Rory McIlroy out to create history as he welcomes the Open returning to Northern Ireland

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Pre-Good Friday Agreement, the notion of the greatest golf event being staged in their part of the world was a fantasy.

The McIlroy family had, like so many others, being touched by tragedy during The Troubles.

Gerry’s uncle Joe was killed in 1972 in a sectarian killing in East Belfast. A Catholic, he had just moved his family into the Protestant Orangefield area when he was gunned down in his own home while he was fixing the washing machine with his children upstairs.

Normal sport on the scale of an Open Championship in such an abnormal society cannot exist.

Yet slowly, as the country moved beyond such mindless slaughter, stability was established and minds began to re-open.

Portrush, a jewel on the Antrim coast, was handed the British Amateur and the Senior Open and made a success of it.

An idea began to grow. Ireland’s star players from north and south of the border got in behind it. If Portrush could be trusted with these events then why not The Open itself?

When the Dunluce links held the 2012 Irish Open and broke the attendance record for a European Tour event, the clamour became irresistible.

In 2014 the offer was made by the R and A and today fantasy of The Open returning to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951 becomes reality. For Rory McIlroy it will be his proudest moment in golf – because of what it says about life beyond golf in his homeland.

“In terms of a huge sporting event, I don’t think there’s been one quite this big here for a long time,” he said.

“I think no matter what happens this week – if I win or whoever else wins – having The Open back in this country is a massive thing for golf. And I think as well it will be a massive thing for the country.

“I think it just means that people have moved on. It’s a different time. It’s a very prosperous place. I’m very fortunate that I grew up just outside Belfast and I never saw anything, I was oblivious to it.

“I remember I watched a movie a couple of years ago called ‘71.’ It’s about a British soldier that gets stationed at the Palace Barracks in Holywood, which is literally 500 yards from where I grew up and it basically follows him on the night of the Troubles and all that. And I remember asking my mum and dad: ‘is this actually what happened?’

“It’s amazing to think 40 years on it’s such a great place, no-one cares who they are, where they’re from, what background they’re from. You can have a great life and it doesn’t matter what side of the street you come from.

“To be able to have this tournament here again, I think it speaks volumes of where the country and where the people that live here are now. We’re so far past that. And that’s a wonderful thing.”

Reflecting further, McIlroy said: “One of my mantras this week is: ‘look around and smell the roses.’ This is a wonderful thing for this country and golf in general and to be quite a big part of it is an honour and a privilege. And I want to keep reminding myself that this is bigger than me.

“I think if you can look at the bigger picture and you can see that, it takes a little bit of the pressure off. Having that perspective might just make me relax a little bit more.

“I’ve always felt I’ve played my best golf when I’ve been totally relaxed and loose. And maybe that environment is what I need.”

McIlroy lives in Florida now but he remains a Holywood boy at heart. The town’s welcome sign trumpets it as the home of Rory McIlroy. The golf club, where a parking space remains permanently reserved for him, is a shrine to him. There are clubs, bags and photos from all his great wins.

There have been no additions though to the collection from a Major Championship for five years.

If the drought were to end an hour down the road at Portrush of all places this weekend they might have to build a new wing.

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