Portrush Boy Graeme McDowell Qualifies for The Open
Dreams do come true for Graeme McDowell, whose eighth-place finish in the Canadian Open was enough to secure a place in July's Open Championship at his hometown course of Royal Portrush. Making it through the Open's Qualifying Series, which awards spots to the highest finishers in designated tour events not otherwise exempt, the 39-year-old holed a 30-footer on the last to guarantee his participation in what promises to be an historic edition of the game's oldest major.
Speaking to BBC NI, the Orlando resident was delighted to clinch a special and deeply meaningful homecoming this summer. "I feel hugely relieved," said McDowell.
"Just to play a small part in getting The Open back to Royal Portrush was one of the prouder moments in my career and it would have been extremely bittersweet for me not to be playing in the field.
"I had every belief in myself to get qualifying done over the next three or four weeks and it was great to get it done in week one. I can now focus on getting myself ready for The Open rather than battling for qualifying spots."
Nine years ago, McDowell's hard-fought triumph in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach - where he returns this week - was the first major success for a golfer from Northern Ireland since Fred Daly in 1947, sparking an incredible run headed by the prodigious Rory McIlroy and the emotional Open win of Darren Clarke in 2011.
It would have felt remiss had McDowell not been part of the field at Portrush, with some even calling for the unprecedented move of a special exemption from the R&A, but such matters have been taken care of by the man himself, whose steely determination was exhibited a near decade ago on the Monterey Peninsula, not to mention in the dramatic closing stages of the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.
"I haven't played the course much since the new holes were created so now I'll plan a little recce mission to play the course over the coming weeks," he continued.
Portrush will be McDowell's first Open appearance since 2016 - a 14th in total - having struggled during the past two years, a run that saw him serve as one of Thomas Bjorn's vice-captains at Le Golf National last September. But testament to those battling qualities, he has enjoyed a resurgence this season, winning again on the PGA Tour in March, and sits on the verge of breaking back into the world's top 100 after slipping to 238th at the end of 2018.
Long being a sell-out, the atmosphere at Royal Portrush will garner many superlatives, and that will only be heightened now that one of their own is going to be part of it.
"It's going to feel epic on that first tee. The fans are going to offer huge support and they are excited to have the best players in the world come to Portrush. It's going to be very special."
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