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U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy spent a summer playing golf in Utah

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Rory McIlroy spent a summer in Utah at age 11.

Rory McIlroy spent a summer in Utah at age 11.

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Golf's newest star hails from Northern Ireland, but he has some connections to the state of Utah.

Rory McIlroy, who led the U.S. Open from start to finish and won by an astonishing eight shots Sunday afternoon, spent a summer in Utah when he was 11 years old, living with families in Orem and Salt Lake, while competing in junior golf tournaments.

McIlroy spent the summer of 2000 in Utah, living with the Doug Pinckney family in Orem, and he also spent time with the Gary Finau family in Salt Lake. McIlroy played in 10 junior tournaments of the Utah Junior Golf Association, although he didn't win a tournament that summer.

When McIlroy stayed with the Finaus, he became friends with the Finau brothers, Tony and Gipper, and impressed the family.

"He was a nice, genuine boy," recalls Vena Finau, Tony and Gipper's mother. "We're so excited for him winning the Open."

Over the years, Tony Finau played in several tournaments with McIlroy including the Junior World in San Diego and the Junior Ryder Cup matches in Ohio in 2004.

"I've known him for awhile," Finau said Sunday from Denver, where he is playing in a tournament. "We've kept in touch. I couldn't be more happy for him."

According to a story on Golf.com, McIlroy's parents, Rosie and Gerry, raised their child to be independent, which is why they allowed him to spend a summer in the United States. Rory had met Scott Pinckney at junior tournament in Florida and arranged to spend a summer in Utah.

The Pinckneys have since moved to Arizona, and Scott competed for Arizona State and qualified for his first U.S. Open this year (he missed the cut with scores of 79 and 75).

According to a story in the Arizona Republic, it was a smooth transition for McIlroy, except for his first day in Utah. The fair-skinned Irishman went swimming and he ended up with blisters all over his shoulders and Doug said, "I had to call his parents about that one."

Eight weeks later when the parents reunited with their son at a tournament in San Diego, they were surprised to see that he had bleached his hair and was speaking with an American accent.

The 21-year-old Finau said he hasn't seen McIlroy since playing in a tournament in Sweden with him a few years ago, but he would love to join him in a U.S. Open in the future.

As for McIlroy's performance this week, Finau said, "Unbelievable, just unbelievable."

Email: sor@desnews.com