A month after winning last year's U.S. Open, Rory McIlroy and his dad Gerry were alone on a summer evening at Royal County Down. The scene was reminiscent of the many McIlroy spent as a teen, teeing off late in the day and playing into the gloaming along the coast of Northern Ireland.
It was a rare quiet moment that brought back a lot of memories for McIlroy, who, now a major champion and arguably the best player on the planet, has grown up an awful lot since those halcyon days of his youth.
"Winning a major championship is a life-changing experience," McIlroy said. "People always view you a little differently."
Since then, McIlroy's profile has been elevated to nickname status: Rory, Rors, or, with his tennis playing and nearly-as-famous girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, Wozzilroy.
He gets recognized more often in public, has had to hire extra security for his massive but secluded compound at home in Holywood and has far more demands on his time.
All are tenets, if not necessary evils, of winning.
So is criticism, which is lurking just around the corner waiting to leap out for every failure -- like when McIlroy missed three straight cuts this spring for the first time in four years.
"I don't pay much attention anymore to TV or newspapers," McIlroy said. "It does me no good to look at them. Everyone's expectations are -- they can say what they want. All I need to do is focus on my game, and if I can do that, I know my good golf is good enough to win plenty more tournaments."
McIlroy has already won this year, at The Honda Classic, and has been in contention nearly every time he's teed it up.
He also moved to No. 1 in the world, having traded places with Luke Donald a couple of times atop the Official World Golf Ranking.
Much of that success can be attributed to the work McIlroy has done inside and even outside the ropes, since he became golf's darling boy wonder for the manner in which he handled the aftermath of that disastrous final round of the 2011 Masters.
"I think that my going into majors as a major champion, it's definitely heightened your expectation levels a little bit," McIlroy said. "Maybe that was something that I didn't control quite so well at the Masters."
Since then, he's clearly handled it quite well, which aside from a near-flawless swing, is why McIlroy is one of the favorites as he tries to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to successfully defend his U.S. Open title.
He is decidedly fitter and has changed management companies, parting ways with freewheeling Chubby Chandler of International Sports Management for the smaller but more buttoned-up Horizon Sports Management. Horizon also represents McIlroy's best friend on TOUR, Graeme McDowell.
In McDowell, McIlroy has certainly learned a lot about the pitfalls of success from his fellow major champion and countryman.
After winning the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, McDowell admitted he wasn't quite ready for all that followed and subsequently he played some of the worst golf of his career.
And in Wozniacki, McIlroy has also found someone who can understand and appreciate his endeavors if not inspire and push him athletically, given the more physical demands of tennis.
One of those rare players who transcends game, McIlroy doesn't get many quiet times like the one he and his dad briefly enjoyed after last year's watershed victory.
But McIlroy is OK with that because this is always what he's wanted to be: Major champion and the best in the game.
"You always dream and hope one day that you'll be able to do it," McIlroy said. "If anything it just gives me more confidence in myself knowing that I can win on the biggest stage in golf.
"It means that every time I come into a press conference or do an interview I don't have to answer that question. It has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. Knowing that I've done it before will give me confidence to think that I'll be able to do it again."