US Open champion Rory McIlroy tweets a picture of his first major trophy before his press conference at Congressional Country Club on June 19. Picture Fran Caffrey/www.golffile.ieContinuing our review of Ireland’s great golfing year (Part I), it is worth remembering that while the game lost a great genius in Seve Ballesteros in May, it was celebrating the elevation of another rare talent to superstar status just a few weeks later.
Rory McIlroy’s record-breaking, eight-shot US Open victory came just 70 days after his final round heartbreak in The Masters. And while Seve’s death and Darren Clarke’s subsequent Open win at Sandwich were huge stories, McIlroy’s major breakthrough will go down as one of the most impressive feats in the history of the game.
The three months from April to June passed in the blink of an eye, yet so much happened it:
“I was flying up here for some practice last Thursday and it was the same feeling you get on Christmas morning. You can’t sleep. You are up at five, you are up at six. It’s a very special place for any golfer.”
Rory McIlroy feels as excited as a kid on Christmas morning every time he drives down Magnolia Lane.
“I was swinging the left‑handed shot, just warming up and it just kind of clicked and I’m not able to move to my right. Such is life.”
Padraig Harrington strained his neck when swinging a training aid left-handed as he warmed up on the range for his first round at the Masters. He never stood a chance after that.
“Everything is good. He drives it unbelievable, hit his irons great and chips and putts good. That’s why he shot 7-under today. He left a lot out there – got to be two-to-four shots.”
Jason Day was impressed as playing partner Rory McIlroy grabbed a share of the first round lead at Augusta with a sublime 65.
“I putted like a Womble over the two days.”
Padraig Harrington - praying that his neck injury was to blame - on missing the cut at Augusta. He was tied 96th out of 99 for putting over the first two rounds.
“Well, Rory, the way he’s hitting the ball, he can pretty much go out there and he can shoot a couple under par I think and probably win. A lot of guys, four shots back, so there’s a lot of pressure on us to obviously go out there and score early and try and put some pressure on him so he can make some mistakes I guess.”
Jason Day on chasing down McIlroy at Augusta.
“Feels nice. It feels good. I’m not getting ahead of myself. I know how leads can dwindle away very quickly. I have to go out there tomorrow, not take anything for granted and go out and play as hard as I’ve played the last three days. If I can do that, hopefully things will go my way.”
Rory McIlroy on having a four-shot lead entering the final round of the Masters.
“Thinking about switching my TV off. This just got ugly.”
Graeme McDowell on Twitter during the final round of the Masters.
“I think it is Sunday at a major and what that can do. It was my first experience at it and hopefully the next time I am in that position I will be able to handle it a little better. I didn’t handle it particularly well today obviously but it was a character building day, put it that way and I will come out stronger for it.
“I was fine, I was confident earlier today. I hit the ball well on the range. I played okay on the front nine and a couple of putts didn’t drop. I hung in there and had a one shot lead going down 10. When you have a one shot lead going into the back nine of the Masters you can’t be doing that much wrong.
“Hopefully I’ll learn from it and come back a little stronger. It was my first experience of being in the lead going into the last day of a Major and I felt as if I did okay on the front nine and I was still one shot ahead going into the tenth and then things went all pear-shaped after that. Hopefully if I can get myself back into this position pretty soon I will hopefully handle it a little bit better.
“It will be pretty tough for me for the next few days but I will get over it. I will be fine. There are a lot worse things that can happen in your life. Shooting a bad score in the last round of a golf tournament is nothing in comparison to what other people go through.”
Rory McIlroy’s mature reaction to his final round 80 at Augusta.
“Yes, it’s an error, but it’s only a mistake if he doesn’t learn from it. And he will learn from this and next time when he is in this position, he will pull through.”
Colin Montgomerie did not see McIlroy’s Augusta heartache as all doom and gloom.
“I’ve had bad days but not of that magnitude. I think he interviewed incredibly well afterwards. His attitude was fantastic and he wasn’t even off the 18th green. In a week’s time he will have time to reflect and he will come through this. But straight away afterwards his attitude was already spot on. The attitude he had augurs very well for his future.
“When it was over, I think everybody was feeling for him. But after his interview I felt a lot better about it all because his attitude was spot on. At the end of the day, and I say this every week, there’s someone out there who shot 68 to finish top 10 and is running around delighted with themselves. But Rory learned far more than anybody else. He learned more than the winner.”
Padraig Harrington was mightily impressed by Rory McIlroy’s reaction to his Augusta meltdown.
“I am fine. Other people are more upset than I am about it. I am going to have so many more chances to win majors. And that’s not being big-headed or cocky. I believe in myself and there are three more left this year and hopefully I will have a great chance in all of those. I am going to play, hopefully, dozens of majors before my career is over. It was a slight speed bump but nothing more than that.”
Rory McIlroy insists he’s not distraught over his Masters loss after opening with a 69 in the Malaysian Open.
“It is all a learning experience and it will stand him in great stead for the future. All the greats say you have got to throw a few away before you learn how to win one. I said at the start of Masters week that Augusta is absolutely tailor made for him and I stand by that. He will not just win one Masters, he will win multiple Masters. I will say that right now.”
Graeme McDowell predicts greatness for his friend Rory McIlroy.
“Congressional 7,574 yards Par 71 US Open set up. No-one will break par.”
Defending champion Graeme McDowell used Twitter after experiencing just nine holes at Congressional Country Club during the US Open Media Day.
“I don’t think I was ready. That was the most important thing. I displayed a few weaknesses in my game that I need to work on.”
Rory McIlroy on learning some home truths at the Masters. Minutes after saying this, he was working on his putting with Dave Stockton at Quail Hollow.
“I held his hands and stroked them and thought: what these hands have done in the world. He knew he was dying and he did so with total integrity. More than a brother or a son or a father, a glory has left us. He said goodbye to everyone one by one. He clutched our hands, he whispered in our ears. I moved in very close and said: ‘I love you’. And Seve replied: ‘I love you too.’”
Baldomero Ballesteros speaks eloquently of the death of his younger brother, Severiano, who died of brain cancer on 7 May 2011, aged 54.
“It looks close on TV, there’s no doubt about it. For once, I’m not going to be a martyr and take [the penalty].”
Padraig Harrington narrowly escaped disqualification for the second time this season after another whistle-blower rules incident. After signing for a fine 68 to clinch an eventual share of ninth in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, a marshall or spectator reported that Harrington had teed off in front of the tee markers at the par-three 13th.
“The first I heard of him was when I played in South Africa in 1975. He must have been 17 at the time and I remember Tienie Britz coming in and he sat down in shock and said, ‘I have just played with a young kid from Spain and he is just unbelievable.’ And I said, how do you make that out. So he described a par four of 420 yards that was a hard dog leg right to left. It was a three-wood and a six-iron and Seve went over the top of these high trees and hit it on the front of the green.”
Des Smyth recalls the first time he heard the name Severiano Ballesteros.
“He never grasped the love people had for him. He knew he was popular but he never knew how popular he was. I used to kid him that he reminded me so much of Elvis Presley. Elvis brought rock ‘n roll to the masses and Seve did the same for golf.”
Paul McGinley on his friend, Seve.
“He has the right to his own opinion but you probably shouldn’t make comments about a guy who has won 69 more times than you and you are virtually the same age. You know what I mean?”
Canadian coach Sean Foley when asked by Newstalk’s Off The Ball programme about 32-year old Bubba Watson’s belief that “Tiger is going the wrong way” with his swing changes and becoming too embroiled in the mental side of the game.
“I didn’t want to sort of shove the jacket in his face. Obviously I had it in my hands and I just put it in the cupboard. After that he said ‘where’s the jacket? I want a photo with it.’ I thought that was pretty cool. It’s never nice being on that end after what happened and for him to suggest that takes some courage.”
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel was impressed how McIlroy took his Augusta meltdown on the chin and even asked to have a picture taken as they flew to Malaysia the following week.
“At that point I just felt the life kind of drain right out of me.”
Graeme McDowell on his visit to water on the seventh in the final round of the Players. Leading going into the final round, he shot a 79 to finish 33rd.
“I think my game is good enough… I’ve been up there and contended before and hopefully I will get myself back up there again.”
Darren Clarke wins the Iberdrola Open, his first victory for three years, and confesses that he still believes he can win a major.
“I will play on a crutch if I have to.”
Padraig Harrington insists he will play the US Open after hamstring and knee injuries forced him to miss the BMW PGA at Wentworth.
“I know Rory McIlroy was the last to win the West and the Close in the same year and to have my name beside his on the two trophies has got a nice ring to it as well. I’m very happy.”
Paul Cutler after completing a rare double with victory in the first strokeplay staging of the Irish Amateur Close at Shannon.
“I used watch Graeme [McDowell] or Luke Donald winning events and feel jealous. But I am over that now. I don’t compare myself to those guys any more. I am just trying to improve my game and it’s improved a lot in the last year. If I am improving then that’s all that I can do.”
Michael Hoey after clinching his second tour win in the Madeira Islands Open.
“Awestruck, it feels unbelievable.”
Lucan’s Richard O’Donovan after shooting nine under for the last 27 holes to win the “East” by two strokes.
“I don’t want to drop out of the top 50, but what can I do? It’s not through lack of trying and I feel my game’s in great shape. I think I’m in a position to go forward.”
Padraig Harrington falls out of the world’s top 50 for the first time since 23 March 2000.
“They are World No 1 and 2 and, obviously, are much better players than I am. But do I feel I can be as good as them. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and someday I will.”
Shane Lowry see no reason why he can’t be as good as Luke Donald or Lee Westwood.
“I’ve learnt over the past few months, you can’t take a lot of notice of what other people say. There is no point in people saying that you are going to be a major champion when you are not one. It is very flattering but I need to go out and do it first. I need to go out and play the golf that everyone thinks I am capable of playing. I have to do it for four days and maybe if I am sitting here with the trophy here on Sunday night, then yes, I can say that I can become a multiple major champion.”
Rory McIlroy sounds determined in the build up to the US Open.
“It would be very, very easy to feel hard done-by and the world is against you. I suspect he doesn’t feel like that but I know he’s like a badger in a set right now and he’s not coming out for anybody. Not for me anyway.”
David Feherty on Tiger Woods’ fall from grace.
“To win the US Open in a bit of style is always nice.”
Rory McIlroy, the fourth-youngest winner in US Open history.
“I got my first Major Championship out of the way quite early on in my career, especially after what’s happened the last couple of months and it feels great. Hopefully in the not so distant future I’ll be able to call myself a multiple major champion.”
Rory McIlroy wins the US Open by eight shots and immediately sets his sights on more majors.
“If you are going to talk about someone challenging Jack’s record, there’s your man.”
Padraig Harrington on Rory.
“He is what golf totally needs. He will be the sixth non-US winner in the last eight years and I’ve got to tell you that the American people love him so much that they are not going to care.”
Short game coach Dave Stockton on America’s love affair with Rory.
“I love his golf swing and I love his moxie and the way he walks like he is a little cocksure about himself. I think this kid is going to have a great career. I don’t think there is any question about it.”
Jack Nicklaus on McIlroy
“Nothing this kid does ever surprises me. He’s the best player I’ve ever seen. I didn’t have a chance to play with Tiger when he was in his real pomp, and this guy is the best I’ve ever seen, simple as that. He’s great for golf. He’s a breath of fresh air for the game and perhaps we’re ready for golf’s next superstar and maybe Rory is it.”
Graeme McDowell on McIlroy.
“It is almost as if you are told not to be that way but I felt as if I needed to be a little bit more cocky and put a bit more pressure on myself to win because I felt as if I had the ability. That’s basically what Jack said to me. You have got to put pressure on yourself because if you don’t put pressure on yourself then no-one else does.”
US Open champion Rory McIlroy on Jack Nicklaus advising him to put pressure on himself to succeed.
“That was very impressive playing. To do that at a U.S. Open, to be that aggressive the entire time, that was cool to watch.”
Tiger Woods on the way Rory McIlroy took advantage of soft conditions to tear the field apart at the US Open.
“I certainly don’t relish being in the shadows. But I’ve always said it’s hard to be a rival of Rory. If you ever have a conversation with him, you always walk away thinking, this is a nice guy.”
Padraig Harrington on his rivalry with Rory McIlroy.