DALY: Dominant victory for McIlroy in U.S. Open ushers in a new era of golf

Rory McIlroy kisses the U.S. Open trophy after winning the championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, June 19, 2011. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)Rory McIlroy kisses the U.S. Open trophy after winning the championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, June 19, 2011. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)

ANALYSIS/OPINION

They’ll remember this U.S. Open. That’s all you can ask. When the national golf championship comes to your doorstep - in this case Congressional Country Club — you don’t want it to be one of those mind-numbing, nobody-breaks-par deals where the star of the show is a Stimpmeter. You want a little action. You want a little history. The good kind of history, preferably, but even bad history is better than no history.

Thanks to Rory McIlroy, the 22-year-old virtuoso from Northern Ireland, the 2011 U.S. Open will be looked back upon fondly for the better part of eternity. It’ll be recalled as McIlroy’s coming-out party, the site of his first major win. It’ll be recalled for his extraterrestrial 16-under final score, the lowest of all time in the event, and for his eight-stroke margin of victory, the second-largest in the last 90 years. It’ll be recalled for the soggy and un-Openlike conditions, which led to a flock of birdies and made the championship seem more like a really well attended AT &T National.

And finally, because Mr. McIlroy has a theatrical bent, it’ll be recalled for his near hole-in-one on 10 in the last round. (As if he needed it.) The only surprise there, as well as Rory was playing, is that he didn’t walk on water, straight across the pond, to the green.

“That was probably the biggest point in the round,” he said, “because [playing partner Y.E.] Yang had just stuck it in there close. I was very happy to play the 10th and 11th holes 1 under par. After I got past 11, I sort of knew I was going to have to do something really, really stupid not to win.”

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, acknowledges the gallery on the 18th green before his final putt to win the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, June 19, 2011. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)

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Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, acknowledges the gallery on the 18th green ... more >

Such an entertaining Open might have offended the purists - the spare-the-bogey-spoil-the-golfer types - but you didn’t hear a peep out of the massive galleries that swarmed the course. They had a swell time root-root-rooting for their favorites (especially young Rory, who they all but adopted). They even managed to avoid getting drenched most days, the rains being nice enough to fall during the off-hours.

Besides, how could you not be totally captivated by what the kid was doing, reducing the rest of the field to a chalk outline and tearing entire pages out of the record book? This was a performance for the ages, one reminiscent of Tiger Woods‘ torching of Pebble Beach in 2000 or — a bit of trivia here — Jim Barnes’ nine-shot runaway in the 1921 Open at Columbia Country Club. Most players, even the great ones, only have one week in their lives like McIlroy‘s. Which raises the question: What the heck is Rory supposed to do with himself for the next 20 years?

Win a bunch of golf tournaments, probably. He’d been in the hunt at several majors before this one but had never closed the deal. At Augusta in April, he tore it up for three days, took a four-shot lead into the final round…and then reminded everybody he was 22.

He’s obviously a quick learner, though. Whatever kept him from a green jacket — inexperience, a virulent case of the heebie jeebies - he didn’t let it get in his way at Congressional. Even after he was comfortably ahead, he never stopped attacking pins. That’s why his lead grew each day: from three shots to six to Yahtzee.

Of course, the soft greens allowed him to be aggressive — as they did all the other contestants. McIlroy just took advantage of the situation better than anybody else. But then, he had the game to take advantage of the situation better than anybody else.

Is there a golfer alive, of any gender, who has a sweeter swing? “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen,” said defending champ Graeme McDowell, who had the pleasure of relinquishing the Open trophy to his countryman. “I didn’t have a chance to play with Tiger when he was in his real [prime], and this guy is the best I’ve ever seen, simple as that. He’s great for golf. He’s a breath of fresh air for the game. Perhaps we’re ready for golf’s next superstar, and maybe Rory is it.”

There doesn’t seem to be any maybe about it. The clock is beginning to tick loudly for the Old Guard - for Phil Mickelson, who turned 41 Thursday; for Tiger Woods, whose body keeps betraying him; and for all the rest (e.g. always-the-bridesmaid Lee Westwood). It’s McIlroy’s world now, though there are plenty of other up-and-comers around to push him, guys like Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer and Jason Day, who added a second-place finish here to his T-2 at the Masters.

Schwartzel, Oosthuizen and Kaymer, still in their 20s, already have won majors, and Day, 23, will get his soon enough. Indeed, it was hard not to look at this Open as a new beginning for golf, what with McIlroy having his much-awaited breakthrough. Years from now, when they think back on these four days in June 2011, they may well think: It all started at Congressional.

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About the Author
Dan Daly

Dan Daly

Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at ddaly@washingtontimes.com.

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