When he was 13 years old Rory McIlroy, then a little rosy-cheeked, freckle-faced, Irish boy, played in a Pepsi Little People’s junior golf tournament at Indian Trails Golf Club in Quincy, Ill. You may have guessed, he won.
Between rounds Rory spent hours at the driving range – only, not exactly practicing his sweet, natural swing. No, the future world No. 2 ranked player was putting on clinics, helping others with their swings – some students may have been twice his age.
Here was a kid, the same age as his competitors, with the skills everyone wanted. All the players, including my brother, were in awe of him. They were borderline jealous, because everyone aspired to be like Tiger Woods – successful, talented, mythical – and Rory already was.
“Perfect swing. Same as it is today,” recalls my brother, whose golf expertise comes from playing the game his whole life and helping University High School in Normal, Ill. to win four consecutive state golf championships. “It’s just technically perfect. He gets in all the right positions and for a little guy creates a ton of torque.”
Those who played in Rory’s group during the tournament likely had an experience they’ll never forget. My brother always talks about it, and he was in the group immediately behind Rory.
When my brother was at the tee box, he got to watch Rory on the fairway hitting the most perfect golf shots he’d ever seen. He got to see that 18 times.
Rory always had quite the crowd around him so my brother never got to meet him, but he got as close as any – meeting Rory’s dad instead.
My brother, accompanied by my dad, talked for a while with daddy McIlroy mostly about his son.
His son had a lot of competition at the tournament, but while blowing the field away Rory was gaining hundreds of fans his age, from a country he was just visiting, who would follow him through his career still today.
This Easter weekend, Masters weekend, I was home excited to watch the best golf tournament of the year with my brother and the rest of the family.
Saturday morning, with Rory in contention at 4-under par, my brother, his friend Kole, my dad and I, were out on the golf course at Prairie Vista in Normal. What did we talk about? We guessed at how well Rory would play that day.
He’ll be a couple strokes ahead at the end of the day. He’ll blow the field away. He could be 4- or 5-under par today.
Hours later Rory fell out of contention. That’s golf.
But it seems like fans don’t understand that, at least those with Twitters. Unfortunately for Rory, he had a haunting collapse at last year’s Masters so as soon as he faltered this weekend the critics were out.
What right do they have, really? Professional golfers can look really bad sometimes, but they also make the game look really easy. One thing that makes Rory so great in fact is he makes it look like a simple game.
Yet when he messes up, those who think they know a lot about the game start calling him “overrated” and a “choke artist.”
Those who do know a lot, my brother for example, say Rory just had a bad day – and bad days happen all the time in golf.
My brother hit a perfectly straight tee shot on one hole and the next hit the ball onto the wrong fairway. It happens. Real golf isn’t as easy as the video game, which I might add Rory is also really good at.
These are the things that make me and other golf fans, and players, tick. Don’t hide behind your Twitter account calling some spectacular athlete overrated who has worked tirelessly all of his life to get to where he is today.
In fact, calling someone overrated is the most overrated insult in the book.
Don’t criticize an athlete unless you have a wealth of knowledge of the game he or she plays. Realize you can’t do what Rory does. I can’t. My brother can’t. Hell, no golfer in the world can.
The greatest golfers are those who can admit their shortcomings and move on. Rory’s way of doing that Saturday was to hug his playing partner, Sergio Garcia (who was going through the same struggles), after each got their first birdie of the round on the same hole.
Rory’s young, 23. My brother admits that Rory has shown that when he struggles he kind of “drags himself to the finish” as he did Saturday.
“(But) remember he was top 5 in 11 of his last 12 tournaments. Not overrated,” my brother says.
He’s not overrated.
He is the future of golf.
And my brother played against him when they were 13.
Hell of a story, huh?