Monday morning, McIlroy flew to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on a goodwill mission for UNICEF. Since returning, he has changed his Twitter profile picture from a photo of him, as a toddler with a golf club, to one of him, as a smiling young man holding a smiling Haitian child. He has considered, over and over, what he saw a full 18 months after a devastating, 7.0-magnitude earthquake ravaged an already poverty-stricken country.
He saw endless piles of rubble. He saw people living in tents. He saw the dome atop the presidential palace caved in, teetering. He has the photos on his phone to remind him of each step.
“There’s stuff there that I never thought I’d see in my life,” he said.
He also saw schoolchildren who were, somehow, full of hope, a maternity ward where mothers hoped their kids would grow up in a different Haiti. “The spirit, not just of the kids, but the whole country, was incredible,” he said. But drive between the staged, celebrity-drops-in-to-inspire shots, and there was only devastation. In all of Port-au-Prince, McIlroy said there is a Digicel building, providing cellular service to the nation’s nearly 10 million people, and the hotel in which McIlroy stayed.
“That was basically it — 18 months later,” McIlroy said. “And, I mean, people say it’s a lot better than was it was last year.”
McIlroy is a native of Holywood, Northern Ireland, and one of golf’s most promising young stars. Speaking Thursday afternoon in sweltering heat after 18 holes of mid-day practice at Congressional Country Club, he was well aware of how incongruous this situation could seem — a 22-year-old millionaire floating in to a distraught country for a look-see, then returning to the most posh surroundings the Washington area has to offer, preparing for the U.S. Open a week later. All the cliches — about learning life lessons, about not taking things for granted, about eyes being opened — apply, he said.
“A little bit of perspective now and again is a good thing,” McIlroy said.
To this point, McIlroy’s perspective has largely centered on golf. He first played when he was 2. He left school to pursue the sport as a career at 16. At 22, he has already held the first-round lead at the British Open (a 63 last year at St. Andrews) and the Masters in April. He has top-10 finishes in the U.S. Open, the British and two at the PGA Championship.
He also has the experience of rising on Sunday morning in Augusta, Ga., carrying a four-shot lead into the final round of the Masters, and blowing it. Though he must be considered among the contenders at Congressional, his last 18 holes in a major resulted in an indelible image — McIlroy, burying his head in the crook of his arm following a wayward drive at 13. He shot 80.