US Open: McDowell takes his place with the immortals
As he reeled off the list of men crowned US Open champion at Pebble Beach, Graeme McDowell suddenly was confronted by the enormity of his achievement.
Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Tiger Woods, me . . . Wow!
This 30-year-old son of Portrush, Co Antrim, has just joined one of the regal dynasties of golf.
“To win at Pebble Beach and join those names is a pretty amazing feeling. I'm not quite sure if I belong in that list,” he mused. “But hey, I'm there now.”
McDowell emphatically “belongs” after staring down three of the greatest players of his generation — Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Woods — in a true war of attrition on Sunday. Make no mistake, the calm resolve, patience and perseverance this remarkably talented young man showed as he prevailed in one of his sport's most intimidating arenas firmly establish his credentials as a crown prince of golf.
The ocean backdrop at Pebble Beach must rank as the most spectacularly beautiful vistas in golf but there was nothing faintly romantic about the gruelling gauntlet McDowell and his rivals had to run at the US Open.
McDowell was surprised that a final round of 73 and a 72-hole total of level-par 284 was good enough to win a Major title, but the United States Golf Association set up the golf course at their premier championship to push the game's elite to the limit.
Yet the rockiest road in golf has led McDowell into a new world of sporting celebrity. For example, the producers of hit TV series Entourage are keen for McDowell and his new best friend, the gleaming US Open trophy, to take a cameo role in the final episode, which is being recorded in LA today.
After a whirlwind round of media engagements in Los Angeles, his agent at Dublin firm Horizon Sports Management hopes to get McDowell and the trophy home to Belfast by tomorrow, at the earliest, so the process of celebrating his phenomenal victory can truly begin.
Tinseltown was furthest from McDowell's mind as he fought grimly for his place in the history books on Sunday afternoon — in the process becoming the first European since Tony Jacklin in
1970 and just the fifth in all to win the US Open.
We are living through a golden era for Irish golf.
McDowell and Padraig Harrington, have won four of the last 12 Majors and three of the last eight, offering hearty endorsement of the production line of talent set up by the Golfing Union of Ireland and the pre-eminent position the game enjoys in our small island's sporting psyche. While McDowell inevitably drew inspiration and confidence from the recent mould-breaking feats of three-time Major champion Harrington, another Irishman with real Grand Slam potential awaits his chance.
Despite missing the cut at Augusta and Pebble Beach, Rory McIlroy has it within his gift to start winning Major titles in the not too distant future — and with McDowell's elevation by 24 places to No 13 in yesterday's World Rankings, Ireland now has three players in the top-15.
One can hardly wait for next month's British Open at St Andrews, when Harrington (No 15), McIlroy (No 10) and McDowell are likely to serve as the three greatest threats to Tiger as he pieces back together the golf game which once made him appear unbeatable at the Home of Golf.
Portrush, meanwhile, has produced two of this country's three Major champions, McDowell and 1947 British Open-winner Fred Daly.
A rich combination of sporting talent, intelligence, mental discipline and determination helped McDowell finish one stroke ahead of French 'springer' Gregory Havret, two better than Els and three clear of Woods and Mickelson in Sunday's endurance test at Pebble Beach.
Prevailing in the US Open arena is “as much about controlling your emotions as anything else,” says Ken Comboy, caddie and close friend for the past four years to McDowell.
“The golf course (at Pebble Beach) asks you 18 difficult questions and if you let your guard down on any hole, even the easy ones, it'll knock the sticks out of you,” continued the Mancunian.
“Graeme's strengths as a player were fantastic and he played to them,” he said. “We always said he’d the game to play in these US Opens, the sheer guts never to panic when something goes wrong.”
It's called true grit and as McDowell moves forward with the certainty that only Major Champions possess, he can win more. This is just the beginning for one of the toughest, most resilient players in golf.