Home comfort for McCrudden as an ideal opportunity knocks
IRISH OPEN PREVIEW:The Portrush golfer grew up playing against Rory McIlroy before their careers diverged wildly, writes JONATHAN DRENNAN
THE CLUBHOUSE at Royal Portrush golf club has not seen commotion like this for many years. The beautiful and pristine course has been transformed into a building site with burly workmen in hard hats mixing easily with golfers in their pressed slacks. In the bar there is a sprinkling of elderly members, eating alone. A young man, meanwhile, sits apart from them. He holds a club sandwich in his hand but, rather than devouring it, he looks out dreamily though the rain-splattered window at the vast grandstand that has been erected at the 18th hole.
Patrick McCrudden (26) will tee off at the Irish Open as the lowest ranked player in the tournament, not that he minds. “It’s actually a great position to be in, nobody is expecting much from me, but apart from Graeme I know this course as well as anyone and I just want to show people what I can do out there.”
McCrudden has been a member of the club since he was 10 years old, and he will get to play out his wildest schoolboy dreams on the course he loves.
After he had attended college at the University of Denver, where he’d won a golfing scholarship, McCrudden worked for two years at the tills in the club’s pro shop. His professional dreams had, by then, come to naught. While selling Mars bars and balls to weekend golfers, did he ever wonder where his promising golf career had gone wrong?
“Absolutely, it’s hard not to get negative thoughts when you’re in that position.”
A local boy who grew up just a short drive from the club house, McCrudden’s thoughts on slow days in work sometimes drifted to the gifted players he had played against as a schoolboy at Coleraine Academical Institution. McCrudden never forgot his time playing against the most talented of them all, Rory McIlroy.
He speaks warmly of McIlroy, a friend he has known “since he was about four foot tall, but with the most incredible natural talent you could imagine”. McCrudden remembers the first time he saw McIlroy’s ability to close out a game as an opponent.
“It was a school game, and we were level going into the last hole, and then he hits this perfect flop shot, the kind of shot you aren’t meant to do as a schoolboy, and he wins the game for his school. We all knew he was going to be a one off.”
They competed against one another throughout their teens, and McCrudden recalls how McIlroy’s attitude stuck out amongst his peers.
“He competed with us and he definitely had a swagger, maybe with a bit of cockiness, but he had the ability to get away with it. He walked around the course with his chest puffed out. But the thing about him was after it was over, he’d always come over and chat to everyone, and on the rare occasions that you’d win against him, he’d be very gracious.”