124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

Futures Bets

British Open 2023: Why we'll never forget that time Gerry McIlroy bet big—and won—on his own son


Ross Kinnaird

It's one thing to have confidence in your teenage son's abilities as a golfer. It's another thing entirely to plant your flag when he's just 15 years old and bet on him winning a major championship some day.

Almost 20 years ago, that's just what Rory McIlroy's father, Gerry McIlroy, did, putting his money where his mouth was. As the story goes, Gerry phoned a betting shop in the family’s hometown of Holywood, Northern Ireland, and asked for odds on his prodigy to win the Open Championship by the time he turned 26. The sportsbook that took Gerry's action, Ladbrokes, offered him 500-1 odds.

Gerry wagered £200, the equivalent of $261, for a potential payout of £100,000. Just a few years after placing the bet, young McIlroy finished low amateur in his Open Championship debut in 2007 at Carnoustie, tying for 42nd.

Five Opens later, McIlroy had come up empty, his closest call coming in 2010 when he tied for third at St. Andrews after shooting a nine-under 63 in the opening round. When he arrived at Royal Liverpool in 2014, that Open represented his final chance to cash in for his father. McIlroy was set to turn 26 the following May, two months before the next Open.

The good news for Gerry was that his son entered the week as the tournament favorite at 12-1, McIlroy having won the BMW PGA Championship on the DP World Tour two months earlier and collecting seven other top-10 finishes worldwide that season. Having a 500-1 ticket on the tournament favorite was enough to brag about for Gerry, as any futures bettor knows. But Gerry got the last laugh anyway when his son grabbed the first-round lead and never looked back, going wire-to-wire to win his first Open by two strokes over Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia.

Gerry made sure to hug him a little tighter when the two finally embraced:

The story's legend grew when The Telegraph reported that week that two of Gerry's close friends were also confident enough in young Rory to throw down some sheckles as well. A year after Gerry's original wager, one friend also wagered £200 at 250-1 odds, with his stipulations being that Rory would win an Open up to and including 2015. Fortunately for that guy, McIlroy won before the 2015 Open, since he had to withdraw from that return to St. Andrews due to an ankle injury. That would have been one bad beat.

Another of Gerry's friends wagered £200 that McIlroy would win an Open by the time he turned 50 (!!) at 150-1 odds. Talk about the lock of all locks. Together, the two friends won over $100,000 combined, while Gerry won near $131,000.

"As the family celebrations get under way there’ll be an extra bottle or two of bubbly courtesy of the bookies," Jessica Bridge, of Ladbrokes, said at the time. "This is the most expensive Open result since Tiger’s heyday in 2006, but although we’re facing heavy losses we can’t help but admire the foresight of Rory’s dad and his pals a decade ago."

As for Rory himself, he won $1.2 million for his efforts. Later that same summer, he claimed his fourth major at the PGA Championship at Valhalla. That remains his most recent major title. He'll return to Royal Liverpool this month yet again as one of the tournament favorites, which will undoubtedly bring back some great memories for both he and his father.

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Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilizes both names in its coverage.