It is a sunny Saturday morning in July
at Bangor Golf Club and Michael Bannon is
working behind the counter in the golf shop,
checking in his members for another busy
day of play. You’d never find Butch Harmon or
Sean Foley doing such a thing.
Bannon is the head professional at
Bangor and also happens to be McIlroy’s
swing coach. Just behind the counter in his
“office” is a makeshift training studio, complete with mirrors, cameras and the latest in
video computer software that analyzes golf
swings. The screen saver on his computer is
a photo of Bannon and McIlroy holding the
U.S. Open trophy.
On his computer are hours and hours of
McIlroy video all the way back to when Rory
was a wee lad of 7 years old. It was at that
point that Bannon believed that McIlroy was
destined for great things. “He was a real
golfer, even at that age,” he said. Bannon was
the head professional at nearby Holywood
Golf Club, Rory’s home club, for 16 years and
has remained McIlroy’s only teacher.
“He is the best student I’ve ever had,” said
Bannon, who has been at Bangor for more
than 12 years. “People tell me that I communi-
cate well. I have the knowledge but I don’t like
to pontificate. I just like to coach the player so
that they know what I’m talking about.”
McIlroy rose quickly through the Irish
junior ranks and won the prestigious West
of Ireland Amateur Championship at age 16,
beating some of Europe’s finest players. He
turned pro at 18 and two years later won the
Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour.
In 2010, following a round of golf at Augusta
National with Quail Hollow Club president
Johnny Harris, McIlroy won the Wells Fargo
Championship with a final-round 62 and beat
Phil Mickelson by four shots. It was clear
that McIlroy had arrived. A
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND | Prior to 1998, the
official end of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland,
the country’s two best courses had long been the
best-kept secrets in golf. When people felt comfortable traveling into Northern Ireland, Royal
County Down and Royal Portrush took their rightful
place, recognized by all as two of the finest links in
Royal County Down, in Newcastle on the east
coast of Ulster, is the most lauded of Northern Ireland courses. It sits at the foot of the Mountains of
Mourne and its tallest peak, Slieve Donard, and hard
by the Irish Sea.
The original links were built by Old Tom Morris
in 1890 but the site changed and was laid out into
what we know today by Royal County Down member George Combe and later refined by Harry S.
Colt in 1926.
The holes at Royal County Down heave and swell
in and through the seaside dunes. While Combe drew
up most of the holes, Colt came along and built the
par- 3 fourth, a one-shotter of about 200 yards, which
has one of the best views of the mountains and one
of the best green complexes on the course. Colt also
designed the par- 4 ninth, which requires a carry of
190 yards off the tee to run down a slope of some
60-feet high to the flat part of the fairway below.
However breathtaking the holes at Royal County
Down, the course is equally difficult. Miss a fairway
and you’ve lost a ball; the setup is that penal. The
club hosted the Walker Cup in 2007 and the edict
was to thin out the heavy fescue and meadow grass
or else the contestants would spend the entire
weekend searching for balls.
Across the country at Royal Portrush, on the
northern end on the Antrim coast, this links shares
a common lineage with County Down. Morris laid
out the original course at Portrush on a piece of
land just down the road from the present location. Colt built today’s 18 in 1932 and the site is the
equal to Royal County Down in every respect.
The Portrush links wind out and back on ribbons
of dunesland and several of the holes dogleg signifi-
cantly. The bunkering is simple but effective, highly
strategic and quite striking. Get out of position in a
fairway or greenside bunker and you can immedi-
ately add shots to your score.