Leading into the season's final major championship, Rory McIlroy reveals how home and country inspire his play.
I'm a bit of a home bird; I'm very proud of where I'm from — there's a sense of belonging. Northern Ireland is a little bit like a village in that way. It's obviously a country with nearly two million people, but at the same time it feels like anywhere I go I'll run into someone I've met along the way, and no one lets me get above my station. People are very proud of me, but they'll never let me forget where I’m from. There’s a “if you work hard, you'll succeed" mentality so people are genuinely happy for you when you succeed. But there is also a bit of a "work hard, play hard" mentality.
Sometimes I feel like I live two different lives. I live this life that you see in front of cameras, playing golf and being the Rory that millions of people see across the world, but the Rory that I'm probably most comfortable being is Rory amongst his friends, amongst his family, back home. How I've been raised has kept me very grounded.
When I was growing up, my dad worked at a sports club and on Saturdays I would go there with him. At the end of the club, there was a bar top with a little hole in it, a little hole about six-inches wide. I’d bring my wedge and I’d try to chip balls into that hole from maybe 20 yards away. I had a lot of Saturdays like that, which were good fun — and at the same time, I learned how to pack a bar and pull a pint. You get to this state where you're very nostalgic about certain aspects of your life and what's important to you.
Anytime I practice back home, these memories start coming back from my childhood of hitting balls on that practice ground when it was freezing outside, rain coming sideways. We don't have to play in those conditions anymore, but when I was a kid I had no choice. This is where I grew up and those were the elements that I had to deal with.
I remember, when I was about four or five years of age, being at my home golf club, Holywood Golf Club, where the 13th hole is called "the Valley" because you have to drive over a valley to get to the fairway. My dad would always make me tee off from the near side of the valley, because at that point I couldn't clear it, but one day he let me tee off the ladies' tees, which were just at the edge of the far side of the valley.
And I cleared it for the first time. It might have been maybe 70 or 80 yards, but I cleared the valley and I was obviously very proud of myself. That's one of my earliest memories of playing golf — all of my early memories of playing are with my dad, long summer nights chipping around the greens on the back nine. These memories rekindle a love for the game. Sometimes when you get to a certain level and it becomes more than the game, it wears on you, but coming back home and remembering all those moments makes me realize why I play.