Rory McIlroy admittedly can’t recall many shot-by-shot accounts of his rounds.
“But for that round, I do,” McIlroy said during a May sit-down with TheOpen.com.
McIlroy is referring to the 11-under 61 he shot as a 16-year-old playing in the 2005 North of Ireland Championship at Royal Portrush. The round smashed the previous course record of 64, and though the Dunluce links layout has been altered since, many still consider McIlroy’s score to be the course’s benchmark.
“I knew the record was 64,” said McIlroy, who birdied just one of his first five holes before catching fire with eagle at the par-5 10th hole. “Once I got to 9 under through 16, I thought if I could par the remaining two and set the new record that would be pretty special.”
McIlroy did two shots better, birdieing each of his final two holes – he actually birdied each of his final five coming in.
“I did not care what the score was,” McIlroy said. “I just wanted the course record.”
McIlroy added: “It doesn’t feel like 13 years ago, but when you look back at the footage, it does feel like 13 years ago. Whenever I look back at Royal Portrush, links golf and my development I always think about that round of golf.”
At the time of McIlroy’s 61, St. Andrews was hosting The Open. McIlroy recalls a congratulatory text he got from Darren Clarke during the event. Even McIlroy's swing coach at the time, Michael Bannon, was in awe.
“A member of the golf club phoned me and told me, and I thought it was a joke,” Bannon said. “No one can shoot 61 around Royal Portrush.”
No one but McIlroy, who was already a prodigy with immense talent and expectations.
“It felt normal to me,” McIlroy said. “I had that cockiness and thought this was what I was supposed to do. It is only when time goes on that I realize these things are special and you should savor them.
“It was a defining moment … because the wider golf world took notice.”
McIlroy turned pro two years later and the rest is history. McIlroy is a surefire Hall of Famer and four-time major winner as he prepares to take on Royal Portrush in this week’s Open Championship.
Of course, McIlroy wouldn’t mind history repeating itself.
“I shot 62 at Quail Hollow in 2010 on the old setup, and then they went and redesigned it and I went back in 2015 and shot 61 on the new course,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully the same things happen at Royal Portrush. I hold the record on the old course, but it would be special to come back to The Open and break it on the new one.”