“Are you taking the piss?”
That was the incredulous reaction of Rory McIlroy’s manager when he called the world No 1 wondering why he wasn’t at Medinah preparing for his Ryder Cup singles.
The Ulster superstar thought his tee time was 12.25 instead of 11.25 and Conor Ridge was one of a number of people frantically worrying if McIlroy would cost Europe the Ryder Cup by turning up late.
McIlroy got up at 9am, called girlfriend Caroline Wozniaki in Beijing and took his time getting ready, ignoring a few calls from unknown numbers before sauntering out of his room at 10.50am - just 35 minutes before he was due to take on Keegan Bradley.
What followed was a bizarre series of events that ended with McIlroy racing to the course in a cop car with sirens blaring and lights flashing alongside the local assistant Chief of Police Pat Rollins.
McIlroy realised something was up when he saw panic in the hotel lobby and his manager eventually got him on the phone.
Joking about it all after getting a crucial point in Europe’s amazing comeback win, he confessed he was scared to death that he could cost his team the Ryder Cup.
Asked about that nightmare scenario, he said: “The abuse you guys would have given me in the paper if we had lost by a point! I don’t even want to think about it.
“Once I got out on the golf course, I calmed down a bit. But I have never been this frightened going to the golf course in my life.
“I was just lucky that there was a State Trooper (sic) downstairs and he could take me and obviously put the lights on and get past all the traffic because once we got off the exit of the highway, if I wasn’t in that car, it would have taken us nearly 10 minutes to get through that junction.”
As for the call from his manager that brought reality crashing home, he said: “I got a couple of missed calls from a funny number at half ten. And I thought, who’s that? So I didn’t pick up.
“Then I got a phone call from Conor (Ridge), my manager, saying, ‘Are you are the golf course yet?’
“And I was saying, ‘No I’m not.’ And he was saying, ‘You are teeing off in 25 minutes.’ And I was, ‘No I’m not. I’m teeing off in an hour and 25.’
“And he said, ‘No you’re not.’ And then he said, ‘Rory, are you taking the piss?’ And I was, ‘No, I’m not at the golf course.’ And he said, ‘Well you’d better get there.’”
Fortunately for McIlroy, two women from the PGA of America were already on the case, realising McIlroy had not taken a car from the luxurious Westin Lombard at Yorktown, more than 12 miles and 18 minutes drive from Medinah.
Transport officials Maggie Budzar at the hotel and Erica Stoll at the course were the women who saved the day.
Erica, checking her list, was aware that McIlroy had not been ticked off in her transport log.
She checked at the course then raised the alarm with Maggie.
Maggie said: “It was 10.30 am. I knew Rory’s caddie JP (Fitzgerald) had left about an hour earlier. I knew his tee time was 11.25 and he was the third group to go off. And we still hadn’t seen him.
“We tag team with my colleague at the course, ticking them in and out. I knew everyone who was walking out of the hotel.
“There was a huge crowd here waiting to video and photograph the players so everyone knew Rory hadn’t come down yet.
“The crowd were getting antsy asking where he was so I just lied and said he had already left.
“And then I started getting worried that something had happened to him or that he had taken a different ride to the course.
“The hotel said he was maybe on the players’ floor. There was only one room still in use when housekeeping checked and a male voice said not to come in. We figured it had to be him because by now we knew he wasn’t at the course.
“I called the guys at the driving range to see if they had seen him. They hadn’t so I called the European tour officials to alert them.
“We then had someone go up to his room. At first I was going to drive him to the course because I knew the way and we didn’t want to put a volunteer under stress in the courtesy car and perhaps make a wrong turn.
“I then asked a trooper at the front if he could take him with the flash light on. He said that would be okay.
“I gave Rory the choice and he went straight to the front seat of the trooper’s car. That was about 10.52.
“There was a sense of panic by then. He was on the phone saying to someone he thought his tee time was 12.25pm.
“He was walking really fast. The security blocked the people off and he got there in ten minutes.”
McIlroy was greeted on his arrival by skipper Jose Maria Olazabal, who was not surprised that he could play so well with just 10 minutes to warm up.
“At the PGA this year, for example, he had to play twice because of the storm delay and had to go out on Sunday morning,” Olaabal said with a grin. “He went back to rest and woke up half an hour before his tee time. It must be something innate in him! He’s used to it.”