BETHESDA, Md. -- It was Saturday night at the U.S. Open, and Rory McIlroy was still about 22 hours from actually clinching his first major championship.
The Rory McIlroy Hype Machine, however, already was running at full tilt.
It was no fault of McIlroy, who buried his head in his hands as the question came from a reporter in the front row of the interview room.
Padraig Harrington, a major champion three times over himself, had said that McIlroy would be the one to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors.
"Oh, Paddy, Paddy, Paddy," McIlroy said, shaking his head as a roar of laughter filled the room. "I'm still looking for my first one. ... It's nice to have all these complimentary things said about you, but until you actually do these things, they don't mean anything."
Well, McIlroy, all of 22 years old, now has his first major. And because of it, the expectations and the burdens only will increase.
How McIlroy and his management team navigate the hurdles of the next few months will be critical to the rest of his career.
"We've got a responsibility to make sure he keeps loving the game and that he don't burn out," McIlroy's agent, Chubby Chandler, said. "I've never handled anybody like him. But we've seen people burn out. We're not going to let that happen with him."
The demand will grow for McIlroy because he is the total package. He's got skill, and he's got personality.
In addition to his ruthlessly efficient golf swing -- which several tour players regard as the finest in the game -- McIlroy is also friendly and down to earth. He has no interest in creating his own brand or logo. After McIlroy won the U.S. Open he changed his avatar on Twitter not to a photo of him holding the trophy, but a shot of him on a recent visit to Haiti -- McIlroy made a humanitarian trip with UNICEF to the earthquake-ravaged country the week before the U.S. Open.
"He's a great example, isn't he?" Chandler said, smile beaming as McIlroy accepted the U.S. Open trophy a few yards away on the 18th green Sunday night. "He speaks nicely. He remembers to thank his mom."
But McIlroy is more than just an endearing smile under an innocent-looking brown mop of hair. He's got swagger. He walks like he knows he's good. He's learning to become selfish inside the ropes, only inside the ropes, because it helps him stay focused in golf tournaments.
It worked last week as he lapped the field to win the U.S. Open by eight shots, becoming the second youngest major champion since World War II. Tiger Woods -- who won The Masters at 21 in 1997 -- was the youngest.
The plan is to take it slowly. McIlroy was supposed to play in France two weeks from now, but will likely take an extra week off to get ready for the British Open, July 14-17.
Chandler, who also is the agent for Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, says McIlroy will play only 23 events this year and about the same in 2012. In 2010, McIlroy was a staple on the PGA Tour. But he gave up his tour card for 2011 when he tired of playing golf in the United States, especially during the ultra-lucrative FedEx Cup.
"He doesn't chase the dollars at all," Chandler said. "So there won't be that problem."
As U.S. Open champion, Chandler says McIlroy will likely have a "duty" to play in the United States a little bit more. But Chandler doesn't expect big changes for McIlroy, even as he buds into golf's next big thing.
He will play in Europe and Asia and America," Chandler said. "But he can't play too much everywhere, because he's only 22. ... It's down to us to protect him a little bit and make sure that what he does he enjoys."