Some 55 years ago, the celebrated Welshman Dai Rees became the first golfer to win that cherished silver four-turret lens camera on a plinth after captaining Great Britain to a first Ryder Cup victory in more than two decades.
Back then, of course, the awards ceremony was a fairly dignified, sombre and decidedly grey affair, in stark contrast to the razzamatazz of the modern-day production that is all flashing lights, big screens, thumping music and an audience of thousands crammed into an arena the size of Luxembourg. It's venerable title has even been reduced to SPOTY to pander to the needs of a rapid fire world where actually saying the words 'Sports Personality Of The Year' clearly wastes valuable seconds in this breathless, non-stop era.
It was not until 1989, that another golfer, namely Nick Faldo, plundered the prize for his efforts that season in which he won the first of his three US Masters titles while wearing a quite flabbergasting sweater.
As the Englishman stepped forward to take the plaudits, one can only wonder what Rory McIlroy was up to that night. He was barely six months old after all, but had probably perfected a decent backswing by then. Faldo remains the last golfer to top the popular vote in this annual recognition of sporting excellence and, given the welter of candidates in line for the award this Sunday, there is a good chance that drought will continue.
But away from all the wonder of Wiggins, the furore about Farah, the mania around Murray and the hullaballo over Hoy, young master McIlroy deserves a huge amount of praise for his endeavours throughout a quite stellar year on both sides of the Atlantic.
In terms of achievement and personality, the 23-year-old ticks all the boxes. He is a prolific winner, a true champion and a global leader, and he also possesses an accommodating nature and a refreshing candour that can often be missing from those in the upper echelons of their chosen pursuit. In this sense, McIlroy is the complete package. He is a once in a generation production and, when he hits top gear, he plays the game with energy, inventiveness and an almost care-free abandon that makes for a quite engaging spectacle. It seems hard to believe that, back in May, there were some fickle observers on the verge of writing off the young Northern Irishman. When he missed the cut at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, his second successive early exit following a premature departure from The Players' Championship, the reaction in certain quarters bordered on the hysterical. 'Crisis', 'Woeful' and 'Bloody Awful' screamed the headlines as the panic merchants in the media wondered if the boy wonder had lost his way and was being distracted by his high-profile relationship with tennis-playing girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki. Just about the only person not working themselves into a lather was McIlroy himself. "I think I may have taken my eye off the ball a little bit and have maybe not been practising as hard as I had been," confessed the former Walker Cup player with his usual, honest appraisal of his own failings.
A couple of weeks later, McIlroy's defence of the US Open crown he had won so majestically in 2011 petered out after 36 holes and the knives were still out. We know what happened, of course. In the weeks and months that followed, McIlroy rediscovered the early-season majesty that had thrust him to the top of the world rankings and when he romped to a magical eight-shot win in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, normal service had been well and truly resumed.
Come the Ryder Cup, his calm and composed character shone through on a final morning that threatened to descend into chaos. In an almost comical turn of events, McIlroy pitched up just 10 minutes before his singles match with Keegan Bradley was due to tee off after a baffling episode in which he misread the time while watching the television in his hotel room. While others huffed, puffed and flapped about like new-born sparrows tumbling out of a nest, McIlroy ambled in with a shrug of the shoulders and a chuckle that made you wonder what all the fuss was about. Despite the kind of preparation that would have made a club hacker look like a glowing beacon of professionalism, he went on to beat Bradley by 2 and 1 as Europe's Miracle of Medinah began to take shape. "I put my shoes on and had a couple of putts. It was just like your average monthly medal back at the course," he said with a smile in the joyous aftermath.
And there was plenty to smile about during 2012. Five wins, four runners-up and a two third-place finishes over the course of the year left him on top of the world as well as the order of merit winner on both the European and PGA Tours.
"He's stamped his authority on world golf over the last couple of years and if you need a personality to win the Sports Personality – which I hope you do – then he's certainly got a great one," suggested his fellow Northern Irishman, Graeme McDowell. "I hope the public can realise just what Rory McIlroy has achieved this year."
At 23, McIlroy a global phenomenon with the attitude and the ability to dominate golf for years to come. If anyone fits the bill of a sports personality then it is him, but during a memorable 2012, that has been jam-packed with a staggering array of sporting success stories across a wide range of disciplines, it probably won't be his year.
Never mind, though. The aforementioned Rees was 44 when he picked up the award back in 1957. Goodness knows what McIlroy will have achieved by that age. We can only wonder at this particular boy wonder.
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