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McDowell makes waves on Portrush return

By Graham Luney

The Prince of Pebble was in town and he got the reception he deserved.

Everyone wants a piece of Graeme McDowell after his US Open victory but they can’t steal his heart away from Portrush.

The American twang may have crept into his accent but he’s the first Northern Ireland man to win the US Open and in this little town on the north coast, he’s everyone’s best friend. Hundreds of admirers gathered at Rathmore Golf Club to pay tribute to their returning hero.

Inspiration, role model and now a Northern Ireland sporting legend, McDowell now has an army of fans determined to simply say ‘well done, we’re proud of you’.

Even in the tense final round at Pebble Beach during a defining moment in his career, the 30-year-old was keeping things in perspective, turning to the camera and saying “this is fun, Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, mine is out there somewhere.”

His father Kenny joined the growing appreciation society for McDowell at the Rathmore club yesterday.

The small main lounge was packed to the rafters — it’s fair to say Rathmore is not used to playing host to US Open champions.

A banner in the corner read: “Graeme McDowell, a Giant on the Causeway, Now a Master of the World’.

Rathmore Golf Club members proudly displayed their colours and Palmer Cup players joined in the loud cheers as the 30-year-old made his grand entrance, the golfing gladiator acknowledging the warmth and affection in the room.

Photographers fought for space to capture the main man until the crowd shouted “we can’t see”.

McDowell, whose feathers are rarely ruffled, said: “I’ll stand up then” — a response which pleased the masses.

“What about Coleraine Inst!” someone shouted from the back.

“Great school,” responded a relaxed McDowell.

“It taught me everything I know which isn’t very much anymore!”

As well as being a Major winner, McDowell has become a Major Celebrity, and a mention of Jay Leno — who interviewed him on his Tonight Show — sparked further howls of approval.

McDowell has been genuinely overwhelmed by the congratulations that have come his way.

Tony Jacklin, the last European winner of the US Open in 1970, forwarded his congratulations along with another well known golfing great from the north-west, Jimmy Nesbitt.

“Tony welcomed me to the club as did Padraig (Harrington) and Jimmy, a local lad, sent me a very cool message. He was pumped up for me, making us proud of this small country.”

Horizon Sports organised the triumphant homecoming at short notice and it will take some time before McDowell’s head will come down from the clouds.

“What day is it anyway?” he asked.

He might have a game this weekend, but he’s earned a rest.

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