Graeme McDowell might live in Florida these days, but the Ryder Cup 2014 Team Europe player is 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.
His win at the 2010 US Open was a different story for his club in Rathmore - it was late at night when Portrush’s favorite 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 honor at Rathmore since then. After all, it was there and on Ireland’s other great links where McDowell mastered the US Open style game – straight hitting and deadly chipping and putting – that makes him one of the favorites to deny Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in 2014.
Lowry burst onto the golfing map with a nail biting playoff victory at the 2009 Irish Open at Baltray in Co. Louth while still an amateur. He has fond memories of the course at Baltray even from before his momentous win: "I love the drive into Baltray up to the clubhouse. Before I won the Irish Open, I always loved that. I’ve always had a good feeling driving in there. " He turned pro shortly after his victory and has gone on to capture the Portuguese Masters title in 2012.
No surprise then that threading the narrow links fairways of Lahinch, Baltray or Portstewart made McDowell and Lowry the magnificent players they are today.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy has been a golfing prodigy since he was a toddler. He became the youngest member of Holywood Golf Club at the age of eight and appeared on television, chipping balls into a washing machine.
In 2005 he became the youngest winner of the West of Ireland Championship at 15 and the Irish Close Championship at 16, going on to retain both title.
After a stellar amateur career, he turned professional in 2007 and immediately made an impact in the professional game, needing just two events to win enough money to earn his European Tour card.
It took him until 2009 to win his maiden title, the Dubai Desert Classic, but his progression since then has been spectacular.
With his victory in the 2012 US PGA, he became the youngest player since Seve Ballesteros to win two majors
Later in 2012 he won the PGA Player of the Year and PGA Tour Player of the Year.
As the son of a Garda (policeman) who boxed and played Gaelic football for Cork, it was not surprising that Pádraig Harrington was interested in sport from an early age. He learned to love the game at the Stackstown Golf Club in the foothills of the Dublin mountains, helping his father and brothers pick stones from the newly created fairways soon after the course was built. Turned professional following his third successive Walker Cup appearance at the end of 1995.
Won his first title, the Spanish Open, in 1996 and partnered former school friend Paul McGinley to victory in the 1997 World Cup of Golf at Kiawah Island in the US.
Among his other career achievements were victories at the Irish Open and The Open Championship in 2007, as well as the US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills in 2008. He retained The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale 2008.
A native of County Tyrone, Darren Clarke began his golf career as a junior member of the Dungannon Golf Club. His great love at school was rugby, where he played as a wing forward and had ambitions of playing for Ireland. Golf soon took over and he dominated at amateur level in Ireland before turning professional in 1991.
He played in his fifth Ryder Cup at The K Club in County Kildare in 2006 just weeks after the loss of his first wife Heather to breast cancer. After five winless years, he won again in Europe in 2008 and went on to crown a glittering career with victory in the Open Championship at Sandwich in 2011 at the age of 42.
But before he was one of the world’s top golfers, McDowell was a caddy – one who made a big impression on these visitors…