Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Thousands of golf fans hail heroes at Irish Open

Vantage points were at top premium in Co Kerry as thousands of golf fans lined the fairways to cheer the homegrown heroes who have turned the island into one of the game's more unlikely superpowers.

Children climbed trees while grandparents set up camp in folding chairs round the greens as the Irish Open in Killarney welcomed freshly-crowned Open champion Darren Clarke and US Open winner Rory McIlroy.

Fellow major champions Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington made up the quartet of Irish stars playing in front of the packed galleries on the Killeen course at the Killarney Golf and Fishing Club.

In an effort to spread out the crowds, the organisers split up the fab four, but skilfully enough to ensure that everyone could watch a few holes with each of them.

Clarke was in jocular mood from the outset.

At the 4th he diplomatically asked an older spectator to stop rustling his packet of biscuits while later in the round he was overheard telling player partner Gregory Bourdy just how many hours of sleep he had amid his post-Open celebrations.

The answer - not many.

His sons, Tyrone, 12, and Conor, 10, missed out on being there to see his victory at Royal St George's in Kent but they were in Killarney cheering on their father alongside cousins Callum and Chris.

He would not have much difficulty spotting the boys, as they were sporting the type of brightly coloured golfing trousers he promised to buy them more of with his winnings.

Team Clarke was certainly out in force, with the golfer's father and mother, Godfrey and Hetty, sister, Andrea, and bride-to-be, Alison Campbell, all supporting from the other side of the ropes.

Theirs were not the only northern accents in this south-west tip of Ireland. Northern Ireland's remarkable feat of securing three majors in little over 13 months had evidently persuaded a legion of golf fans north of the border to make the long journey.

Jimmy Cracknell, from Newcastle, Co Down, was walking the fairways with friends Patricia and Damien Connell, from Newry.

They all met at last year's Irish Open.

"We met in the pub of all places," laughed Mrs Connell.

Mr Cracknell said Clarke's Open win was inspirational but stressed he was not the golfer he had travelled so far to see.

"McIlroy is the one for me," he said.

"He's the main man. I've followed him ever since the Walker Cup at Royal County Down in '07. I knew then he was something special."

The 22-year-old champion, from Holywood, Co Down, teed off just before 8am with the mist still coating the majestic Macgillycuddy's Reeks mountain range that provides the course's famous backdrop

But the crowds were no less in size... or enthusiasm.

Dublin sisters Cara and Sive O'Shea had got T-shirts proclaiming their love for the young tyro printed especially for the tournament.

"He's brilliant," beamed Cara, 17.

"His US Open victory was absolutely fantastic."

She said McIlroy's exploits had inspired her and her sister to try to master the game.

"We haven't got handicaps yet, we're working on that one," she said.

Another young fan delighted with McIlroy was 12-year-old Kevin Dwyer from the village of Urhan in Co Cork.

He was lucky enough to catch the star's ball when he tossed it into the crowd at the 7th.

His mother, Kathleen, said the exploits of Ireland's golfers has definitely had a real impact in her house.

"We all watch the golf on TV now," she said.

"It's on all the time. It's almost replacing the GAA in our house, and that's saying something."

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