Blinded after 9/11 attacks...this brave Irishman has fought back to win US Open
Published 20/04/2016 | 16:25
For three months, he worked 18-hour days, seven days a week. But Paul McCormack didn’t once complain or even think about not putting in every ounce of energy he had.
He was, in his own words, a “proud New Yorker” that was just a small part of a remarkable time when humanity excelled. Ironically and tragically, those few months cleaning up the rubble and debris from Ground Zero following the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers may well have played a part in McCormack’s finest sporting moment.
Last Sunday, sports mad McCormack clinched the blind US Open Championship in Arizona with fellow Irishman Patrick Morgan finishing in second place. A one-two for Ireland in a golfing major has left Howth man McCormack bursting with pride.
On September 11, 2001, McCormack - born in Philadelphia to Irish parents in 1968 - was captain in the NYPD’s 41st Precinct and was on the front line during the clean-up operation after the towers came down.
At the time, he was in perfect health but McCormack recalls how the chemicals from Ground Zero used to burn his eyes. He has been legally blind since.
“My condition is hard to explain. It’s not fully known what it is. It could be genetic but it happened around 9/11. They say been down there could have brought out the affects of it,” McCormack tells Independent.ie.
“I was down there for a long time and the experts believe the exposure brought it on. I have seen doctors all over world and there is no definitive answer.”
Despite his ailing condition, McCormack, who is back living in Howth since 2010, adopted a positive attitude - a decision that no doubt helped to shape one of his proudest days when he secured the US Open on Sunday.
It’s an endearing quality to dismiss the loss of your sight as part of life. “We all have crosses to bear, have to move on with life,” adds McCormack.
Move on he did.
“Myself and Patrick Morgan represented Ireland at Green Valley in Arizona. It was a very intense couple of days with players from all over the world.
“To represent your country at anything is an incredible honour. I am the first Irish person to win the US Open and it’s something I am very proud of and with Patrick coming second, it was just incredible,” added McCormack.
“This was very much a team effort. My coach Karl Pierce is also my caddy and guide. I can’t see where hazards are, can’t read greens so you rely on him a lot. It’s more than a caddy would do for pros. Because of the involvement they have, it’s a team effort. Karl and I were a winning team for Ireland.”
There may also have been a friendly face smiling down from above.
Damien Meehan – whose parents are from Donegal – was one friend who Paul sadly lost at 9/11. Like McCormack, Meehan was an avid sports fan and the pair played minor football for New York together.
“I lost a few good friends at 9/11. Damien Meehan from Donegal – his parents are both from Donegal town. I played on the New York minor team and we played together with New York and we played with the Donegal team in New York all the way up to senior level.
“We played golf together too. He has five or six brothers – very avid golfing family. You think about a lot of stuff like that after winning the US Open.”
McCormack's winning nett score was 123 over the two days - four clear of Morgan.