Local favorite Graeme McDowell was left beaming with pride after completing a return to Portrush for The 148th Open.
By Will Gray
Even as the wind blew and the rain poured from above, Graeme McDowell found reason to smile during one final stroll to the green at The 148th Open.
McDowell is a Portrush native, and his qualification for this week’s much-anticipated event became a storyline throughout the early part of the year. But he managed to snag a spot in the field for the first major championship played in Northern Ireland in his lifetime, and he more than acquitted himself once he got here.
McDowell was the lone Ulsterman to make the 36-hole cut, and he enjoyed a stirring ovation on the 72nd green even though he battled to a final-round 77 in difficult conditions to finish the week at 4 over.
“It’s been special. I’ve enjoyed every second,” McDowell said. “Really, really proud. I’m proud of Portrush and proud of Northern Ireland, and I’m proud of Ireland. Ireland is pretty proud as we watch Shane Lowry trying to win. The people have been amazing this week.”
McDowell stuck around after his final round concluded, joining the receiving line that greeted Lowry behind the 18th green after he had closed out a remarkable run to a maiden major title. While McDowell would have preferred to be the one receiving the final claps to close a memorable week, he had nothing but praise for the game's newest major champion.
"He's one of the most competitive people I've ever met, to a fault, nearly," McDowell said. "He feels comfortable on the big stage. Right now, he's on the biggest stage out there."
“I'm proud of Portrush and proud of Northern Ireland, and I'm proud of Ireland. ” graeme mcdowell
But McDowell's most lofty praise was reserved for the environment that welcomed The 148th Open and allowed it to shine, with Royal Portrush serving admirably as championship host for the first time since 1951. McDowell has seen some of the most raucous environments in golf, and the one he walked through this week while ringed by enthusiastic crowds ranked near the top.
"I've had several comments from players about Rory (McIlroy) coming in Friday night, it was like a Ryder Cup. It was like he was leading the tournament," McDowell said. "I'm proud of the atmosphere and that people have been as proud to go out there and behave well and support well, and support all the players and treat everyone like one of their own.
"That's the way the people of Ireland are. They're welcoming people."