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Americans would just love to see another Rory McIlroy victory

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Graeme McDowell, of Ireland, jokes with Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, during a practice round for the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Tuesday, June 12, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Graeme McDowell, of Ireland, jokes with Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, during a practice round for the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Tuesday, June 12, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Eric Gay

Graeme McDowell, of Ireland, jokes with Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, during a practice round for the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament Tuesday, June 12, 2012, at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

NOT so long ago, an Irishman winning the US Open would have been considered preposterous.

If one of his best mates from home then made it two-in-a-row, we'd all have been beating the bushes for leprechauns.

Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy have extended the bounds of credibility so far at golf's toughest Major Championship, it's by no means outlandish to suggest that either Northern Irishman or Dubliner Padraig Harrington might make it a hat-trick in San Francisco next Sunday.

Like all US Open first-timers, Ireland's fourth man in this championship, Peter Lawrie, must be spared the burden of expectation.

One of the most striking features of McDowell's win at Pebble Beach and McIlroy's record-shattering success at Congressional last June has been America's enthusiastic embrace of successive Irish winners at their national championship.

In a fascinating article published by influential US magazine ‘Sports Illustrated', Michael Bamberger proposes that these two affable sons of Ulster “won the hearts of Americans as only Irishmen can.”

Bamberger also insists that McDowell and McIlroy, with their easy nature, robust humour and bright-eyed competitive nature actually represent the true spirit of the sport in America.

After thanking the Scots for bringing the ancient game with them across the Atlantic, he suggests: “America doesn't takes its cues from Generation Haggis anymore. In fact, it hasn't for a century now.

“American golfers aren't really interested in the dour Scottish version of the game. Our golf has an Irish lilt. The story of American golf is the story of Irish-American golf.

“Our golf is about gambling, sunshine, beers from the back of the cart, cigars, wedges over ponds that leave craters in our emerald greens.

“Our golf is about hanging out with friends, in no rush to go anywhere. It's Irish to its core.

“If Peter Hanson and Frerik Jacobson, two stolid Swedes, had won the last two US Opens, golf would have been all a-twitter over a single question: ‘What's wrong with American golf?'

“But because the last two US Opens were won by likeable Ulstermen, there were no cyberscreeds. We took the boys in like long lost cousins.”

With roughly 35m Americans claiming a connection to Ireland and upwards of 35,000 first-

generation Irish living in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's unsurprising the Olympic Club has been awash with accents from home.

Yet according to Vivian Walsh, a Ballinasloe man who moved to San Francisco 21 years ago and owns ‘Durty Nellys' on Irving Street, a few miles from Olympic, his American patrons were every bit as excited as the Irish by the feats of McDowell and McIlroy.

“They were all totally into it,” said Walsh (41). How great in these hard-pressed times to hear of so many Americans living an Irish dream!

However, it works both ways, and McIlroy (pictured) indulged in that most American of rituals on Tuesday as the Holywood lad threw the ceremonial first pitch for the San Francisco Giants against the Houston Astros to mark ‘Irish Heritage Night' at AT&T Park.

The 23-year-old acquitted himself well, firing the ball from the mound straight to the catcher.

Though it was above head-height, McIlroy at least avoided the embarrassment, boos and catcalls which throwing a bouncer has brought to many other ‘celebrity pitchers.'

One cannot resist the suggestion that McIlroy once again will find himself in an alien sporting environment today when he tees it up in the first round with World No 1 Luke Donald and the Englishman's compatriot Lee Westwood.

The Olympic this week is going to play hard and fast, in the proudest US Open tradition, making a course which does not really fit McIlroy's game, or his nature, more hostile.

McIlroy tried and failed to temper his game to suit Sawgrass last month, so to hear him echo the pledge of Masters Champion Bubba Watson to attack the Lake Course, wherever prudent or possible, hardly came as a surprise.

Yet it's clearly a high-risk strategy. Patience, prudence and precision off the tee will be at a premium over the next four days.

Usually, a couple of arch-grinders like McDowell and Harrington are among the favourites to be there or thereabouts at least.

Yet as much as McDowell likes the course and despite the know-how Harrington takes from three Major victories, both have been too inconsistent recently to inspire great confidence of success.

Belfast Telegraph