The Maypole Pub (refer to it as “Ned’s”) sits at the main crossroads in the town center, just across from the flagpole that’s supposedly stood since 1700, an ode to a shipwreck. The entire downtown — deli, travel agent, dress shop, butcher, baker — seems contained, there to serve. Why leave?
“A nice, wee spot,” according to Stephen Moore, an owner of Orr’s Butchers in the town center, where McIlroy’s grandmother once worked.
“Friendly. Quiet. Nice people,” said Ricky McCormick, a childhood friend of McIlroy’s. “It’s small enough that people know each other. There’s not too much to what’s going on, but I suppose that’s a good thing.”
What’s going on here now, increasingly, is McIlroy. With the British Open beginning Thursday at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England, Moore’s was just one of the stores that still sported the remnants of McIlroy’s breakthrough victory at Congressional. In the window was a poster congratulating McIlroy.
There was another at the post office, one at Garry’s Barber Shop, one at Oasis Travel and Cruise Center, more at a sandwich shop and a pizza place and on and on. The bar at Holywood Golf Club received a special permit to stay open late the night of the final round of the U.S. Open. The spilled beer is gone. The banners still hang.
“Everyone just felt so proud,” said Valerie Skinner, who owns a bakery in the town center that has sold thousands of cookies featuring McIlroy’s image. “All of a sudden, people were talking about Rory, so they were talking about Holywood.”
A popular talking point since the U.S. Open is that success won’t change McIlroy — “I really think he’ll know how to handle it,” Gerry McIlroy, Rory’s father, said the night of his victory. Still, it’s clear that the relationship between hero and home town has evolved, if only slightly.
This is the only place Rory McIlroy has ever called home, the place where Gerry and his mother Rosie met and married. When Rory was a toddler, they lived just down the street from the only coach McIlroy has ever had, Michael Bannon. On one wall in the restaurant at his home club, which is littered with McIlroy memorabilia, hangs a thank-you note, written in the hand of a young boy, to “all the staff and members of Holywood Golf Club for all your kind generosity and spirit.” At the bottom, in crooked cursive, is perhaps McIlroy’s first autograph.
“He’s no different,” said Paul Gray, the general manager and former pro at Holywood. “But obviously, things are different, you know? And I suppose we all feel different. It’s sort of a funny thing. People are more wary, even like with the phone. I just feel like, ‘Oh, he’s tired,’ or he doesn’t need to be bothered.”