It has been said that you should never meet your heroes. There is disappointment. They don’t meet up to your expectations. It ends in tears. Nonsense! Nonsense! Nonsense! I can testify to that after a wonderful thing happened to me today at Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club.
If you fear that by reading on you will be complicit in a self-congratulatory, LFC-loving, golf-obsessed love-in, you would be right. If that is not for you – if you cannot stomach a story that involves me being great and one of my all time heroes telling me so – in the great tradition of the Saturday evening news before Match of the Day, it is time to look away now. If you want to hear about the time Ronnie Whelan – yes, Liverpool and Ireland’s Ronnie Whelan – stopped playing golf to watch me play a shot and then applauded the result, then read on. Oh yes, read on.
It was on a summer’s day in the year of our Lord, 2017, when on the sixth hole of Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club it happened. I was just short of the green in two; left hand side; around six yards from the bunker with the pin cut another six paces on the other side, tight to the left edge of the green. The ball was lying ok but in a tight lie. There was no option but to take it on. My playing partner was admiring – sucking his teeth – at the position I was in – looking like taking five or worse. The group in front of us were just leaving the next tee as they spotted my predicament. They stopped to watch. One of them – another LFC legend, Mr Gary Gillespie – shouted over “we’ll have to see this – no pressure!”.
One of his playing partners – the man who holds six League Championship winner’s medals; two FA Cups; three League Cups; one Super Cup and one European Cups (yes, the big ears me dears) from his 362 games for Liverpool, and 53 caps for Ireland; Mr Ronnie Whelan – the first footballer I idolised; one of the finest passers of a football that has ever graced the red shirt of my Mighty Reds and the man who lifted the FA Cup 35 days after Hillsborough – stood alongside him; “Come on Rory! Let’s see what you can do”. A hush descended.
I opened the club face and played the flop shot of my life, landing the ball three of the six paces between bunker and hole, before it rolled within five feet of the hole. A moment of silence. Then it happened. Mr Whelan and Mr Gillespie clapped; “Great shot Great shout!!”. Then followed the bowing down gesture with both arms stretched out. Yes, the man I had watched for years, cheering his every move and kicking every slide rule pass he played in for Ian Rush, was cheering one of my moves. Ronnie Whelan. Liverpool and Ireland’s Ronnie Whelan. He was clapping and cheering me. Ronnie Whelan. This is a story much told already tonight and will be a mainstay of my story bank for years to come.
I can report that I met one of my heroes today and it went pretty well. Thanks, Ronnie. Thank you very much.