Graeme McDowell might live in the heart of 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.
Home from home
It was so late at night when Portrush’s favourite son hugged his dad Kenny on Father’s Day, June 2010, that the members had to lock themselves into the bar until three in the morning to watch the finish – it was McDowell’s first US Open win. Robbie Doherty, a longstanding committee member, explains: “Under the Sunday licensing laws, we had to close the bar at 10 o’clock so 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 McDowell mastered his game – straight hitting, and deadly chipping and putting.
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.’”