Hero returns: New giant of causeway links up with home fans

 

“I’M RUNNING pretty much on adrenaline,” said the US Open golf champion as the cheers died down. “What day is this anyway?”

Graeme McDowell might well ask. It’s been a hectic few days since he walked off the 18th at Pebble Beach with the trophy no European has held in 40 years.

Now it is time to kick back and “to reattach my head”.

There is little chance of that. The Causeway coast has a new giant.

Among the first to congratulate him, he said, was Padraig Harrington, whom he met in an Irish bar just after the presentation; local actor Jimmy Nesbitt “who was pretty pumped up on the phone”, and the last European winner Tony Jacklin.

They weren’t alone – 30,000 visited McDowell’s website at the weekend, forcing it to crash.

Some 152 press interviews later, this was his first appearance on home turf in front of the people who know him.

Things have been pretty hectic at Rathmore Golf Club beside the famous links. But for all the excitement and the tiredness since the raucous all-nighter on Sunday, this was a homecoming in traditional style.

McDowell’s family were there, brothers George and Gary, who is a greenkeeper on the Royal Portrush links where he learned the game. Granny McDowell was there too, as were his aunties.

“Do you slag him much about the mid-atlantic accent,” Gary was asked by a reporter. “No, we leave that to you guys,” he said.

The top brass of the golf club were there, collared and tied, pints in hand in the small clubroom which was packed and sweating.

Live TV crews, a melee of photographers and reporters couldn’t stop golf’s latest major winner from acknowledging his local fans.

“Hiya Graeme,” interrupted a small boy, complete with a cap bearing the name of McDowell’s sponsor, Callaway. “Hey man,” came the thumbs-up reply. “I see you got the same sponsor backing you.” They loved that.

He recalled putting on the green outside as a child and dreaming big.

“It’s a special moment when you have a 25-footer and two putts to win,” he said.

Even more so when he realised the likes of Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were in his wake.

But while his golf might have gone pretty smoothly, not everything has since.

“We got a huge big metal box with the trophy, obviously pretty secure, and a combination lock to go with it,” he said.

“I take no responsibility for it because I didn’t lock the thing. When we got to Callaway headquarters people were pretty excited and wanted to get the trophy out – but we didn’t have the combination.

So an Irish solution was called for.

“We got a set of bolt cutters and cut it off. So, I’m off to a flyer in my relationship with the US Open trophy. It’s been an interesting one so far.”

It’s been a huggy-kissy love affair so far – and one that’s been shared with the folks in Portrush who kissed the silverware like a religious relic.

Press conference number 153 was wound up – just live one-to-ones with RTÉ, BBC and UTV to go.