Growing up in Northern Ireland, it was easy to idolize Rory McIlroy. He and I grew up at the same club, Holywood, and it’s no surprise he’s the player I look up to the most. When I was 13, I got to play with him. I was overwhelmed with nerves and excitement. We got out on the course, just the two of us, and I started to feel comfortable. He was hitting the kinds of shots you dream about, one after another. I was young, so of course I went home and told everyone I got to play with Rory. We’ve played a lot since then.

I started playing golf when I was 7. My friend and his dad were going to the driving range and asked me to come along. I’d never been but said yes. I became obsessed. I loved how there is no one to blame but yourself for a bad shot. No one in my family played golf, but my parents knew I was serious. They got me lessons with Johnny Foster, who is still my coach.

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Photograph by Perry Ogden

When I was 9, I played in tournaments against older kids on longer courses and got beat a lot. Then I played in a U.S. Kids event in Ireland on a shorter course against kids my own age. I started to play more of them because they helped my game. I learned how to make birdies and shoot under par. I learned how to win.

My dad cycled competitively. His knowledge of sport has helped me. When I was 12, I’d have a chocolate bar and a fizzy drink on the course like most kids, but he saw an opportunity for me to be better. I started eating protein bars and drinking water on the course. His advice was never anything too complicated, but those little things added up.

I won a few big junior tournaments, including the Junior Honda Classic and the Sage Valley Invitational. People started comparing me to Rory. I get it; we’re from the same club, but I do my best to not pay attention to what people write and say about me. I try to be level-headed and not get too pumped up or too down. It keeps me comfortable, which is how I play my best golf.

I was supposed to attend the University of Florida, but then the pandemic hit, and I decided not to go. Turning pro felt risky, but being a professional golfer is all I’ve ever wanted to be, so I went for it. My parents were completely supportive. I knew I could get my game to where it needed to be, in part from playing with Rory.

Any time Rory and I are in the same area, we try to get a game in. It has been a good way for me to see how far my game is from the next level. Right now, the biggest difference is that Rory is a more consistent ball-striker. I’m still mastering that. Playing with Rory is a lot more relaxed than you might think. Even when I played with him before the Masters a couple years ago, he was good fun. We chat, he puts on some music, we get a group and play four-ball matches. It’s a lot like playing with your friends, except the way he hits the ball is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

This article was originally published on golfdigest.com