeed Holywood town itself, the golf clubhouse is modest. Veteran Eddie Harper gestured around the lounge and reminisced: "I've known Rory since he was born. When he was three he used to be hitting plastic golf balls round this floor. He was so good, but he was so frustrated at not getting out to play on the course."

For safety reasons children were not usually allowed out until the age of 10, but Rory was so "spectacularly keen" that the club looked on him as a special case. Eddie recalled: "I got the council to agree to interview him. He was seven. He was nicely dressed and he was very polite.

"He was very mature for his age and he assured us that he knew the rules and wouldn't be any trouble to anybody. So we got him in."

In those days Rory's father Gerry managed the lounge bar. One of the reasons why he and his wife Rosie are held in such regard is because the town is aware of sacrifices they made in the early, expensive, days of their son's career. Money had to be found for equipment, coaching and travel.

"There was very little money in those days," Eddie recalled. "As well as working here, Gerry was doing stints in various other bars while Rosie was working too, on night shifts." The same lounge, where Gerry served drinks as toddler Rory developed his early putting technique, was packed in the early hours yesterday, with locals celebrating when he won the US Open.

But by late morning yesterday, not quite everyone in Holywood was basking in the warm glow generated by Rory's success.

At a hole close to the golf clubhouse, one player in his 20s could be seen making several unsuccessful attempts to chip his ball out of a bunker.

Eventually, clearly frustrated, he picked the ball out of the sand and simply threw it on to the green.

The comments he muttered to himself, though inaudible, presumably expressed the sentiment that not everyone can be a Rory McIlroy.