Flying the flag on streets of Philadelphia
McDowell making friends in faraway places, writes Dermot Gilleece
From a distance of 7,000 miles, patrons of the Lamplighter Tavern outside Philadelphia are taking a rather special interest this weekend in the fortunes of Graeme McDowell in the Dubai World Championship. The fact is that the Northerner has become something of a local hero, arising from a generous gesture in the wake of his US Open triumph at Pebble Beach last July.
Mind you, if one were looking for omens in the battle with Martin Kaymer, this being the 20th anniversary of the 1990 World Cup doesn't bode well for McDowell. That was when Bernhard Langer and Torsten Giedeon gained the first international sporting victory for a newly united Germany, at the Grand Cypress Resort, Orlando. And the runners-up happened to be the Northern Ireland duo of David Feherty and Ronan Rafferty.
Two of the most plaintive lines in the extensive repertoire of Irish emigrant ballads are ". . . But the tears will surely blind me for the friends I leave behind me/When I'm off to Philadelphia in the morning." And the couplet gained a fresh dimension for me, through the Portrush player's link to two Irish-American golf entusiasts.
It was forged on the Monday morning after the US Open when McDowell chatted about his great win to Irish scribes in the lounge of the Monterey Plaza Hotel on Cannery Row. That was when teaching professional, Joe Dolan, drifted quietly onto the scene.
Seeing a glorious opportunity of doing a favour for a long-time friend, Dolan approached McDowell and asked if he would put a message on a US Open flag. So it was that the newly crowned champion graciously wrote: "To the best Irish bar in Philadelphia, the Lamplighter. Best wishes, Graeme McDowell."
Dolan, who is now attached to the Abacoa GC in Jupiter, Florida, saw this as an ideal 'Thank you' to the tavern's owner Jack Quinn, whose father emigrated to the US nearly 90 years ago from Tyrone. Having witnessed the flag-signing on Cannery Row, I decided during a visit to Philadelphia last week to see what happened to it.
I was greeted at the tavern by the owner who had the precious flag in his hands. "After the US Open, Joe came here saying he had something for me," said Quinn. "On the flag, he had attached the note 'Thanks Jack for everything you've done for me. I will never forget you. It's McDowell's signature. Got it Monday after the Open.'"
Quinn went on, "At first, I wondered if it was really the genuine article but I knew Joe wasn't in the habit of lying. I then realised the fantastic thing he had done. I've been fortunate enough to play Pebble Beach, so I could really appreciate the quality of Graeme's performance. I couldn't believe he was so calm, playing like a fella who knew the outcome. It was an incredible win."
His deep interest in the game can be gauged from the fact that he has written three letters to Phil Mickelson -- all without reply -- suggesting that the player's problems with short putts stem from over-use of his hands, rather than his shoulders.
The friendship with Dolan goes back 20 years to the time when the out-of-work, aspiring professional was grateful for jobs as a bartender or waiter in Quinn's establishment. "Joe also worked at Llanerch where he helped update the pro shop," he said.
Now, Dolan's gift is the talk of Havertown, arousing the curiosity of a strong, golfing hinterland. Indeed, the Lamplighter is less than a mile from Merion, where the US Open will be returning in 2013, and a similar distance from the highly rated Llanerch Country Club, where Quinn is a member.
"The return of the US Open is going to mean a busy time for us, but I've seen it all before, since I first came here 40 years ago," he said. He was referring to Merion US Opens of 1971, when Lee Trevino beat Jack Nicklaus in a play-off, and 1981, when David Graham was the only competitor not to exceed par over the four days.
Meanwhile, Havertown's Irishness could be gauged from two signs I observed during the drive there. One was an election poster urging 'Vote Maureen Carey for State Representatative' and the other was 'Donohue's' funeral home.
"When I hung the flag over the bar, every group of golfers who came in had to have it taken down to read the inscription," said Quinn. "So I put it up higher so you had to stand on a chair to get it down. But it seemed to make no difference. Eventually, I had it enclosed in a special glass case, which is normally locked."
On learning about the Road to Dubai, Quinn remarked, "It would be great to have Graeme visit here one day as Europe's top golfer. Either way, he has brought a wonderful sense of pride to the Irish in these parts."
Meanwhile, very much closer to home, McDowell is among leading professionals to welcome the selection of Ireland's North & West Coast Links as 'European Golf Destination of the Year 2011'. The award, voted on by 1,200 industry representatives from 60 countries, was made by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) at a ceremony in Valencia, Spain. The five beaten finalists were Fife (which includes St Andrews), the Czech Republic, Tenerife, Murcia and Lisbon.