Golf buddies pay tribute to McDowell


IT WAS ice cream weather in Portrush yesterday as a circus lorry blaring music passed Rathmore Golf Club. There friends and family were celebrating local hero Graeme McDowell’s victory in the US Open golf championship.

Portrush was stepping out into the summer season, as the pace of celebrations quickened at McDowell’s home club.

His brother, Gary, a greenkeeper at Royal Portrush golf club, 400 metres up the Bushmills Road, was at Rathmore club house, accompanied by his pregnant wife, Tanya, who looked on as their toddler son Zac scampered around and Gary took calls from the media and well-wishers.

“It was unbelievable when he won, we’re all very proud of him,” Gary said. “He has worked very hard to get where he is. The US Open is his first major. Rathmore is a small club, it’s more like a working man’s club and it has produced a major winner.”

Zac waved to his uncle on television, said Tanya. “Zac has the plastic golf sticks and is mad about golf and will learn here at Rathmore,” she said.

Gary, who plays golf, said he would be playing in next month’s North of Ireland tournament, to give current champion Wayne Telford, who is also a member of Rathmore, a run for his money.

Telford, who is on the Irish panel, said Graeme had been generous with his support.

“Graeme is very good at giving advice on the psychology of the game,” he said. “He’s good on staying positive and not letting a bad shot get to you – as there’s always the next hole to make up for the last one. You could see his positive body language on the TV last night.”

Wayne’s coach, Uel Loughrey, is Graeme’s uncle and he coached his nephew from when he was nine until a few years ago. Mr Loughrey also had a 66/1 bet on him to win.

“I was having a few beers and then the excitement got the better of me and I had to have a few halves. It was brilliant,” he said.

“When Graeme was 14, he showed potential and played senior cup for Rathmore. He learned on the nine-hole course. He and his brother Gary played every day of the week. I started to coach Graeme and went to America with him twice when he was an amateur.”

Rathmore has a dressed-down feel with teenagers in shorts playing golf, while up the road, Royal Portrush has a more buttoned-up atmosphere with golfers in full attire. In the golf shop though, they were equally as enthusiastic about Graeme’s win.

Gary O’Neill, a golf professional at Royal Portrush, said: “Graeme was building up to this. He had a win in Wales in the Welsh Open a couple of weeks ago. He’s the kind of guy, once he is in a position to win, won’t let it slip.

“We see quite a lot of him,” he added. “He comes back and practises at Portrush when he is in Europe.”

Brothers Richard and Michael McCrudden were ruminating on local golfing history. “Fred Daly won the US Open 63 years ago and he was from Portrush,” said Richard.

“Graeme is a Portrush man and in terms of golf, he is Irish. He is with the Irish professional golf team – it’s the same as the rugby.”

Sporting national identity sorted out, Michael added: “When I arrived at work at eight o’clock this morning, there were 15 missed calls and from eight to half nine there were 43 calls from press and well-wishers, including Christy O’Connor snr, who was looking to contact Graeme and congratulate him.”

The brothers had been to stay at Graeme’s US home at Lake Nona, Florida.

“Graeme is a great guy – you could go for a pint with him – a down-to-earth guy,” Michael said. “He put up a group of us at his home in Florida. He’s always looking after people and always remembers where he’s from.”