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Wednesday, 17 July 2019
Graeme McDowell  (Getty Images)
Graeme McDowell (Getty Images)

Portrush native Graeme McDowell cannot wait to start his campaign at an Open Championship that he played a part in bringing back to Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years.

Max Faulkner's victory here at Royal Portrush Golf Club in 1951 was the last time the oldest Major Championship was played in Northern Ireland and for many years it looked like the Open would never return to Northern Irish soil.

McDowell admits that the idea was initially floated as a joke, but when he won the U.S. Open Championship in 2010 and that was quickly followed by Major triumphs for fellow Northern Irishmen Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, the case was beginning to strengthen.

A hugely successful staging of the Irish Open in 2012 added more fuel to the fire and now that the dream is a reality, McDowell will be bursting with pride when he hits his opening tee shot at 9.14am on Thursday.

"It started off as a joke," he said. "Why can't we go back to Portrush? Myself and Darren and Rory, especially. And the reasons were: Infrastructure and this and that and the other.

"When the ball really started to get rolling was when Padraig (Harrington) won his three Majors and then I won and Rory and Darren picked up a Major each as well and the jokes turned kind of serious.

"It was the Irish Open in 2012 when we broke the European Tour attendance record. I think The R&A couldn't ignore the fact that this could be a commercial success. The jokes became very serious. It was like, 'we can do this, we can pull it off'.

"It was amazing to play a small part in that role. It's so exciting to have it here and have it back. It's been a great journey and I think we're going to have an extremely successful week and, fingers crossed, we'll be back pretty soon.

"It will be a special moment on the first tee tomorrow, I'll be very proud. It's definitely a special, special week ahead.

It was amazing to play a small part in that role. It's so exciting to have it here and have it back - Graeme McDowell

"I was on the first tee yesterday, felt like there was about 10,000 people on the first tee, amazing atmosphere. A little nervous for a Tuesday, I couldn't believe it really and I figured I'm going to feel a little fired up tomorrow morning on the first tee.

"If I can somehow get out of the blocks tomorrow, get myself settled down and get into the mix this weekend, it would be pretty cool to be coming back down on Sunday. That's the vision, that's the goal and I can't wait to hear what it sounds like."

McDowell fell to 259th on the Official World Golf Ranking in March and there was a very real possibility he could have missed out on his home Open.

However, having had a serious talk with himself about his career prospects were he not to turn his form around, he holed a 30 foot par putt at the final hole of June’s RBC Canadian Open on the US PGA Tour to secure a spot in the field.

“I’m always having a decent chat with myself, that’s life,” said the 39-year-old.

“My journey has been really about kind of facing the demons of mortality. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, this is not going to be around forever, this game’.

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

“You’re thinking ‘well, what happened?’ and realising that if you continue down that road that the game of golf is going to disappear quickly.

“So it was really just that staring mortality in the face and saying ‘hey, I don’t really want that so I need to refocus and motivate’.”

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