Gerry McIlroy on raising a star, cleaning toilets, and what set Rory apart from other kids

Gerry McIlroy on raising a star, cleaning toilets, and what set Rory apart from other kids

PROUD PAPA: Even as a toddler, Rory showed serious promise. Gerry would go on to work 90-hour weeks to cover Rory’s golf expenses.
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I knew Rory was good enough, but I didn't think it would happen so quickly. I thought when he'd be 27 he might have won a major, but to be 23, it's been a great ride for us all, you know. You have to nip yourself at times. I'm so pleased for him.

We brought Rory up to always treat people the way you expect them to treat you, and he's done that. He's grounded, too. Rory's just Rory.

It's hard for us to sit down and have a chat. His mother, before the Ryder Cup, hadn't seen Rory since before the Open Championship at the start of July. So he took time out of the team room at Medinah to come over and spend half an hour with us. His mother was — I thought she was gonna cry, she hadn't seen him for so long. Rory and his mum are very close. She'll do about seven tournaments a year, and I would do maybe 12 a year. I've seen both his major wins.

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I started Rory off, because I used to play a bit. I'd take him to the range with me when he was 18 months. I'm sure you've seen the photos. I'd stand behind him. I used to say, "Right, there's the ball." Rory started left-handed, because of the way he was looking at me face-on. I used to have to turn him around.

When we got an invite to the junior tournament at Doral [the Doral Publix Junior Golf Classic], he just blew the field away. And he was only 9. Jim McLean [the instructor] said to me, "This kid's good." He says, "I'm tellin' you, Mr. McIlroy, this kid has something." So I went back home and said to Rosie, "We should put more effort into Rory."

At that time in Ireland, 9 years of age, there were no tournaments. They were all in America. So we used to work at three jobs. I used to clean in the mornings — locker rooms, toilets. You had to get the money. I'm workin' class, you know? I cleaned at the rugby club, cleaned all the toilets and the showers and the bar. And then in the afternoons, from 12 o'clock until 6 o'clock, I used to tend bar at a bar in Holywood, and then at 7 o'clock at night, I was at the rugby club, at the bar again. So I did that for eight years, 90 hours a week. Rosie worked for an American company, 3M, night shift, because I got home at 12. She worked 12 to 7:30 a.m., on the line. But it's all paid off. We're havin' a good time now. [Laughs]

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After he won that event in America, he was on UTV, Ulster Television. When a child is going on a TV show, they send someone out to the house first to make sure he can speak properly. Rory was in the hall pitching into the washing machine. And this girl thought this was great. So the next thing, he went on the show and they had a washing machine. I think they gave him eight balls and he put five in, bang, bang, bang. It was live. Rosie and I were there. To do all that in front of all these people.

The last time I played was in a pro-am at the [2012] Irish Open, the week before the [British] Open. I played all right, yeah. I don't play too bad. I would prefer actually watchin' it. When you watch Rory play, and you go out and play golf yourself, you kind of ask yourself, "You know, Jesus, what am I doing here?"

Rory has a couple of properties to look after. He has his house [in Holywood] up for sale. So I've been lookin' after it. There's a lot of land, and I look after the car with the hose and make sure everything is nice and clean.

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I never fly first class but I go business. These are real nice perks for us.

One different thing about Rory is, you see kids at golf clubs, they're always hangin' about the pro shop and the putting green. Rory used to take himself out on his own and practice on the course. I used to say he's a strange wee boy — I mean not strange, but he used to practice for hours on the course. It all paid off.

He wanted to go to the range one morning, and Rosie said, "They're not going to be open, Rory. There's snow." He said, "They'll open it for me." So she took him and they did; they put 200 balls out, cleaned away a spot in the snow. Another time we'd gone to the range and played and we were home, and Rory said, "Dad, could we go to the range?" I said, "Rory, we've gone to the course, we've gone to the range." He said, "Dad, do you not want me to get any better?''

This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Golf Magazine, on newstands now. Click here to subscribe to Golf Magazine and to learn about Golf Magazine All Access.

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