In Pictures: Graham McDowell comes home to Portrush after US Open victory
Everyone was taking about the ‘P’ word — pressure. The pressure the Brits feel at Wimbledon, the pressure of living up to a nation’s expectations at a World Cup.
Talk is cheap though. Graeme McDowell showed them all how to cope with pressure.
The only ‘P’ word he was interested in yesterday was Portrush.
It was on the fairways of Rathmore Golf Club where his dream began and his US Open triumph has now fuelled the dreams of young players who want to take on and beat the world’s best.
Portrush is a small town in Northern Ireland — a country that is a tiny dot on the world map but it now has another true sporting great.
On Sunday evening we watched his every shot gripped with fear. Yesterday we hung on his every word still trying to understand how he rose from humble surroundings to golfing immortality.
Some in America have referred to McDowell as a fluke winner but those whispers are simply a massive insult to his guts, hard work, dedication and devotion to the game.
He held his nerve while Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els lost theirs. Hundreds turned out in the rain to salute a man who is celebrating his first Major victory, a result that cements his place in Europe's Ryder Cup Team to face the United States in Wales this October.
McDowell has never had so many friends and, not surprisingly, the significance of his achievement is only beginning to sink in. Perhaps it takes a little drop of rain on the north coast to remind you just how far you have travelled.
“It’s great to see so many family and friends,” said a beaming McDowell. “I’ve stood on that putting green at the back of the clubhouse here and thought long and hard about this when I was a little kid and to have two putts to win the US Open was a special moment in my life.
“I’ve always dreamed big. You have to work hard and practice hard. I guess deep down I thought I could do something big.
“You dream of winning major championships — did I believe I could do it? I don’t know. I came through the ranks here and there’s something about this part of the world, we have always produced great players.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was sitting at the wine bar having a few beers and celebrating my win at the Wales Open.
“I’m running on adrenalin. It’s been a whirlwind few days. It’s wonderful to share the victory with everyone but it’s only starting to sink in now. I was suppose to be playing in France next week but I’ll give that a miss. There are some great spin-offs from winning this great little trophy here.”
Among the crowd at Rathmore celebrating McDowell's one-shot victory at Pebble Beach were his father Kenny and caddie Ken Comboy. As Father’s Day gifts go, this one will be hard to beat in the McDowell household.
“It was a very special day and as it was Father’s Day, having my dad there to share in the joy and come onto the green at the last was a very emotional moment,” said McDowell.
“I’ve had my lows and tough years like any golfer. You have to take the rough with the smooth and sometimes you learn more from the tough times.
“It’s been a long tough journey but I have had great people around me like my mum and dad to drive me on. I’m certainly going to enjoy this and use it to inspire me and motivate me further.
“2007 was a tough year for me when I left my management company, I changed coaches and everyone around me. It was a big turning point in my career and
sometimes you have to make big decisions. I made harsh changes and three years on they have proved worthwhile.”
McDowell’s relationship with the trophy he clutched so lovingly at the weekend hasn’t quite got off to a flying start, though.
“We got a huge big carrying case for the trophy, a big metal box that is secure with a padlock and special combination code but we didn’t know the combination and we needed bolt cutters to cut the lock,” he said. “I’m off to a flyer with the trophy — it’s been an interesting relationship so far!”
The Portush man will be going for back-to-back major wins at the Open at St Andrews next month. And his army of fans from Northern Ireland will be with him every step of the way.
Players like Rathmore duo Alan Dunbar and Paul Cutler will have an extra spring in their step when they take to the first tee after McDowell’s historic achievement.
“I’m definitely going to try and get my handicap down in the 19th in the next week or so,” he said.
Raise a toast to the happy golfer, the new US Open champion.