Commentary

Tucker hits the links with McIlroy

Originally Published: July 18, 2012
By Adam S. Reisinger | ESPN.com

At the 2011 Masters, Rory McIlroy went from leading by four strokes on the final day to suffering an epic collapse with an 8-over-par 80 finish. Two months later, McIlroy won the U.S. Open in record fashion. He silenced critics and gained fans. The man from Northern Ireland also inspired one child in Waconia, Minn.

Tucker DuPont, 13, was diagnosed with stenosis of the aortic valve, which is a narrowing of the valve, when he was 2 months old. When he was 6 years old, Tucker underwent his first open heart surgery.

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Jim Davidson for ESPN Tucker DuPont, 13, has played golf regularly since his heart surgery in March 2011.

That didn't stop Tucker from playing sports. He participated in youth baseball and basketball leagues, but in 2011, he faced surgery again. This time, his aorta required a mechanical valve, and his days playing contact sports ended.

Then a passion for a different sport was kindled.

His father, Richard, says Tucker had played golf but only casually before receiving the mechanical valve.

"They'd have a junior golf program in the first half of the summer, but he would never really go out and play [on his own]," Richard said.

Although necessity sparked Tucker's interest in golf, it was McIlroy's fiery comeback that enflamed the youth's passion for the sport. Whether it's on the course, the driving range or the putting green, Tucker plays whenever he gets the chance. He is also applying to become a caddie at Hazeltine National Golf Club in nearby Chaska, Minn.

Tucker was impressed by the way McIlroy behaved during his comeback at the U.S. Open, Richard said.

"He liked his demeanor, his confidence and just the way he carried himself," Richard said.

For his wish, Tucker wanted to meet McIlroy. After playing nine holes on a Sunday in May, Tucker was being supposedly interviewed by a TV crew about junior golf when a McIlroy piece came on the TV in the clubhouse. It caught Tucker's attention. The "breaking news" that interrupted the piece -- with McIlroy inviting Tucker to join him at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio -- left the teen in stunned silence.

When Tucker and his family arrived in Ohio, McIlroy greeted them on the putting green, just before his pro-am round. He gave Tucker and his older brother, Alexander, who suffered less severe heart issues at an early age, passes to watch the round from inside the ropes. They would see McIlroy in action, up close.

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Jim Davidson for ESPN Among the gifts Rory McIlroy gave Tucker was a signed pin flag from his 2011 U.S. Open victory.

Afterward, McIlroy met with Tucker for a little one-on-one time on the driving range. McIlroy presented Tucker with a set of gifts, and the two spent time hitting balls and chatting about golf and life. The former U.S. Open champ even gave Tucker some tips on his swing.

"He appreciated it," Richard said. "He listened to what Rory had to say. It was just a couple simple things. He knows that not too many people get that opportunity, so he was very honored to have that one-on-one treatment."

Essentially, it was just two young guys who love golf out there on the range, even though McIlroy was the No. 2-ranked golfer in the world at the time.

"He was very impressed with how friendly and casual Rory was," Richard said. "He was very easy to talk with."

Back at home, with tips from a pro to lean on, Tucker stays active through golf and pulls for McIlroy whenever he is playing. That allegiance might be tested in 2016 when the Ryder Cup comes to Hazeltine and McIlroy will likely be playing against the United States.

"I'm sure [Tucker] will be rooting for Rory to do well in his matches," Richard said. "I'm sure he'll plan on getting tickets to go when we have that chance."