Orem native Scott Pinckney trying to catch up with friend Rory McIlroy
Sandy • To observe the Utah Championship's history, Willow Creek Country Club could place a marker in the No. 3 fairway, where two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson's epic drive once landed.
In Provo, Riverside Country Club could commemorate another two-time major winner's visit by posting a sign near the pool. The warning would honor Rory McIlroy, whose stay in Utah almost ended the very first day because of discomfort caused by a severe sunburn.
"He just wanted to go home," said Scott Pinckney, whose family housed McIlroy in Orem that summer as an 11-year-old.
Eventually, McIlroy's blistered skin healed and the boys practiced and played golf every day, building a lasting friendship. They've remained close, even if their pro golf pursuits have different trajectories.
Pinckney is a Web.com Tour golfer, playing in this week's Utah Championship at Willow Creek as part of his continuing quest to join McIlroy on the PGA Tour.
That would make a great story. They became friends during a junior golf tournament in Florida and McIlroy's parents figured it would be good experience for him to spend a summer with the Pinckneys and play in Utah Junior Golf Association tournaments.
Well, until the moment he left Northern Ireland, anyway. "I cried for days," his mother, Rosie, once said.
Then came the sunburn incident "I've never seen anything like it," Pinckney said, managing to laugh 14 years later that left McIlroy bedridden, hardly able to move. Once he recovered, they enjoyed a memorable summer that featured chipping and putting contests that lasted for hours on the green in the backyard. "He just had a great time," Pinckney said.
McIlroy competed in 11 UJGA events and posted several high finishes, playing about evenly with Pinckney and never dominating his age group. More than anything, he made a good impression with his demeanor.
UJGA executive director Jeff Thurman remembers a "nice, curly-haired kid" and Daniel Reid, who once beat McIlroy in match play, speaks of "a really gracious kid."
When McIlroy won the 2012 PGA Championship, Reid recalled their match at Murray Parkway and observed, "Wow, how life works out ..."
Pinckney, 25, could say much the same thing, having shown similar potential as McIlroy when they were 11. But he's only appreciative of his friend's success and knows that his own pro golf story is yet to be written.
Pinckney's family moved to Arizona a couple of years after that summer of 2000, mainly to boost his development as a golfer. The strategy worked, as he became a solid player for Arizona State.
After graduating in 2011, Pinckney turned pro and played internationally on the Challenge Tour and the European Tour, before earning Web.com Tour membership via the qualifying tournament last December.
Bothered by back spasms, he could barely walk but managed to post a final-round 72 that gave him a tie for sixth place in an early-season tournament in Chile. The condition forced him to miss an event in Brazil with a big purse.
Pinckney has played inconsistently in the North American portion of the schedule, but showed good signs with a tie for 16th in last weekend's Nova Scotia Open. He's 54th on the money list ($54,309) with seven tournaments left in the regular season.
The top 25 players will advance to the PGA Tour; the top 75 qualify for the four-event Web.com Tour finals in a bid for 25 other PGA Tour cards.
"The great thing about this game is you always have next week," Pinckney said Wednesday on the Willow Creek patio, prior to teeing off in the afternoon pro-am event. "So if you keep heading in the right direction, it's eventually going to happen. â¦ There's such a fine line between here and the PGA Tour."
Pinckney can claim to have landed a Nike endorsement before McIlroy, although his deal is probably for less than $100 million. Pinckney once wore his Nike gear when they practiced together in Dubai for a week. "He loved it," Pinckney said. "A year later, he signed with them."
Pinckney laughed when he told that story, before resuming his effort to play someday where his friend performs regularly. "Hopefully," he said, "I'll start seeing him more, once I get to that level."
Tale of two friends
Rory McIlroy Scott Pinckney
Age 25 25
Birthplace Holywood, Northern Ireland Orem
Turned pro 2007 2011
Sponsor Nike Nike
World Golf Ranking No. 8 No. 883
Biggest victory U.S. Open, 2011 Gateway Pro Tour, 2013
2014 U.S. earnings $1.97 million $54,309
O Thursday's tee times of local interest:
7:40 a.m. • Defending champion Steven Alker (No.10). 8 a.m. - Lehi's Tony Finau (No. 10). 8:40 a.m. • Farmington's Clay Ogden (No. 10). 12:40 p.m. • Orem native Scott Pinckney (No. 1). 12:50 p.m. • St. George's Zac Blair (No. 1). 2 p.m. • Provo's Chris Moody (No. 10).
Golf Channel coverage • 4-6:30 p.m.