Graeme McDowell might live in the heart of Florida these days but he’s still a home boy at heart. Ireland is simply in his DNA, says golf writer Brian Keogh
Why else would he build his own bar-restaurant, Nona Blue, in steamy Orlando, Florida, within walking distance of his US home? It’s a watering hole with Guinness on tap and good grub to fuel great conversation post-match. Just like his favourite bar in his native Portrush, in fact, which was close to the more modest Rathmore Golf Club, and McDowell’s home turf.
Right now, though, the only walk that concerns Graeme McDowell is the one to his opening tee shot in the US Open at storied Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania on June 13, where the members fan themselves on the bar patio as the players swish their clubs just a few feet away on the first tee.
Home from home
That’s not too different from Rathmore, either, where the members sit outside if the weather’s fine. But they’ve also been known to limit their intake to tea and coffee, as happened in June 2010 when McDowell captured the US Open for the first time at Pebble Beach on the US west coast.
It was so late at night when Portrush’s favourite son hugged his dad Kenny on Father’s Day that the members had to lock themselves into the bar until three in the morning to watch the finish. Robbie Doherty, a longstanding committee member, explains: “Under the Sunday licensing laws, we had to close the bar at 10 o’clock and we just served teas and coffees,”
A few celebratory beers have been downed in McDowell’s honour at Rathmore since then. After all, it was there and on Ireland’s other great links where the world No 7 mastered the US Open style game – straight hitting and deadly chipping and putting – that makes him one of the favourites to deny Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy at Merion.
They’re the skills he learnt playing links courses, such as Royal Portrush, where he won the Irish Amateur title in 2000, at tight and tricky Laytown and Bettystown on the east coast, and on the upturned greens of Lahinch and County Sligo’s Rosses Point in the wild west.
Long summer evenings in Ireland
Of course, McDowell’s love of the short game goes back to those long Irish summer evenings, when he’d hit balls in the moonlight with his little brother Gary in the County Antrim seaside town of Portrush.
“The boys just lived on the golf course, especially during the school holidays,” says dad Kenny. “In the summer, I left them over to the club when I was going to work at a quarter to eight. They had a lunch box and we took them over their tea. It would be getting on for nine at night and they still wouldn’t be home.
“They were knocking shots into the 17th. You know what it's like, you’re hitting shots in the dark and your eyes become accustomed to it.’”
No surprise then that threading the narrow links fairways of Lahinch, Baltray or Portstewart made McDowell the magnificent player he is today.
Whether the city of brotherly love during the US Open is as good to him remains to be seen. After all, world number one Tiger Woods is chasing that elusive 15th major and playing his best golf since he won his last US Open win in 2008.
And while Rory McIlroy might be struggling, he's likely to remind us that while form is fleeting, class is permanent.
the class acts of McIlroy, Harrington, Lowry, McGinley, Clarke and McDowell will be making an appearance at the Irish Open being played in Carton House one week later…now there’s another Open Invitation. You coming?