Recalling the moment Rory McIlroy’s Open victory at Hoylake looked secure, Holywood Golf Club stalwart Eddie Harper said: “It wasn’t very sporting I know, but there was a great sigh of relief when Sergio left the ball in the bunker on the 15th.”
The club’s juvenile convenor helped get the membership rules changed to allow McIlroy unrestricted access to the course as a seven-year-old prodigy.
“I remember Rory as a two-year-old hitting plastic balls up and down the [clubhouse] lounge. I also remember that when he was between two and seven his dad took him out with a little bag of cut down clubs,” he said.
“But not being a member he couldn’t play in competitions, so his father almost pleaded to us ‘is there no way you can let him be a member because he’s dying to play in competitions,’ so we changed the age limit from 10 to seven and I interviewed him.
“When he joined we saw what he was capable of and Michael Bannon, who was the pro here then and Rory’s coach, advised me that 18 was an acceptable handicap to give him. I don’t know of any other juveniles of seven years of age who got an 18 handicap.
“Within two years he was down to single figures, and within four years he was playing off scratch. So when he was 11 years of age he was a scratch golfer.
“He played for me in a competition called the Fred Daly when was out playing 17 and 18-year-olds and I don’t think he ever lost a match,” Mr Harper added. Commenting on the magnitude of McIlroy’s professional success, he said: “Everybody regards The Open as the major of the majors, and to win that is really something – and to win three [majors] by the age of 25 phenomenal.”