After Rory McIlroy’s win the sky’s the limit for Ulster golf
It’s no exaggeration to say the golfing world sat up and took notice of Northern Irish golf as Rory McIlroy swept to US Open victory at the Congressional on Sunday night.
Following on from Graeme McDowell’s win at Pebble Beach, our wee country, remarkably, is now the only country other than America to have produced back-to-back US Open champions.
And the good news is that there’s plenty more where they came from.
Golf in this part of the world has never been in better health, and the home-grown talent being nurtured by the Ulster Branch of the Golfing Union of Ireland is set to produce more champions of the future.
McDowell and McIlroy, like Darren Clarke and three-times major winner Padraig Harrington before them, learned their trade in becoming Irish amateur major champions.
McDowell’s club Rathmore, in Portrush, is a hot-bed of new talent.
For instance Alan Dunbar (pictured right), 21, is on course to make this year’s Walker Cup team after his brilliant North of Ireland Amateur Open win at Royal Portrush and Irish Amateur Open win at Royal Dublin last summer.
The man he beat in the final of the North of Ireland, 17-year-old Dermot McElroy (yes, that’s with an ‘E’) from Ballymena is a rising star of the boys’ game destined for great things in the future as well.
Portstewart’s Paul Cutler, 22, who made the latter stages of the British Amateur Championship at Hillside in Lancashire last week is another man with an eye on the match against the Americans.
And, lest we forget, Ulster is more than blessed when it comes to the ladies game.
They may be only 16 years old, but already Co Cavan twins Lisa and Leona Maguire have accumulated numerous titles between them.
And although they are still amateurs, have looked more than comfortable playing against the top pros.
Twenty-two-year-old Danielle McVeigh from Kilkeel is the reigning Irish Amateur Close champion and set to turn professional when she completes her studies in Dublin.
A team mate of the Maguires, she was one of the star performers for Great Britain and Ireland at the Curtis Cup in Manchester, Massachusetts last year.
All of this home-grown talent is harvested here in Ulster thanks to the guidance of dedicated teaching professionals and coaches, a point McDowell made at the weekend as he watched his great friend stride to victory.
And McIlroy himself was quick to point out the role the GUI had in his development as a young player at his press conference at Congressional on Sunday evening.
“A big help to me growing up was the Golfing Union of Ireland and the help that they gave me throughout my junior career and amateur career, enabling me to go and play in different places in the world, learn about different conditions, different cultures, which really prepared me for coming out on tour,” he said.
And Clarke, widely regarded as one of Rory’s principal mentors, chipped in: “I’m pretty sure the success of Graeme McDowell, and now Rory, in becoming major winners will encourage more youngsters from here to take up the game.
“I have my foundation, where I encourage kids to get out there onto a golf course.”
He added: “For such a small country as ourselves, to boast back-to-back US Open champions — well, that’s unheard of.
“We’ve had other sports which have enjoyed a boom time in Northern Ireland, so why not golf?” said Clarke, who won the Iberdrola Open in Majorca last month.
“The more kids we have got taking up the game, and honing their skills, the more chance we have of unearthing another Rory or another G-Mac.”
The game here is in rude health and where McIlroy leads, plenty more are ready and willing to follow in his now illustrious footsteps.