Rory McIlroy may very well leave Kentucky with the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday as the winner of the PGA Championship at Valhalla, but the Irish golf pro will leave behind a memory of a lifetime for one young girl after a chance encounter at a gas station.
Following Thursday's opening round at the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, McIlroy needed to make a stop — to fill up his SUV with gas.
It was there that a professional golfer from Ireland and a young girl from Kentucky would meet, according to The Advocate-Messenger.
“Maggie took an instant liking to him. She hinted that she would like his autograph, and I told her that would be nearly impossible during a competitive round,” said Maggie's father, Timothy Campbell.
Rory McIlroy heads into the final round of the PGA Championship shooting -13. Will he win the Wanamaker Trophy? pic.twitter.com/wowdCyqLHE
— WDRB News (@WDRBNews) August 10, 2014
The Campbells left the course and headed home, chatting excitedly about the day. As chance would have it, the family needed to make a stop for gas.
“As we pulled into the gas station, my dad saw a man wearing gray pants and a gray shirt with infrared sleeves. ‘Hey, that guy is wearing the same thing Rory wore today,’ he said. He did a double take and, to my our surprise, recognized that it was Rory McIlroy,” Maggie said. “He pulled his phone out of his pocket just as we rolled in, apparently answering a phone call and returning to the driver’s seat, though he was about to pump his own gas.”
After a little encouragement from her parents, Maggie approached McIlroy's SUV and asked his caddie if she could have an autograph.
“I looked at McIlroy from the passenger side window, and he smiled and waved me on over. He opened his door and I introduced myself and told him my entire family was huge fans. He smiled and said thank you. I handed him my pen, but he waved it off, pulling his own Sharpie out of his console,”Maggie said. “About that time, my dad came over and Rory gladly took a picture with me.”
“She said, ‘Hi, I'm Maggie, how are you?’ Rory said, ‘Oh, I'm a little tired, but feel pretty good. I had a good day today (66), could have been better,’” her father recalled.
McIlroy shook both their hands and autographed her PGA ticket.
“As I got back into our car, I noticed a small crowd had gathered, watching the whole encounter. But the one thing that shined brighter than the sun today was the smile on our daughter's face,” Timothy said.
— Vaughts' Views (@vaughtsviews) August 9, 2014
After Timothy posted a photo of his daughter on Twitter, the family began to receive attention from local press and social media. It caught the eye of sports editor for The Advocate, Larry Vaught, and Timothy agreed to write a blog post for his blog, Vaught's Views, about the encounter.
“The public reaction has been overwhelming with my Twitter and Instagram accounts buzzing non-stop. My friends are contacting me constantly with texts, retweets, emails and calls,” Maggie said. “My friends tell me they’ve seen the photo of Rory and me on TV newscasts.
“My parents and grandparents have received uncountable calls, texts and emails from their excited and well-wishing friends," said Maggie. “Someone from Northern Ireland ‘#ProudToBeIrish’ sent my Dad direct messages with example after example of how Rory eats in diners with locals, works out at the local gym, and always shows respect. Less than a month ago, Rory visited a gym and asked an attendant if he could change the TV channel to watch a football (soccer) match. The attendant replied, ‘You just won the Open Championship, you can watch whatever you want.’”
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) August 9, 2014
Timothy will also cherish the memory.
“He could have easily ignored us and we would have understood — after all, he is trying to win a major championship. But he didn't ignore us because he has character and recognizes the importance and his responsibility as an ambassador of the game. He took just a minute of his time to create an experience that we won't forget,” Timothy said.
“The man is one of the best drivers in golf, drives his own car and was going to pump his own gas. And he's even driving on the wrong side of the road compared to how he learned to drive in Northern Ireland. Success has not gone to his head, and I hope that it never does. If he keeps his feet on the ground, it's hard to say how much of his potential that he will achieve.”
McIlroy heads into Sunday's final round in the lead with a -13.
Image via Vaught's Views, Twitter