x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The young guns who hit the mark like Rory McIlroy did at the US Open

With his Congressional conquest, Northern Ireland’s upstart has risen to a place in an exclusive club alongside Pele and Becker

People have lost their minds during the past two days, and it is a beautiful thing to behold.

Padraig Harrington, as clear and adept a head as has ever graced sport, mentioned Rory McIlroy as a threat to Jack Nicklaus's record 18 major golf titles. A question in a press conference addressed a potential "Rory Slam", now that McIlroy has won one major. Comparisons to Tiger Woods have grown commonplace, if sometimes zany.

Already there is a gathering strand of thinking admonishing Woods for his inveterate unfriendliness while trumpeting McIlroy's wondrous accessibility. This turn of revisionist spite would be the only non-beautiful portion of the whole din about McIlroy winning the US Open by eight shots at 16-under par at the whoa! age of 22.

The rest of the banter greeting McIlroy's sterling week near Washington? It epitomises the great fun that comes whenever a young man soars and an audience swoons and a landscape changes. Golf's landscape went rearranged by Sunday evening Eastern US time, blunted into a new shape by a sweet swing and a sweet disposition.

Everybody talks McIlroy now, and that "everybody" includes the people who had never heard of him before last weekend, the people who follow golf only when it up and throws fresh air into their faces.

The lad from Holywood near Belfast has floated above golf and into that zone that gets you thinking about all the games and all the rambunctious youths who have sideswiped those games delightfully.

Actually, the "all" would be only several in male sports, with prodigies in female sports much more abundant. It is the rare male air McIlroy entered over the weekend.

As somebody who rapidly accessed a global summit at a young age, McIlroy has floated beyond golf to join the few, who include:

• The 17-year-old football marvel Edison Arantes de Nascimento (note: "Pele") with his five goals in the last two matches at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden;

• The 17 year old sudden 1985 Wimbledon champion Boris Becker;

• The 19 year old sudden 1990 US Open tennis champion Pete Sampras;

• The 19-year-old National Hockey League instant genius Wayne Gretzky;

• A 16-year-old batsman whose name - Sachin Tendulkar - might ring a bell;

• The 19-year-old Donald Bradman of cricket lore;

• A gaggle of swimmers such as the 19-year-old octo-medallist Michael Phelps and the 17-year-old quinti-medallist Ian Thorpe;

• And, of course, some golfers.

There would be the 21-year-old Bobby Jones with his 2-iron to the No 18 green at Inwood Country Club in New York at the 1923 US Open, a victory that generated no traffic on Twitter. And there would be the 21-year-old Woods with a 12-shot win in his first Masters as a professional, in 1997, even if the mind-boggling social significance of that conquest has ebbed because of his insufficient friendliness, his private transgressions and his careless spit upon a golf course in Dubai.

These male humans who withstood the curse of the prodigy label have had a few things in common, most notably being that when they finished ransacking big events, everybody perceived their sports differently, either in a whoosh as in nowadays or by slow word of mouth as with Jones in 1923 or Bradman in the late 1920s.

When Becker dived around the Wimbledon grass, gathered beautiful bruises and won Wimbledon as the first unseeded player to do so, he had won Queen's Club previously, but only the nuts knew that. Everybody else saw a strawberry-blond brute who would dominate their curiosity during, say, the ensuing US Open (no matter that he went out meekly to Joakim Nystrom in the fourth round there before going on to win six major titles).

When Woods made a mockery of the Masters field in 1997, debuted his trademark Sunday red major shirt and hugged his tough, tough war veteran of a father, legions of novices suddenly wanted to know how he would fare in the ensuing US Open (no matter than he went out in a tie for 19th, devoured by the Congressional course that McIlroy just mastered).

And now that McIlroy has owned a US Open from its Thursday dawn all the way through its Sunday hilt, whereupon he easily remembered to extol his sacrificing parents, he becomes the central figure in the British Open next month at Royal St George's in England. Like Jones and Pele and Becker and Gretzky and Tendulkar and Woods, the subject turns to him. His dominant prowess compels people, makes them talk crazy talk, fuels their imaginations.

In some way, then, this son of a factory worker and a two-job bar manager helps make the world go around.

 

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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