The 148th Open Royal Portrush
Graeme McDowell
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Five takeaways from the local boy's press conference

Graeme McDowell on Rory McIlroy's chances

Born in Portrush and cutting his golfing teeth on the Dunluce Links, The 148th Open might mean more to Graeme McDowell than anyone else in the field.

He will enjoy literal home advantage unlike perhaps any other man in history and after the battle he had to qualify for The Open – a loss of form over the past two years leading to a race against time that eventually saw him earn his exemption at the Canadian Open last month – just being here at all is incredibly sweet.

The 2010 US Open winner addressed the media on Wednesday and here are five key takeaways from his press conference.

The early-week buzz

The first tee shot has not even been struck yet but there’s a palpable buzz around the county Antrim town.

The numbers bear this out, with R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers announcing that this week will be the second-highest attended Open in history – with 237,750 people coming through the gates.

And even the local boy is in shock at the atmosphere of excitement already permeating Portrush.

“You get more of an idea for the size and the infrastructure that goes with this tournament,” said McDowell. “It's so enormous when you see it happening in your hometown.

“You see just how everyone benefits – how the whole country, how the whole island is benefiting. The infrastructure economically here in Portrush, I've never seen the town look so great.

“And just the buzz from the people this week, it's been amazing the last few days. I expected a great welcome but I didn't really expect the buzz from the fans and just how genuinely happy, proud and excited they are to have this great golf tournament in this part of the world.

“I was on the first tee yesterday, it felt like there was about 10,000 people on the first tee. It was an amazing atmosphere. I was a little nervous for a Tuesday - I couldn't believe it, really.” Graeme McDowell

Coping with expectation

Being the home favourite can be a double-edged sword – with the crowd offering you unconditional support, yet the expectations and distractions at an all-time high – but McDowell is confident he can cope.

“I certainly believe I can,” added McDowell. “Pebble Beach [the US Open] was a little bit of a dry run for me four weeks ago – going in there as defending Pebble U.S. Open champion, if you like.

“I'm trying to picture the crowd as a Ryder Cup crowd, that they're all there to support me in a positive way. I need to use them positively and not see it as a negative thing.

“I've really tried the last three or four days to double my normal patience level at a golf tournament and just embrace the fact that people want pictures, want autographs and they want to say ‘hey’.

“I’m very much looking forward to the gun going off tomorrow, getting the head down and it will be about trying just to settle down, get patient, and try to make a few birdies to get off to a nice start.”

Use it like it's a Ryder Cup crowd

A fear of missing out

This will be McDowell’s first Open appearance since 2016 following a loss of form and the 39-year-old admits he was motivated by the desperation not to miss a home Open.

He said: “As soon as the tournament was announced I wanted to be here. I've missed the last couple of Opens and it's never easy to sit on the sidelines of the biggest events in the world.

“When you're sitting at home watching on TV, it's frustrating. It makes you realise that if the game was gone tomorrow, you'd miss it really badly.” Graeme Mcdowell

“I think in middle of last year I had a conversation with myself, I said: ‘Hey, if you continue to play the way you're playing, this game is going to be gone a hell of a lot quicker than you thought it was. What's that going to feel like? I'm going to miss it really badly.’

“Coming to that realisation helped me because it made me start to embrace the challenge a little bit more, enjoy the time I have left out here and trying to pull myself out of the hole I dug for myself.”

Best Portrush memories

Rory McIlroy holds the course record at Portrush – shooting a 61 at the North of Ireland Championship as a 16-year-old back in 2005 – but McDowell also has some low scores under his belt on the links he grew up on.

“I remember when Rory shot that 61,” explained McDowell. “We heard the rumours of this young kid. There's always a young kid but when he shot the 61, I was like, ‘hold on a minute, that's a serious score. So maybe this young kid is for real, for real.’

“I shot 63 a couple of times. Never in the North of Ireland qualifier, which is when Rory did his. When you've got a card in your pocket and you're playing the competition pins, a score like that is a real score.

“Not when you're out maybe having a cider on the 10th tee with the lads, that's not a real 63… Or maybe it's a better one, who knows!” graeme mcdowell

Putting Portrush on the map

The locals will certainly enjoy The Open while it’s in town but McDowell is also eager to see the legacy that golf’s original major leaves behind in Northern Ireland.

“I feel like the town can go from strength to strength economically and the knock-on effect on the whole of Ireland is huge,” he said.

“That’s as a tourist destination, as a nation which continues to be synonymous with the game of golf and in terms of bringing young kids to the game.

“When I meet American tourists that come to Ireland, they go to the southwest, they go to Dublin and they never quite make it to the north coast.

“I'm always a little biased and I tell them they're missing out but this should really put Portrush on the global stage, on the map. And it should hopefully look amazing on TV this weekend.” graeme mcdowell

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