BETHESDA, Md. -- When Scott Pinckney qualified for the U.S. Open last week, he was pumped, as you would expect from a 22-year-old amateur. "I couldn't sleep for a couple of nights," he said Friday, his enthusiasm barely fazed by the fact he took a 9 on the sixth hole and missed the cut.
The funny thing is, the thought that got him so juiced was not, "Hey, I just made the U.S. Open!" Rather, it was, "I get to play in a tournament with Rory again!"
Pinckney and McIlroy come from different worlds and they live in different worlds now. The latter is a worldwide celebrity who nearly won the Masters (and became more famous for losing it) and the former just finished his senior season at Arizona State. But they clicked when they were 9-year-old competitors at the Doral Publix Junior Classic in Miami and they resumed their friendship in full stride this week.
This has been no ordinary week, what with Pinckney playing in his first major tournament and McIlroy putting on a record-setting show.
"His personality hasn't changed. He's completely down to earth," Pinckney said. "You can see it in his demeanor, on and off the course. Supposedly, he's never on time."
The timing seems perfect for the two golfers whose families forged an instant bond during the 1998 youth tournament -- won by McIlroy, with Pinckney second. That there is room for both McIlroy and Pinckney in the same field says plenty about the U.S. Open, a golf crossroads like no other.
And if McIlroy, the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, does win, he will owe at least a part of his triumph to Pinckney's family. They put him up in their Orem home for three months in 2000, when 11-year-old McIlroy and his folks thought he could use some seasoning in the United States.
His problem was that he got too much seasoning right away. "The first day we went to the pool, and he got so sunburned," said Pinckney, his 12-over-par total 23 shots behind his buddy. "He got sun sickness. He had sun blisters, he was puking during the night. It wasn't the best of starts. My mom called his parents, saying, 'We're taking real good care of your son.' "
As Pinckney recalled it, McIlroy got over it quickly, and the two took turns winning everything that summer on the Utah junior golf circuit. They stayed in touch a lot, right after McIlroy went back home, then a little, then hardly at all. Pinckney's cellphone was lost, and with it McIlroy's email address.
The Pinckneys moved to Arizona, Scott went to college and McIlroy went pro. Aside from Pinckney's car trip to visit McIlroy at the World Golf Championship Match Play, they have had no face-to-face meetings since childhood -- until this week. They bumped into each other in a hotel elevator and had dinner together Monday night.