Rory McIlroy is the favorite to win this week's British Open following… (Gerry Penny / EPA )
From Sandwich, England — Tuesday was the kind of day the British dearly love when it comes to their golf.
After two relatively mild days — there was actually a sunshine sighting midafternoon Monday — the air cooled, the whitecaps reappeared in the English Channel and the flags stiffened, snapped and pointed toward the White Cliffs of Dover. If you didn't have a jacket, you had pneumonia.
And then the star of the show, the sudden darling of world golf fans, arrived. It wasn't Jennifer Aniston on the red carpet, but it was close.
The British Open begins Thursday, and Rory McIlroy is here.
On the 19th of June, at age 22, he won the U.S. Open. Correction: He destroyed a field of the best golfers in the world in arguably the toughest tournament in the world.
That was just over three weeks ago.
That's old news, but a recap adds context to the new news of what he has become and what is expected of him at this British Open. A quick sample:
--His 72-hole total of 268 was best ever in a U.S. Open by four strokes.
--His 16-under-par finish broke the previous tournament record by four.
--He became the second-youngest to win the event since 1923, when some guy named Bobby Jones did it.
--He became only the fourth player in tournament history to shoot four rounds in the 60s, and became only the seventh start-to-finish winner.
--He hit 62 of the 72 greens in regulation, and nobody has done better than that since they started keeping that statistic.
--He was the first player in the tournament to get to 13 under par, then 14 under, 15 under, 16 under and 17 under.
However, all that disappears on the mega-star meter if the mega-star is a jerk or a felon or is dull. Or is uncomfortable in the limelight.
McIlroy is none of the above. Celebrity has overtaken him like a 10-foot wave at high tide and he has paddled right along, riding the crest with a smile.
Since he won, there has been a parade of media to the city of Holywood, Northern Ireland, population 12,000. His friends have been interviewed, so have baby sitters who changed his diaper. One writer joked in Tuesday's news conference that there was a story due on his hometown hairdresser.
In the three weeks since McIlroy walked down the 18th fairway of famed Congressional Country Club on that final Sunday in the U.S. Open, the media have responded to the public appetite.
We know now that McIlroy drives a Ferrari and bought a Mercedes for his father, but that he also seems to have the proper perspective about this sudden wealth and fame. When asked about now being able to afford travel in private jets, he told the London Mail, "It's incredible, ridiculous, really, isn't it?"
To pay for his golf lessons and eventual international travel as a rising junior player, his father often worked three shifts, including one as a bartender and another cleaning toilets. His mother pitched in by taking an extra night shift at a local factory.
Now he lives in a $2-million home 20 minutes from Belfast and his parents have a separate house on the property.
His father, Gerry, says he doesn't regret a moment of the hard work for the family's only child. He also says he will not interfere in his son's career "because I've seen parents ruin good golfers," and told the Mail, "To his mum and me, he is still the same wee boy."
That wee boy, who became a member of his home Holywood Golf Club at age 7, now has a girlfriend named Holly Sweeney. He broke up for a while, thinking he needed to focus on golf, but realized that he had made a mistake. So he said he "groveled" to get her back and added that, "she keeps my feet on the ground."
He said he was surprised by the buzz his U.S. Open victory brought, and by the overwhelming fan support. He also said he welcomed it and wouldn't hide from it.
"It's nice to be the center of attention," he said.
Just as he did at Congressional, McIlroy showed poise, patience and a sense of humor. As the favorite to win here, he was informed that there have already been two bets of 20,000 pounds each placed on him to win.
Is that the act of shrewd punters, or of desperate men, he was asked.
"I'll take the first," McIlroy said.
He hasn't played in a tournament since the U.S. Open. He played two practice rounds at Royal St. George's last week, then returned home to Northern Ireland and was there until he flew into a nearby airport Tuesday.
"Last night, we [McIlroy and his dad] went to Royal County Down at about 7 in the evening," McIlroy said. "It was just me and him on the golf course, basically no one else, and I played nine holes and he walked around. It was a really nice moment."
The attraction for the public is obvious. Golf's current superhuman player is perfectly human in all other regards. You might say he remains grounded.
Thank you, Holly Sweeney.