Rory McIlroy set his sights on more major glory as he made an emotional return to the golf club where his journey to sporting stardom began on Wednesday.
The 22-year-old record-breaking U.S. Open winner said it was fantastic to be among old friends again as he arrived at Holywood Golf Club in County Down with his trophy tucked tightly under his arm.
2011 U.S. OPEN
Rory McIlroy set 12 new scoring records in his big victory at Congressional.
McIlroy landed back in Northern Ireland Tuesday night after what he said had been a whirlwind few days following his triumph at Congressional in Maryland.
Hailing the sacrifices made by his parents Gerry and Rosie when he was a young golfer trying to make a name for himself, he promised to do all he could to ensure they would enjoy more major victories in the future.
"It's fantastic to be back here to see all my friends, my family," he said. "I can't thank my parents enough for what they've done for me, and winning the U.S. Open is only a tiny little bit of my appreciation for what they've done, so hopefully there's more trophies for them in the future and more things for us to share and celebrate."
The homecoming event in Holywood came a year after similar euphoric scenes in Portrush, 60 miles up the road, when McIlroy's compatriot and close friend Graeme McDowell won the same tournament.
"Graeme inspired me and gave me a lot of belief that I could do the same thing," McIlroy added. "If Graeme hadn't won last year, I don't know if I would be standing here talking to you as a major champion."
After spending two hours inside the clubhouse, where the walls are covered with pictures of his triumphs, McIlroy emerged onto the balcony to a rapturous welcome from fans waiting below.
He thanked them all for their support over the 15 years he had been a member -- even, he joked, when he was a seven-year-old annoying the club professional.
The crowd then broke into a spontaneous verse of “Stand up for the Ulsterman” -- a take on the popular chant of Ulster Rugby, McIlroy's favorite team. At that point, the champion's friends popped the champagne corks and drenched him in bubbly, leaving just a little for the club's most famous member to savor.
He then walked outside to pose with the famous trophy on the greens he once trod from dawn to dusk as a boy.
McIlroy said he owed the fans one after failing in the last round of the Masters, despite going into the final round with a four-stroke lead.
"The support's been fantastic," he said. "Even before this tournament, at Augusta I knew how much everyone wanted me to win that. It felt like this win was not just for myself, it was for everyone who supported me and all I can say is thank you to everyone who believed in me after what happened at Augusta."
McIlroy, who was accompanied to the club by childhood sweetheart Holly Sweeney, conceded soaring expectations of what he can achieve in the game would be tough to handle.
"It's going to be difficult," he said. "The first couple of weeks will be a bit of a challenge, but it's a nice position to be in, to have that pressure, to have that expectation. As long I can stay focused on what I need to do, that is play good golf, and let everything else take care of itself, then I'll be okay."
He also said it was too early in his career to think about long-term goals, such as surpassing the 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus or the 14 of Tiger Woods.
"I've got my first one out of the way and now I'm looking for my second and that's all I can really do," he said. "I can't really put a number on it. I've won one very early on in my career but at the same time I know how hard these things are to win and hopefully I will be able to win more in the future.
"But 18 majors is an incredible achievement and it would take some very special golf to be able to beat that."
The young pretender to Woods's throne -- some dub him the Celtic Tiger -- said he looked forward to the star's return from injury.
"The game of golf is much better with him there," he said. "It would be great to go down the stretch with him, it would be something that I would really enjoy. I would enjoy the challenge and it's something that I've dreamt about for a long time."