Golf spotlight

Rory McIlroy spotted at Sony Open in Key Biscayne

 

Special to The Miami Herald

The typical ritual for a golfer practicing on the driving range is to whack five or six balls and then step back and take a look at the fellow golfers around him also trying to hone their games.

That would be the person who tops his ball and rolls it 20 yards into the range. Also, the person who pops his shot up some 50 yards. And, of course, even the occasional person who makes a complete whiff.

That was the routine at a Miami-Dade course recently when the group on the range spotted somebody down at the far end launching humongous drives and pin-point accurate iron shots. He was definitely somebody of exceptional golf ability.

Finally, someone asked the obvious question, “Who is that that guy?” Someone else answered, “You know, he looks exactly like Rory McIlroy.”

That answer was wrong. It didn’t look like Rory McIlroy – it was Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy was in Miami to watch his tennis-playing girlfriend, former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, compete in the Sony Open. Unfortunately, Wozniacki made an early exit.

However, one of golf’s majors, The Masters, is coming up and you don’t get prepared by sitting in the stands watching people hit a large yellow ball rather than a small, white, dimpled ball.

So, for several days during the tournament, McIlroy would sneak over to Crandon Golf Course — about four minutes away from the tennis tournament — and practice on the range. McIlroy, the No. 2 player in the world (after a recently ended stay at No. 1), was working on a swing that has failed him recently.

Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it usually improves skills, so McIlroy left the purple courts of the Crandon Park Tennis Center and headed off to the nearby green grass of a municipal golf course.

“It was nice,” McIlroy said. “I got to know the people around the club and asked them if it was OK. Actually, got some good practice in.”

Obviously, McIlroy, 23, is no ordinary golfer, and in keeping with that, Crandon is no ordinary municipal course. It might not be Augusta National, but the course was once ranked the No. 1 public course in the nation and currently ranks as one of the best — if not the best — courses in South Florida. It also hosted a PGA Senior tournament at one point.

McIlroy was asked if practicing on a municipal course took him back to his earlier days in golf.

“Yeah, exactly,” he said. “You go and hit balls because you want to and you love the game. It’s totally fine for me that I go and practice with everyone else. No big deal.”

McIlroy’s unofficial host at the course was Tommy Chipman, Crandon’s head pro who has been working at the course for only three months.

Chipman was more than impressed with McIlroy — not just his game, but his demeanor.

Following a photo shoot at Crandon, McIlroy asked course officials if he could come over a few days and practice. They were more than happy to oblige. No charge. “It’s on us, Rory,” was the basic answer.

“Hey, he’s not afraid to come out to a municipal course and be with ordinary golfers,” Chipman said. “That’s admirable.

“Before he started practicing, he was really nice and signing autographs. People would watch him hit, but others — maybe they didn’t even know it was McIlroy — just went about their own practice. The only thing we asked of the people was to not bother him for autographs and pictures while he was in his practice session.

“Before and after, McIlroy would sit there and talk to them. He was always saying, ‘Thank you.’ Fame hasn’t gotten to him. He likes people and he’s down to earth. I was very impressed with him.”

When he was done, McIlroy would sling his bag over his shoulder and carry it out to his car in the parking lot.

Who will Chipman root for in The Masters?

“I’ll definitely be rooting for Rory,” Chipman said of his new friend. “It would be hard not to root for him. He appreciates where he came from and also the game.”

As for McIlroy, he returned the compliment.

“It’s totally fine for me that I go and practice with everyone else. It’s a great experience.”

Puttering around

• Nova Southeastern won the Buccaneer Invitational men’s golf tournament, shooting a 25-under-par 827 at the Normandy Shores Golf Club. Barry finished second at 840, snapping a streak of five consecutive tournament victories. Lynn was third at 855.

• Barry University freshman Adam Svensson finished second at the Bobcat Invitational hosted by Georgia College in Eatonton, Ga.

Svensson shot a 1-under 209 in the 54-hole tournament at The Golf Club of Cuscowilla’s 6,730-yard, par-70 course, finishing a stroke behind champion Gus Wagoner of Armstrong Atlantic. South Carolina-Aiken’s Matt Atkins was third at even-par 210.

It was Svensson’s second consecutive week with a second-place finish at a tournament in Georgia. His 209 was his best of the four events that he has competed in this spring.

Lynn won the team title, finishing with an 854 cumulative score.

South Carolina-Aiken, Nova Southeastern and Armstrong all tied for second at 860. Florida Southern was fifth with an 866, and nationally-ranked Barry finished sixth at 870.

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