McIlroy a product of his Northern Irish roots

By Associated PressJune 8, 2011, 5:23 pm

HOLYWOOD, Northern Ireland – “Catch yourself on!”

That's the melodious phrase people in Rory McIlroy's homeland of Northern Ireland direct at those they suspect have let their egos get the better of them. It means 'Get real!' or 'Come back to Earth!'

That phrase, and the peer pressure it describes of not getting too big for one's boots, offers a vital clue to how McIlroy has managed to juggle the expectations of possibly being golf's Next Big Thing without taking on the surliness of some. The prodigious talent has big ambitions, big hair – at times – but, so far, no big head.

From his uncle, friends, his swing coach and former school headmaster, the verdict is unanimous: Even as his fame and wealth rocket skyward faster than a tee-shot, McIlroy hasn't really changed. Nor will he, they say, in part because he's always been mature beyond his age but also because the 22-year-old makes a genuine effort to stay as grounded in Northern Ireland's earthy culture as the rhododendrons that sprinkle pink petals on the fairways where McIlroy's father introduced him to golf as a baby.

'The worst crime you can probably commit in Northern Ireland circles is to 'bum' or 'blow' about yourself, as we would say. To be pompous, airs and graces, have an overblown sense of your own importance, to take yourself too seriously ... and Rory is steeped in that culture,' explains John Stevenson, the recently retired principal of Sullivan Upper School in Holywood where McIlroy was a star pupil.

Which means that if his uncle, Colm, teases McIlroy with a cheeky text message after he's flopped at a tournament, the young star takes it with the humor with which it is intended, not with a 'Don't you know who I am?' sulk.

'He would text back, 'Well, I'm lying in a five-star hotel. What are you doing?'' Colm says, laughing. 'He's changed very little. There's obviously things you have to change, you know? There's a lot of those hangers-on now. But, you know, family-wise and friends-wise, you couldn't have it better.'

Northern Ireland is too small for McIlroy to develop delusions of grandeur. Spend any amount of time here and you are liable to bump into someone who says they recently spotted him in a cafe, a restaurant, a supermarket or whose friend of a friend knew someone who maybe once perhaps dated him. That intimacy, that familiarity, seems not only to suit McIlroy but helps him recharge his batteries after private-jetting around the world to play golf. Northern Ireland is where he still has the friends and people he not only grew up with but appears to go out of his way to keep in touch with.

'This is one of the safest places to live, Northern Ireland. And I can see now, going to America and these places, that you would have to live in gated communities. ... But over here it's different,' says Michael Bannon, McIlroy's coach from boyhood who still coaches him today.

'There's only, what, a million and half people living in Northern Ireland? It's a small place. People get to know your business, get to know you. Rory, if he was mega, could still walk down the street and go to Belfast. He's not going to change,' he says.

'He's a home-bird, you know? He just loves to be at home, spend a week at home, drive about in the car, meet people and just be himself,' the coach adds. 'That's very important so that you come back, you rewind, you get your R&R and then you head out again.'

Holywood, the quiet suburb of Belfast where McIlroy grew up in a red-brick house with an artificial putting green in the front yard, has two British Army barracks guarded by razor wire and cameras but is one of those pleasing and all too rare places where perfect strangers say 'Hello!' and give you a nod in the street. It escaped the worst of the bombings and shootings that scarred Northern Ireland for three decades but which largely have ended since the British territory's 1998 peace accord.

McIlroy grew up in the atmosphere of optimism that blossomed with that deal. Perhaps that is part of the reason he treads fairways with such bounce in his step. In that watershed year, McIlroy won a prominent under-10 tournament at Doral, beating 80 kids from two dozen countries. Afterward, all freckles and cheeky grin, the 9-year-old chipped a golf ball into the open mouth of a washing machine, just as he did at home, and performed other tricks on Irish television. He could already drive a ball 200 yards, McIlroy told his envious interviewer, and said he practiced all day, every day when he could. Asked if he wanted to become a professional golfer, McIlroy's response was unhesitating: 'Yes.'

His grandfather, Jimmy, worked all his life repairing cranes in the Belfast docks where the Titanic was built, picking up golf in his 30s at the Holywood Golf Club in the lush hills above his home, overlooking Belfast Lough. He transmitted the game to Rory's father, Gerry, and uncles, Colm and Brian. Rory's cousin, Fergus, 12, now wants to follow in his footsteps, too. The club bent its rules to let Rory in as a member at age 7, after a mandatory induction interview where 'he assured us that he wouldn't be a nuisance to anybody and that he knew the rules,' says Eddie Harper, who organized the juniors.

'We knew he was so good that it was stupid not to get him involved,' he says.

Even before Rory could walk, Gerry was bringing him to the club, adds Paul Gray, the general manager.

'Rory would be lying on his buggy just watching his dad hitting golf balls for the first 10 months of his life,' he says. 'As he got older, and could get out of the buggy, he was crawling around on the tee. ... Then, of course, Gerry had plastic clubs out there and that kept him occupied.'

Holywood's 5,000-yard short course suits juniors because 'they can reach the greens in two shots,' its hills force players to adapt to 'all sorts of different lies: ball above your feet, below your feet, uphill lies, downhill lies,' and its small greens mean 'they develop quite good short games, because they miss a lot of greens, obviously,' Gray says.

Rory 'was here pretty much every day,' he adds. By age 7 or 8, 'he was a proper little player.'

The brick and glass clubhouse is functional, not snobby, with somewhat threadbare carpets, a bar that serves a smooth pint of Guinness and a welcoming attitude to juniors, although Rory sometimes provoked frowns by hitting plastic balls inside, off the walls.

But there was never any hint that McIlroy was railroaded into golf by his parents. Instead, say those who know him, his ambitions were all his own. As a youngster, he called himself 'Rory 'Nick Faldo' McIlroy' and would saunter into the club's pro shop to practice his autograph on scorecards, writing 'The Open Championship' at the top, Gray says.

'Even at that age, he was painting really big pictures for himself,' he says. 'I have no doubt in my mind that he could see every shot when he was filling that scorecard in, visualizing himself being there someday.'

When he was naughty, Rory's parents sometimes took away his clubs. And, Bannon says, Rory was even known to have slept with a club in his hand, his fingers clasped in a grip the coach wanted him to learn.

But McIlroy's journey to the pinnacle of golf – he heads to the U.S. Open ranked No. 6 in the world – was also a team effort.

To pay for the ambitions of their only child, McIlroy's mother worked factory night shifts while his father tended bar and cleaned locker rooms at a Belfast rugby and cricket club and then served in another bar at nights, says Colm, the uncle who babysat the youngster in the hours when both parents were away.

'They put all their efforts into him,' Bannon says. 'They sacrificed everything for Rory. Any money went into Rory traveling places.'

Stevenson, the school principal, also let him skip classes and exams so he could travel for golf, and hid the lad's absences from education authorities. Stevenson says he didn't want to later be known as the man who blocked the path of Northern Ireland's biggest sports talent since George Best, the Manchester United football player with fleet feet and a destructive weakness for booze who died in 2005 at 59.

In his final year of school, McIlroy 'was probably away from school more than he was at school and I was covering for him,' Stevenson says. They agreed he would do five leaving exams but, 'in the end, he sat one,' getting top marks in physical education.

Stevenson said he initially worried that the parents, not Rory, might be pushing him toward a career in golf but soon realized it wasn't the case.

'Gerry looked me in the eye and said, 'Mr. Stevenson, I know what you're thinking.' He said, 'It's not me. It's him,'' Stevenson recalls.

Rory 'in his own wee shy way' also said, ''I'm going to be a golfer, sir,' and this was not parroting what dad wanted or what mum was telling him to do,' Stevenson adds.

'In his genes, in his psyche, in his heart, this is where it lay,' he says.

One thing McIlroy seems never to have lacked is self-confidence.

Gray remembers McIlroy in his midteens surrounded by huge crowds forming a tunnel 40 yards long on a fairway at a tournament.

'He just stood up as nonchalantly as you like, you know? Pulled an iron out, made this swing, whipped the ball onto the green and I'm just thinking, 'That's just different class, to be able to focus on your shot with people standing nearly on top of you,'' Gray says. 'Never once did he turn around to them and go, 'Could you stand back please' like other players would or 'Give me more room.' He just accepted it.'

The first time Rory out-drove his father and Colm, he walked up to his ball and then turned toward them 10 yards back and shouted, 'Everybody all right there?' the uncle recalls.

'You could never say to Rory, 'No, you can't play that shot.' If you said, 'You can't play that, Rory,' the next day he'd be out practicing it. Fearless, basically,' he says.

This being Northern Ireland, where strong political and religious beliefs have provided excuses for spilling rivers of blood, and Rory being 'our local lad,' everyone has a solid opinion about what those who don't understand the mental anguish of golf cruelly call 'the choke.' That, of course, was when McIlroy played like Woods of old for three days at the Masters before blowing the lead on the final round.

Back at home, that epic collapse is now cause for the Northern Irish version of a Gallic shrug. Too young, too eager, too inexperienced, too early in his career, runs local wisdom. Again, those who know him say McIlroy seems to have quickly moved on. And there's real local pride in the way he graciously accepted his disappointment. In doing so, McIlroy flew the flag for cherished Northern Irish virtues of being honest, polite and grounded. He was 'Catch yourself on!' personified. People, not just from Northern Ireland, wrote supportive letters to the Holywood Golf Club.

'A pile of mail,' Gray says. 'He came and picked them up and went home and read them all.'

'Northern Ireland people need their heroes, and certainly needed them in the dark days of the Troubles. ... Somebody who speaks like us, who comes from our place whose only real claim to fame is that we murder each other at regular intervals,' Stevenson says. 'Rory has now occupied, probably, that No. 1 slot in the hearts and minds of Northern Ireland people, right across all the communities. ... Rory has cut through all of that.'

Colm says The Masters experience 'will make him stronger, definitely.'

'He has so much belief in his own ability,' he says. 'The way he looks at it, you know, is he had those three days and you can't not be a world-class player if you lead the Masters after three days.'

Bannon adds: 'His game's too good to be scarred by this type of thing, you know? He'll come back stronger, and he'll do it, he will. Tom Watson blew up in a lot of Opens; I mean you'll never hear that now, and he won five of them. There's a lots of guys that blew up in last rounds until they learned how to handle it.'

A quick learner – that's something else they say about McIlroy. In the spacious grounds of his comfortable home outside Belfast, he's built greens and practice areas seeded with different types of grasses he encounters at tournaments and bunkers, including a replica of the famous Road Hole at the 17th at St. Andrews, with various grades of sand.

'It is very forward-thinking,' Bannon says. 'He can walk out the kitchen and hit golf balls.'

'That's one thing about Rory, too — he's always up very early. He doesn't really lie in,' he adds. 'Sometimes I go over to his house there at 8 o'clock in the morning and he'll be there. He's up and organized. He may have been to the gym at half-six or something.'

So the golf-mad boy is now the consummate professional. But, really, it's still his boyish nature that makes McIlroy such a pleasure to watch.

'If someone said, 'What's your abiding memory of Rory?' I think it's the joy on his face or the look on his face when he was young, maybe looking forward to going out to play golf or wanting to show people what he could do,' Bannon says.

'This wee fella with the talent, going to beat everybody and to just show them exactly what he was made of.”

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Kupcho wins NCAA title; final eight teams set

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 1:55 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – On one of the more nerve-racking days of the college golf season two important honors were up for grabs at Karsten Creek – the individual title, and the top eight teams attempting to qualify for match play.

Here’s the lowdown of what happened Monday at the women’s NCAA Championship:

Individual leaderboard: Kupcho, Wake Forest (-8); Andrea Lee, Stanford (-6); Bianca Pagdanganan, Arizona (-6); Cheyenne Knight, Alabama (-5); Morgane Metraux, Florida State (-4); Jaclyn Lee, Ohio State (-3).

Team leaderboard: UCLA (+9), Alabama (+9), USC (+16), Northwestern (+21), Stanford (+28), Duke (+30), Kent State (+32), Arizona (+33).

What it means: Let’s start with the individual race. Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho was absolutely devastated a year ago when she made triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round and lost the individual title by a shot. She was bound not to let that happen again and this year she made five birdies on the last eight holes to win by two shots. Kupcho is the first player with three consecutive top-six finishes at the NCAA Championship since Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst (2007-09).

The team race took an unexpected turn at the end of the day when Arizona junior Bianca Pangdaganan made eagle on the last hole to vault the Wildcats into an eighth-place tie, meaning they would enter a playoff with Baylor for the final spot in the match play portion of the championship.

The Wildcats got a reprieve because they played terribly for most of the day and dropped from third place to 10th at one point. In the playoff, Arizona ultimately defeated Baylor in an anticlimactic finish.

Best of the rest: Stanford played horribly the first round. So bad that it almost seemed like the Cardinal shot itself out of the championship. But they played steady over the next three days and ended with the fifth seed. This is the fourth year in a row that Stanford has advanced to match play.

Round of the day: USC shot a 5-under total on Monday, the best round of the day by six shots. They landed as the third seed and will play Duke in the quarterfinals.

Stanford sophomore Andrea Lee shot a 7-under 65, the best score of the day by three shots. Lee made seven birdies and no bogeys and vaulted up the leaderboard 11 spots to end in a tie for sixth place.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas, the second-ranked team in the country, missed qualifying for match play by one shot. The Razorbacks shot a 20-over 308 in Round 1 and played only slightly better with a 300 in the second round. Consecutive 1-over-par 289 scores were a good try, but results in a huge miss for a team expected to contend for the team title.

Here are Tuesday morning's quarterfinal matchups:

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.



The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys Documentary Series Continues Tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsMay 21, 2018, 8:27 pm

Monday’s third installment in the four-part series focuses on the Big 12 Championships and NCAA Regional Championships

Reigning NCAA National Champion Oklahoma Sooners and Top-Ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys Prepare for Showdown Friday at the 2018 NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships

ORLANDO, Fla., May 21, 2018 – Tonight’s third episode of the critically-acclaimed documentary series Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys (8 p.m. ET) wraps up the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season and turns to post-season play for the top-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys and reigning NCAA National Champions Oklahoma Sooners.

Drivenwill take viewers behind the scenes with the conclusion of regular season play; the Big 12 Conference Championship, where Oklahoma captured their first conference championship since 2006; and the NCAA Regional Championships, where Oklahoma State and Oklahoma – both No. 1 seeds in their respective regionals – were both victorious and punched tickets to the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

The episode also will set up the showdown starting Friday at the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships, where Oklahoma State will attempt to dethrone Oklahoma as national champions, all taking place at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Oklahoma State’s home course. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be paired together for the first two rounds of individual stroke play Friday and Saturday.

Driven’s fourth and final episode will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16 at 5 p.m. ET, recapping all of the action at the NCAA Golf National Championships and the two programs’ 2017-18 golf seasons.

Golf Channel is airing back-to-back weeks of live tournament coverage of the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships. Golf Channel’s coverage begins today (4-8 p.m. ET) to crown the individual national champion and track the teams attempting to qualify for the eight-team match play championship. Golf Channel’s coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 22-23 will include all three rounds of team match play, ultimately crowning a team national champion. Next week (May 28-30), the same programming schedule will take place for the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

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Mann's impact on LPGA felt on and off course

By Randall MellMay 21, 2018, 8:00 pm

Just a few short hours after winning the U.S. Women’s Open in 1965, Carol Mann was surprised at the turn of emotion within her.

She called her friend and mentor, Marlene Hagge, and asked if they could meet for a glass of wine at the Atlantic City hotel where players were staying.

Hagge was one of the LPGA’s 13 founders.

“I’ll never forget Carol saying, `I don’t mean to sound funny, because winning the U.S. Women’s Open was wonderful, but is that all there is?’” Hagge told GolfChannel.com Monday after hearing news of Mann’s death.

It was one of the many defining moments in Mann’s rich life, because it revealed her relentless search for meaning, within the game, and beyond it.

Mann, an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer, died at her home in Woodlands, Texas. She was 77.

“Carol was a very good friend, and a really sincere and good person,” Hagge said. “She was intelligent and insightful, the kind of person who always wanted to know the `why’ of things. She wasn’t content to be told this is the way something is. She had to know why.”

Mann’s search for meaning in the sport took her outside the ropes. She was a towering presence, at 6 feet 3, but her stature was more than physical. She won 38 LPGA titles, two of them major championships, but her mark on the game extended to her leadership skills.

From 1973 to ’76, Mann was president of the LPGA, leading the tour in challenging times.

“Carol was a significant player in the growth of the LPGA,” LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “She was involved when some big changes came to the tour. She was a talented woman beyond her golf.”

Mann oversaw the hiring of the tour’s first commissioner, Ray Volpe, a former NFL marketing executive. Their moves helped steer the tour out of the financial problems that threatened it.

“Carol was willing to do something nobody else wanted to do and nobody else had the brains to do,” Hagge said. “She loved the LPGA, and she wanted to make it a better place.”

At the cost of her own career.

Juggling the tour presidency with a playing career wasn’t easy.

“My golf seemed so secondary while I was president in 1975,” Mann once told author Liz Kahn for the book, “The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version.”

That was a pivotal year in tour history, with the LPGA struggling with an ongoing lawsuit, a legal battle Jane Blalock won when the courts ruled the tour violated antitrust laws by suspending her. With the tour appealing its legal defeats, a protracted battle threatened to cripple LPGA finances.

It was also the year Mann led the hiring of Volpe.

“I could barely get to the course in time to tee off,” Mann told Kahn. “There was so much other activity. I burned myself out a bit.”

Still, Mann somehow managed to win four times in ’75, but she wouldn’t again in the years that followed.

“I had launched a ship, and then I had to let it go, which was not easy,” she said of leaving her tour president’s role. “I was depressed thinking that no one on tour would say thank you to me for what I had done. Some would, others never would, and 10 years later players wouldn’t give a damn.”

Mann’s reign as a player and a leader aren’t fully appreciated today.

“A lot of players in the ‘60s haven’t been fully appreciated,” Rankin said.

Mann won 10 LPGA titles in 1968, the same year Kathy Whitworth won 10. Mann won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average that year. She won eight times in ’69 and was the tour’s leading money winner.

“Those were the toughest times to win,” Hagge said. “You had Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, who is the best player I ever saw, and I saw them all. You had so many great players you had to beat in that era.”

Mann’s good humor came out when she was asked about her height.

“I’m 5-foot-15,” she liked to say.

After retiring from the tour at 40, Mann stayed active in golf, working as a TV analyst for NBC, ABC and ESPN. She found meaning in her Christian faith, and she was active supporting female athletes. She was president of the Women’s Sports Foundation for five years. She wrote a guest column for the Houston Post. She devoted herself to the World Golf Hall of Fame, taught at Woodlands Country Club and became the first woman to own and operate a course design and management firm.

“I’ve walked on the moon,” Mann once said. “I enjoy being a person, and getting old and dying are fine. I never think how people will remember Carol Mann. The mark I made is an intimate satisfaction.”