Whisper it quietly, but a certain young Northern Irish golfer will have a sizeable following on this side of the Atlantic during every stroke of this weekend's Open Championship.
In fact, I would go so far as to say only a victory for Lefty himself, Phil Mickelson, would bring a bigger cheer in American circles than a second successive Major title for Rory McIlroy.
If ever a non-US sportsman has been taken to heart quicker and deeper than young Rory, I haven't seen it, and it must have happened in an eye-blink, because it's hard to equate with anything else that usually happens on these inward-looking shores.
True, American golf is suffering from a particularly pointed piece of navel-gazing at the moment, still trying to work out how the rest of the world crept up on it and pick-pocketed six of the last seven Majors, with only Mickelson able to look around with his wallet still in place and without a sand-bagged expression that says "Huh?"
It has been a particularly cruel sleight-of-hand to witness for the media here, who are more used to seeing Tiger, or Phil - or any one of another 10 Star Spangled players who have all carried off significant silverware in the past 10 years - standing in the winner's enclosure at the end of the big events.
Don't be surprised if a second title for young McIlroy is greeted with massive jubilation in these here parts.
Quotes of the week
Only recently has the plaintive cry of 'What's happened to our golfers?' gone up from US circles as first South America (Angel Cabrera), then Europe (Martin Kaymer), then South Africa (Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel) and finally a pair of Northern Irish scamps - namely Graeme McDowell and that man McIlroy - nipped in and pilfered the confectionery.
Of course the big void, at least on this side of the Atlantic, is caused by the ongoing absence of one Eldrick 'Tiger' Woods.
Tiger last walked away with a Major in his pocket in June 2008 and since then only Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover and Mickelson have snagged silverware of equal proportions in the 11 outings of the sport's top prizes.
That's three to the US and eight to the rest of the world for those who like to keep count - and people over here really do like to keep count. It's not so much an intentional thing, just a sub-conscious way of thinking that the landscape so carefully crafted by the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and, more recently, Woods, is unalterable; fixed; set in stone; at one with Time itself.
Which rambling discourse brings us back to the current (perceived) imbalance, and the unlikely growth of McIlroy's popularity around the sports-loving parts of this nation.
Even the epic progress of the US team in the Women's World Cup in Germany (which has gained serious traction in the past week with their quarter-final exploits against Brazil and then another memorable win against France) has not eclipsed the preview attention granted to the kid from Holywood (or Rory-wood, as they have taken to calling it in several publications).
Mind you, considering 'soccer,' as they like to call it, remains fairly small in domestic media terms, events in Germany have become a snowball of Antarctic proportions thanks to the exploits of Abby Wambach and co, and it is arguable that an American triumph in Frankfurt on Sunday could overshadow anything that happens on the Kent coast (in American terms, of course).
But that would be to ignore the sense of Rory, Rory Hallelujah that has taken a very firm and real hold since he walked off the Congressional course in Maryland at a stunning 16 under par, a figure that has 'Sweet' written large all over it.
To be accurate, the seeds of the Mac Factor were sown two months before at the Masters, when the same young Irishman faced the media having seen his overnight lead not so much hit a roadblock as drop screaming off a cliff in an absolute tangle of wreckage.
The natural charisma and sheer unassuming honesty of the lad from County Down not only charmed a phalanx of hard-bitten hacks, it ensured a small place in American hearts forever reserved for gallant failures who refuse to hide from their bitter moment of truth.
Even as a loser, McIroy was a winner in many eyes (especially in the jaundiced post-Tiger eyes of a sceptical public), and the stage was set for him to blossom with just the hint of further success.
The fact he not only achieved a Major triumph in his very next outing but also announced it to regular cries of "Come on, Rory!" from the Bethesda crowds ensured a profile massively in excess of anything that a foreign golfer has enjoyed since the hey-day of Seve Ballesteros himself.
Only it's more than that. With his soft Irish accent - and the fact at least half of America can trace its roots back to 'the Old Country' irrespective of whether their true forebears hailed from Dublin or Dresden - Rory is truly someone the country can embrace with open arms and cherish for his sheer Irishness.
Now the only question is whether young Rory can live up to the expectation of being everyone's favourite son or nephew, having suddenly found himself with the biggest extended family in golf history almost overnight.
Every shot, every utterance and every movement will be followed with rapt attention (via our coverage from ESPN, at the ungodly time of 4am on Thursday and Friday, and then a more healthy 7am at the weekend), and McIlroy's progress will be a matter of national focus almost as keen as that on William and Kate (and how the Americans still fall over themselves at the hint of royalty!).
So, if there is a non Stars-and-Stripes winner for the sixth straight Major in a row - something that hasn't happened since 1911, when the very FIRST American Major winner John McDermott broke a British stranglehold - don't be surprised if a second title for young McIlroy is greeted with massive jubilation in these here parts. After all, after red, white and blue, America's favourite colour is green.
PS: Having said all that, and firmly rubbished the whole of the current generation of American golfers, you can now firmly expect the top 10 finishers at Sandwich on Sunday night to be members of Uncle Sam's army!
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Ross Fraser says...
A very open and revealing article. Interesting to read about the real mindset of Americans for a change. There are numerous factors to suggest that McIlroy may become the most popular and successful global sportsman of his age...his sheer talent, his enthusiasm and the youthful bound that he has in his step is great to watch. Better still, we can all empathise with him. He's human. A large number of our modern day sports 'stars' are robotic, aloof and ungrateful, traits that do not ingratiate them with the public. They often do not have grace or manners. Rory has started well but has a way to go yet. It is notable that his 3 wins as a professional have all been as a result of having had a substantial lead at some stage during the tournament. He has never won from his current position, where he is part of a chasing pack. Once he gets into the habit of winning from this position he's going to be a revelation. A star for of our time I'm guessing. I'm predicting that 'Here's a Mac Attack' and 'The Mac Factor' will be two of the most commonly used phrases in used in sports journalism for the next 20 years! Lets go Rory!!
Posted 20:51 15th July 2011
Richard Fisher says...
Thanks for the article, well written and honest. It is always refreshing to hear an American talk openly and honestly and importantly with a non-biased view-point. I will be following your articles from now on. At the very least, it makes a very positive 360 degree turn around from Bubba Watson's recent moronic comments about France.
Posted 14:09 15th July 2011
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