An Open Championship at Royal Portrush without Graeme McDowell playing in it would be like a night in the Harbour Bar without any Guinness.

Mind you, given the way the black stuff is being feverishly hurled down a variety of drouthy thrapples in that particular howf, the place could be drunk dry by the time the cut is made. We’re sure there’s plenty in supply.

McDowell certainly drew on all of his reserves to make it into an Open that, for a spell, seemed to be drifting agonisingly away from him.

Never has an eighth-place finish been so jubilantly celebrated. That arrived the other month when a raking par putt on the last hole of the Canadian Open secured one of three Open qualifying spots on offer. The aforementioned Guinness would have been flowing in torrents down by the water as McDowell confirmed his Portrush homecoming.

LISTEN: Herald & Times Open podcast from Portrush

The alternative was unthinkable for a man who grew up in the town and cut his golfing teeth at Rathmore, the good honest artisan club which sits just next door to Royal Portrush.

“Thankfully, we’ll never know the answer,” said McDowell when asked what he would have done had he not qualified for Northern Ireland’s biggest sporting occasion ever in his own backyard.

“I actually had an RNLI fundraiser here on Monday morning and I had committed to that whatever happened. My mum had arranged that, so that’s one you couldn’t say ‘no’ to. I had a couple of other small commitments early in the week too and I’d say my plan [if he wasn’t in the Open] would be to get out of here.

“I couldn’t stand to be here, it would be too bittersweet. It would be tough to watch the guys go out there and compete on this place where I kind of learned the game.”


In 1947, the celebrated, decorated Portrush golfer, Fred Daly, won the Open at Hoylake. He would get the chance to play in an Open in his home town too in 1951.

“I would walk past the photo of Fred Daly with the Claret Jug in his hands about 10,000 times growing up,” reflected McDowell with a smile.

It wasn’t that long ago that McDowell didn’t have much to smile about. The 39-year-old former US Open champion had slithered down to 238th in the world rankings at the end of 2018. Portrush was calling but it was a distant, almost plaintive cry.

“My journey has been kind of facing the demons of mortality,” he said. “It’s like, hey this game is not going to be around forever for me.

“When you’re top 20 in the world for years, the game felt easy. All of sudden you’re battling to get back into the big events and you’re missing cuts.

“You realise that if you continue down the road, the game of golf is going to disappear quickly.”

READ MORE: Portrush set to bare its teeth at The Open

Meanwhile, Chubby Chandler, the agent of world No.23 Matt Wallace, had defended his client after the renowned coach Pete Cowen branded the Englishman a “complete idiot”.

Cowen also claimed Wallace, who plays alongside Tiger Woods in round one of The Open today, should have been banned from the European Tour after he was captured berating his caddie, Dave McNeilly, on camera during the BMW International Open recently.

“A bollocking is no good, a fine is no good, he needs a ban,” said Cowen in an interview which has ruffled a few feathers.

Chandler came out in support of the fiery Wallace and responded by saying: “To say he should be banned is utterly ridiculous.

“It’s funny, I remember a young player who I was on tour with in the 70s who was renowned for his tantrums and snapping clubs. His name was Pete Cowen.”