Rory McIlroy grew up an hour away from Royal Portrush, but he insists there's no added pressure on him to perform or represent Northern Ireland this week at The Open.
A small, Northern Irish seaside town with a population of just over 7,000 is the center of the golf universe this week. Portrush, home to the Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush, is hosting The Open for just the second time in the championship’s 148-year history.
Despite the obvious tied – growing up an hour away, playing Royal Portrush throughout his childhood and shooting a course-record 61 as a 16-year-old – Rory McIlroy insists the weight of the nation rests elsewhere this week.
“I'm from Northern Ireland and I'm playing at home, but I don't see myself as that center of attention,” McIlroy said. “This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general, and to be quite a big part of it is an honor and a privilege. And I want to keep reminding myself of that, that this is bigger than me, right? This is bigger than me.”
The deflection a wise move for McIlroy, who’s looking to win his first major title since the 2014 PGA Championship.
It's wise because McIlroy has notoriously gotten off to slow starts in majors over the last five years, presumably because of pressure – self-inflicted or otherwise – and expectation. Since his last major win, McIlroy has played in 18 major championships. His average first-round position has been 50th, yet he’s gone on to record 10 top-10 finishes. Getting across the finish line doesn’t appear the issue; it’s getting out of the gate.
Thus, any distance from expectation or Northern Irish responsibility this week could prove profitable.
“You've got the best players in the world here, and I don't feel like I'm the center of attention,” McIlroy maintained throughout his news conference on Wednesday.
If McIlroy can get off to a hot start, then instinct, familiarity and an experienced caddie in Harry Diamond could help him the rest of the way.
“I think that's one of the things people don't realize: Harry has played more rounds of golf on this golf course than I have. … I've played this place enough times to know where to miss it, where not to miss it, where the good leaves are."
This week could be the perfect storm to end McIlroy’s major drought that extends nearly a half-decade. And whether McIlroy wants to acknowledge it or not, we’ll all be watching.