Open champion Rory McIlroy was unable to show off his prized Claret Jug to Northern Ireland’s political leaders yesterday, admitting it needed a good clean after a big night out celebrating.
The three-time major winner grinned as he apologised for turning up empty-handed to Stormont Castle in Belfast on the latest leg of his whirlwind victory tour.
On Monday night the jug took pride of place on the table of an upmarket Belfast nightclub as McIlroy, 25, partied with friends.
But it was nowhere to be seen yesterday as the newly crowned Open winner stopped by for an informal chat with First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
“I am sorry I don’t have the Claret Jug, it’s not going everywhere with me,” the golfing superstar said outside Stormont Castle.
“It actually needs a bit of a clean after last night.
“It’s an amazing trophy and something that I am obviously very proud of and hopefully there are many more to come.”
McIlroy first visited Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness three years ago in the wake of his first major win – the 2011 US Open.
On that occasion Mr McGuinness almost struck one of his advisers with a shanked chip shot on the lawns of Stormont Castle during a photo call.
Perhaps on health and safety grounds, there were no clubs in sight yesterday as the political leaders congratulated the home-grown star from Holywood on his Open triumph at Hoylake.
“I am obviously very, very proud and honoured to come back home and come home as an Open champion and to be congratulated by everyone,” said McIlroy.
“I am very proud to be from Northern Ireland, I am very proud of where I come from and I will never lose touch of that, and I will never lose sight of that – I will never forget where I come from.
“To be able to share these sort of moments with people from back home and close friends and family, it’s absolutely wonderful.”
Mr Robinson said he hoped McIlroy could complete the grand slam of major wins with victory at the US Masters at Augusta, Georgia next April.
“We are really proud of him,” said the DUP leader.
“Not only in terms of the achievements of a fantastic golfing career and the competitions he’s won but he is a tremendous ambassador for Northern Ireland.
“He gives the kind of messages about Northern Ireland that we want people to hear – a good news story relating to Northern Ireland.
“And apart from all of that he’s a thoroughly decent fella.”
Mr McGuinness said the Open represented “undoubtedly the greatest prize in world golf”.
“It’s been absolutely a huge buzz for all of us,” said the Sinn Fein veteran.
“We are living in a world now where there’s an awful lot of sadness in different parts of the world and this just brings so much happiness and joy to all of the people here that one of our own is seen to be one of the greatest golfers in the world today. No mean achievement by the age of 25 and coming from Holywood in Co Down.”
When Mr McGuinness speculated that McIlroy could go on to achieve success on the fairways for 25 or even 40 more years, the young golfer interrupted.
“You should have stopped at 25,” he joked.
McIlroy’s arrival at Stormont was covered by all strands of the Northern Ireland media.
As the golfing superstar casually strolled from his luxury Range Rover to the steps of the historic building, photographers and television camera crews jostled for prime position.
He was greeted by Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness before being ushered through the castle for a press conference and further photo call on the manicured lawns.
The two ministers were in similar relaxed mood to the golfing superstar for what is becoming a regular post-major winning occasion – McIlroy now having won three of the four major championships.