A nation cheers as Graeme gets on course for greatness
IT was the perfect Father's Day present.
As Graeme McDowell sank the putt that won him the US Open and instantly made him a legend in golfing circles he looked over to his father Ken.
"It was an emotional moment for me to have my Dad out there walking around with me on Father's Day, and to have him come on to the last green and give me a hug was a very special moment in my life, and certainly something I will cherish for a long time," Graeme said last night.
Elated family and friends of the 30-year-old from Portrush in Co Antrim erupted in celebration early yesterday morning as the young Irishman saw off some of golf's biggest names, including Tiger Woods.
A massive party and civic reception is being planned for later this week when Graeme returns to Ireland.
This will be followed by a round of media appearances, which is expected to include a slot on 'The Jay Leno Show' in Los Angeles.
Graeme said that reminders of home helped him clinch victory at Pebble Beach.
"I came here about 10 years ago for the first time and the coastline reminded me of the north coast of Ireland and to that, it felt like home. The temperatures felt like home, with sweaters most days, and it really had that Irish flavour to it, but little did I know that I was going to get the opportunity I got.
"I was just thrilled to be able to take that opportunity."
The stunning achievement was toasted yesterday as the Irish and UK media rushed to claim the victor as their own.
But the Co Antrim man's family had no doubts.
"He's Irish," said Graeme's uncle Uel Loughrey, who first began coaching the budding golfer when he was just nine years old.
And Mr Loughrey said his nephew and protege would repeat the feat again and again.
"He is just hitting his prime. He has a good chance now for the British Open," he said, adding that Graeme got a huge psychological lift from winning the Welsh Open two weeks ago.
"He has a good temperament. He has got the guts for it. It is really good for a wee local club like Rathmore," said Mr Loughrey, who is still involved in training juniors at Rathmore.
The bar in his home golf club of Rathmore, in Portrush, has not closed since the 30-year-old joined an exclusive club of just three Irishmen, along with Padraig Harrington and Fred Daly, by claiming a Major title.
The champion won his first tournament in 2002. His clubhouse at Rathmore is just yards from the house where Fred Daly was born. A member of Royal Portrush club, Daly won the Open in 1947.
Graeme's brother Gary, who works as a greenkeeper at the club, said: "What he did was hard to believe and everyone is so proud of him. . . I can't explain how proud we are.
"I'd say he's good enough to go on and win another two or three (majors)."
Tributes have been pouring in since Graeme became the first European to triumph in the US tournament for 40 years.
Rathmore club captain Colin Walker said members were ecstatic.
"It is massive. We have come through, as a country, such doom and gloom over the years, it is great that we have another sporting hero," he said.
Family, friends and supporters are planning a major bash on Friday, after Graeme and his father Ken fly in to Belfast later this week.
Sports Minister Mary Hanafin commended the golfer for putting in several impressive rounds before taking the title.
"Graeme put in a stunning performance throughout the weekend and managed to lead or share the lead for the final two days of the tournament," she said.
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said winning the US Open was an outstanding achievement.
"I would like to offer Graeme my sincerest congratulations on becoming the first golfer from Northern Ireland to win a major since 1947. I am sure that there will be more major victories to come."
Apart from his $1.35m (€1.1m) prize fund and prestigious trophy, Graeme's win has placed him at an all-time career high of 13 in the world rankings.
And just two months ago, he was not even in the top 50 and was in danger of having to qualify for not only Pebble Beach, but also for next month's British Open at St Andrews.