KT sports journalist bowled over by Rory McIlroy's charm in Dubai

He bids to make history as the first player to win the Dubai Desert Classic trophy for a record fourth time

by

Leslie Wilson Jr

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Rory McIlroy smiles while attending a clinic at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai on Tuesday. — Photos by Shihab
Rory McIlroy smiles while attending a clinic at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai on Tuesday. — Photos by Shihab

Published: Tue 16 Jan 2024, 11:46 PM

I think the first time that I ever saw Rory McIlroy was in 2006, the year that Tiger Woods beat Ernie Els in a suspense-filled playoff to win the Dubai Desert Classic.

I don’t really recall much of him in that event because of the overwhelming presence of Tiger, at that time the No. 1 golfer in the world.

He had everybody’s attention. Even mine.

But fast-forward three years and it was a teenage Rory’s time to shine at the Emirates Golf Club when, just like Tiger in 2006, he held his nerve to hold off Justin Rose to seal victory by one shot.

Those memories flashed through my mind as I got to see him up close and personal during an intimate and invitation-only Putting Clinic at the Faldo course on Tuesday.

My good friend Colm McLoughlin, CEO of Dubai Duty Free, always talked about what a gentleman Rory was and I found out for myself that he was indeed cultured, courteous, and even funny.

As he patiently offered tips on the mentality of putting to an assorted group of amateur golfers I got to understand that he was unlike many high-achieving sportsmen. Rory was such a down-to-earth and friendly person, like your next-door neighbour.

Here was a golfer whose meteoric rise made headlines in every newspaper in the world, displaying a toned-down version of himself.

He stopped to have a chat with me and even went out of his way to offer a polite thank you for the support he has received over the years from the Khaleej Times.

Speaking ahead of the Putting Clinic, Rory was happy to outline his plans for the season.

“I got off to a great start last year with a win here in Dubai, played consistently all year. Won the Scottish Open and then had a great week winning the Ryder Cup in Italy,” he said.

“I also came close to winning my fifth major at the US Open, just couldn’t get over the line there.

“I think I played consistently at the Majors without getting the win but I've been knocking on the door. So hopefully this year is the year that I step through one of those doors and get that fifth one.

“That’s the focus for the year. To get my game together for those four big ones and yes, it would be great to kick off another year with a win In Dubai. I was close last week (Dubai Invitational) so hopefully I’ll go one better this week,” he added.

Perhaps not many people are aware that the Northern Irishman spent four of his formative years in the UAE, where he launched his superstar status.

“I lived in Dubai for four years,” he told the small audience at the Emirates Golf Club. “I love it here.

“I first played this tournament 19 years ago as a 16-year-old, so I have a wonderful history here in Dubai and some of the biggest moments of my career have been here. It’s a place that I have very fond memories of so I’m very excited to be back.”

Rory is widely regarded as one of the best putters in the world so it was a rare opportunity for those fortunate social golfers to learn how to improve their short game.

“Putting is mental and if you get yourself in the right frame of mind before you hit a putt I think that’s half the battle won,” he said. “In putting, if you think of it, the putter is only moving this far (gestures six inches) so if you get your fundamentals right there is not a lot that can go wrong.

“So it usually has to do with how you’re thinking over the ball any doubts in there usually make you miss putts.”

Ironically Rory missed a couple of those at the Dubai Creek Resort last week that handed victory to England’s Tommy Fleetwood.

But you can be sure, he’s not going to let it happen this week as he bids to make history as the first player to win the Dubai Desert Classic trophy for a record fourth time.


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