Rory McIlroy: I dreamed of being a great golfer, not to be famous

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland looks on during the Pro Am for the BMW PG Championship at Wentworth. Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

WENTWORTH, UK -- Fame is not something Rory McIlroy coveted, nor really ever dreamt of. He only wanted to be known for his golf.

The celebrity status attached to his name has merely been a by-product of his golfing exploits, according to the man himself as he reflected on his own stardom at the BMW PGA Championship Wednesday.

McIlroy was ranked 15th in ESPN's Fame 100 Index, and the top UK sportsperson judged on three criteria: Google Trend score, commercial endorsements and social media following. But it is a reluctant fame. The recent Sunday Times Rich List puts his wealth at £110 million -- some £27m more than Sir Andy Murray who is next down on the list for 'young sportsmen' -- while his Twitter following number is 3.24m. And though on the course he acknowledges each and every cheer with a half-smile and wave, he does his utmost to live his life off the course in anonymity.

"It's something I've grown to accept," McIlroy said of fame. "I dreamed of being a great golfer. I never dreamed of the other stuff."

McIlroy was talking after he took part in the PRO-AM alongside three former Manchester United players -- Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Teddy Sheringham. A well-known fan of the club, he was among some of this country's football greats but still his star shined brightest as he walked the Wentworth course.

"I feel very privileged that I am in the position that I am in and I can basically pursue my dream of being the best golfer in the world," McIlroy said.

"But I just try to live my life the way I normally would -- I never dreamed of being famous. I never wanted to be famous. I wanted to be known for my golf and that was it."

Wednesday is about celebrity in this small corner of affluent Surrey. Amid the vast country piles -- one called 'Little Manor' could fit my shoebox flat in 100 times over -- the wealth is unavoidable. So too as the actors, footballers, singers and socialites traipse from fairway to rough.

As you approached the main entrance, last year's winner, Alex Noren, was positioned in the middle of the vast awning welcoming media, sponsors and spectators alike but flanking him were home favourite Tommy Fleetwood and of course McIlroy.

His name received the loudest cheer on the first tee as he started alongside those three former Manchester United players with the day barely started, and the fairways yet to fill up. But as the course filled and punters attempted to locate their favourite celebrities, McIlroy's name was floating on the wind far more than Pep Guardiola's or '50 Shades of Grey' actor Jamie Dornan's.

The only one to rival him was his friend from One Direction, Niall Horan, who had a cohort of eager-eyed fans waiting for him to be dropped off at the clubhouse. Cheers and screams greeted him as he was announced on the tee, but McIlroy gets golf's equivalent.

He has had to be reactive to some of the sidebars to fame -- he stepped back from his Twitter account last year after biting back at criticism from Steve Elkington. Now he is more proactive, through reducing the amount of time he spends on social media and turning as much attention as possible to on-course form.

Back at the start of the year, he said: "It's happy days when I'm the centre of attention on the golf course, but I want to walk into Brown Thomas [an Irish department store], get a shirt and not be seen."

And now at Wentworth. He had just been asked in the press conference about Donald Trump's impending visit. He sidestepped that. Then he was asked about whether he tries to hide away off the course. "Try to... try to," he responded.

Questions on form followed and the Champions League final, back on more familiar, comfortable turf. The allotted time was up. As he ducked under his cap and jumped into the readied BMW to whisk him off to his hotel, 'Rory, Rory' followed him, but it is something he never asked for.