McIlroy a working class hero from Holywood

By Rex HoggardJuly 11, 2011, 12:38 pm

HOLYWOOD, Northern Ireland – Take a right off of High Street onto a byway masquerading as a two-lane thoroughfare. Wind through a quiet, middle-class neighborhood, past the McIlroy family home, until the road narrows and a large rock wall gives way to Nuns Walk.

At the end of that steep path looms Holywood Golf Club, all 6,118 rolling yards of it. The end of the road or maybe, at least for Rory McIlroy, where it all began (check out photo gallery).

The par-69 layout with sweeping views of Belfast Lough is where the rail-thin prodigy learned to play the game, where he learned to win, and to lose, where he learned to hit his signature high draw and where he celebrated.

The game’s newest major champion returned to Holywood just days after rolling over the field last month at Congressional by more than a touchdown and in a snapshot from the club’s modest balcony the world learned all it needed to know about the 22-year-old.

“It’s a working-class club . . . we wear jeans,” says McIlroy’s father, Gerry with a proud nod. “Good food, good drink, we just want to come in and enjoy ourselves.”

The older McIlroy should know, he’s been a part of life at Holywood GC since . . . “give me a minute, I can figure this out . . . 41 years.”

Before his son become golf’s resident alpha male, before this village of 13,000 was transformed, however prematurely, into ground zero of the post-Tiger Woods era, Gerry McIlroy was the quintessential Holywood member – a scratch player who was much more blue collar than blue blood.

There is no practice tee at Holywood, just two bays with well-worn mats and a net, and at just over 6,100 yards it would never be confused for the sprawling ballparks that now dominate the game, but in almost every way the club that opened in 1904 was the perfect place for Rory McIlroy.

The junior program is robust, with about 185 players, and the competitions are fierce and regular, at least until McIlroy moved on to his major-winning ways.

“By 12 he was on the senior teams, beating grown men off 2, 3 handicaps,” said Stephen Crooks, Holywood’s head professional. “He was tiny, absolutely tiny, but an unbelievable talent.”

In this the golf world is catching up to what the rank and file at Holywood have known for some time, and McIlroy’s resume, if not his life, is fixed onto the walls of the inviting clubhouse.

From his victory at the 1998 Doral-Publix Junior Championship to the banners celebrating his Congressional walkover adjacent the 18th green and on the clubhouse balcony, his steady climb from prodigy to prince is documented like a collection of evolutionary snapshots.

Although he rarely plays Holywood anymore, opting instead to practice at his own facility he had built at his house about 17 miles from Holywood, the “working-class club” is still part of McIlroy’s DNA.

Tucked between photos of his numerous amateur, and now professional, accomplishments is a framed card dotted with the challenged penmanship of a 9-year-old McIlroy. A “thank you” note for a “ballot” the club held so McIlroy could travel to some far-flung competition.

If McIlroy makes the game look easy now, like he did at Congressional, it is only because Gerry McIlroy had been making the impossible seem perfectly normal for years.

To support his son’s golf aspirations Gerry McIlroy worked three jobs, during the day cleaning locker rooms before heading to a local pub to bartend. For eight years he would finish his day behind the wooden bar at Holywood Golf Club.

“I didn’t mind as long as Rory was making the effort,” Gerry McIlroy now shurgs.

In this the young McIlroy learned that there is no substitute for hard work, yet contrary to much of the media analysis the unassuming champion also had “a little cockiness,” says Crooks.

Even as a 10-year-old Gabby Maguire knew immediately that there was something different about him. “When I first met him I gave him a junior menu, you know it had wee hamburgers and wee nuts and bits, and he looked up and said, ‘I’ll have an 8-ounce steak medium-to-well, thank you,’” says Maguire, the manager of Gabby’s at Holywood. “That was the beginning of it all.”

Even McIlroy’s Masters meltdown in April, and his almost real-time rebound at the U.S. Open, was signature Holywood – tough and resilient without a hint of self-doubt. This place, about 15 minutes from Belfast’s city center, endured its fair share of attacks and bombings during the “troubles,” largely because of it’s location just down the road from the Royal Irish Regiment, a division of the British army.

By comparison, a closing 80 on Sunday at Augusta National was hardly a reason to seek therapy. “He called me 20 minutes after (his final round at the Masters), and I said, ‘Are you OK?’” recalls Gerry McIlroy. “He said, ‘I’m fine, as long as I learned from it.’ And he did.”

Not that the high-profile loss was easy on the rest of the nation. In pubs and clubhouses across the country avid fans and casual observers watched as things started to come apart at No. 10 with a drive left into the cabins. From there it was impossible to look away.

“It was like you’ve just buried you closest friend,” says Tom Cotter, a manager with Hastings Hotels which runs The Slieve Donard Resort and Spa adjacent Royal County Down Golf Club where McIlroy is a regular.

It is a measure of what McIlroy’s U.S. Open victory meant to this country of 1.8 million that when he showed up for a game on Saturday at Royal County Down about 20 people gathered on the first tee to watch. By the time he made the turn the gallery had ballooned to 200 and was growing.

A day earlier, a fivesome of juniors inspired by McIlroy’s accomplishments darted around the storied grounds, rolling in 5-footers on the practice green to win the Open “just like Rory.” Aspiring Rorys packed the shorter Annesley Links, there was even a Rory behind the counter, an assistant professional.

“We build our junior programs to see if they take to the game,” said Kevan Whitson, the professional at Royal County Down. “We have about 100 kids in our junior programs and we make them go through a whole course to make it fun. When they’ve passed that it makes them eligible for a season ticket.”

Much like Woods in the United States, McIlroy’s victory transcended sporting lines, particularly in the village of Holywood. A month removed from Congressional signs still dotted almost every shop along High Street.

From Ganges Indian Cuisine to the Lapamanz Giraffe Café, “Congratulations Rory” is etched into every window. At Skinner’s bakery they even created custom cupcakes adorned with McIlroy’s likeness. “We sold a couple thousand or more,” says the attendant behind the counter.

In a strange way, it’s as if Graeme McDowell’s 2010 U.S. Open victory was celebrated, but McIlroy’s breakthrough was a celebration.

A week after Congressional McIlroy returned to Holywood with the U.S. Open trophy in tow, a scene club general manager Paul Gray described as “euphoric” and included about 300 members and more than a few pints. There were no flowery announcements or long-winded speeches, just smiles and hugs. Working class indeed.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.