Lock up the silverware! Graeme McDowell already has a sackful this season but the 21-year old from Rathmore is hungry for more.

Graeme McDowellThis guy is playing so well he’s threatening to win everything following some truly spectacular performances on the Irish amateur scene this season.

So spectacular, in fact, that the 21 year-old from Portrush has almost totally overshadowed the early season exploits of Portmarnock’s Noel Fox.

A winner already of the Irish and Leinster Youths titles, the young Ulsterman moved up another gear, winning the prestigious Irish Close Championship at Royal Portrush in June, the World Universities Championship at Castlerock in late July and then the South of Ireland championship at Lahinch earlier this week.

As a reward for winning the Shell-sponsored South, McDowell has won the right to play in the Houston Open in Texas in April and rub shoulders with the game’s top pros.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it. It has always been my dream to go pro, but not for another three years.”

After such an impressive run most golfers would be thinking of taking a breather, but not McDowell. 

The youngster said: “I’m right in the middle of my best season ever and I’m not going to rest on my laurels. There are still a lot of competitions to go before I’m finished and I just want to win every time I tee it up.”

When you’re confident, you’re confident and the youngster is still on a high after seasoned performances that remind some observers of the youthful exploits of Irish greats such as Ronan Rafferty, Padraig Harrington or Paul McGinley.

But for a young man who has spent the best part of the year playing competitive college golf for the University of Alabama, Graeme McDowell’s hunger for victory is even more impressive.

And he won’t stop until he achieves his ambition - an appearance in the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team to face the United States next year.

He said: “I have the European Individual Amateur in Austria next week and then it’s Palmer Cup, which is university players from Great Britain and Ireland versus the US at Hoylake. Then it’s the Belgian Juniors and Nations Cup in Brussels and finally the Home Internationals at Carnoustie, which is a really great track and something special that I’m really looking forward to.

The year in the United States has obviously made a huge difference to McDowell, a mechanical engineering student.

Not only has he exploded as a golfer, but he has grown stronger physically thanks to a serious golf fitness programme.

“I really couldn’t wait to get back home from the States because my confidence was pretty high”, he said this week. “I wanted to compare myself to the players at home because I’ve worked really hard on my short game and my fitness. I did a lot of running and bike work, plus strengthening exercises for the arms and back in the gym.”

Tiger Woods is changing the way the game is taught and played and McDowell sees the World number one as an example to follow.

“Tiger’s got a swing that everyone will try to copy because it’s just a picture of strength. He’s just ridiculously good. And it’s not that he’s physically huge, it’s just that he’s so fit. His physique is incredible and he’s just the best by a long way.

“But the fact that he was a college player himself not that long ago makes everyone over there think, well if Tiger can do it then so can they, I suppose.”

McDowell has taken a leaf out of the Woods book is now hitting the ball further than ever.

He said: “When I first went out there to Alabama I was probably one of the shorter hitters on the team, hitting my drives maybe 260 yards but now I’m up there with the rest of them, hitting it 275 regularly.”

McDowell’s American experience has been an eye-opener but it’s something he feels can only help his game, despite the challenges.

“I never knew there were so many good players over there. I’d say that the top 50 college players could make it on the PGA Tour.

“I was ranked 150th in the college rankings this year but I was 9th in the list of freshmen, or first year students, so that was good after having a fairly average year before I started to get it going towards the end”, he said.

But it is the Walker Cup that fires this young man’s imagination.

He explained: “The Walker Cup is the long-term goal for me I think the British and Irish players based in American colleges will have more of a chance.

“I’d love to play but it isn’t always easy for Irish guys. In fact, we always struggle to get players on the team. But it’s the ultimate for an amateur and hopefully I’m going the right way about it. If I keep playing the way I am at the moment I’m going to give myself every chance.”

Coached from an early age by his Uncle Eul Loughrey, a greenkeeper and four handicapper at Royal Portrush, McDowell is living eating and sleeping golf.

He said: “Golf is my life. I don’t mind all the competition. In fact, if I’m not playing for three or four days, I find myself getting bored,” he said. “Golf is everything to me and I just try and win everything I play in. That’s the attitude you need if you want to get in the Walker Cup team because I really want to play in the next match at Sea Island. It’s in Georgia, which isn’t too far from my school in Alabama.”

A semi-finalist in the North of Ireland championship at Royal Portrush and 10th in the East of Ireland at County Louth, McDowell is following in the footsteps of his great hero, Garth McGimpsey.

McGimpsey has won 14 major amateur domestic title, the British Amateur Championship, and has played in the US Masters and three Walker Cup sides.

“When I was a kid growing up he was the man that we all wanted to watch. He was always somebody that I looked up to and when I beat him in the South I knew I could beat almost anyone and win anything,” said McDowell this week. “I just want to beat him every time I play against him. I wasn’t the least bit nervous at Lahinch.”

With youth, nerve and skill on his side, who’d bet against beating Europe’s best at Austria’s Styrian Golf Club next week.

Boys Home Internationals

Ireland’s boys can take their revenge for that European Team Championship defeat by Scotland last month with victory in the Home Internationals at Portmarnock.

Backboned by the super six who helped Ireland reach the final in Holland, there are five newcomers to the team for the Boys’ Home Internationals, which take place at the famous Dublin links from Wednesday to Friday next.

Eoin Arthurs (Forrest Little), Clancy Bowe (Tramore), David Gannon (Co. Louth), Brian McElhinney (North West) and Ulster Boys champion Richard Kilpatrick (Banbridge) will make their international debuts alongside Connor Doran (Banbridge), Kenneth Fahey (Connemara), Philip McLaughlin (Ballyliffin), Derek McNamara (Connemara) and Martin McTernan (Co. Sligo).

Philip Parkin

We all have trouble getting the hole, but it’s hard to beat this story from Sky Sports golf expert Philip Parkin.
Parkin won the British Amateur Championship at Turnberry in 1983, and an automatic invitation to the play in the Masters at Augusta the following spring.

“I was so excited”, Parkin told me during the recent Senior British Open at Newcastle. “It was a dream come true because I’d heard so much about the greens that I couldn’t wait to see them for myself.”

The Welshman immediately dashed out, putter in hand, to search for a putting green to practice on. 

He said: “It was amazing and so I got down on my hands and knees to touch the green. But you couldn’t even distinguish the blades of grass. It was like a fabric, better than a billiard table. Incredible. The best putting surface I had ever seen in my whole life”

After several seconds searching for some practice holes to putt towards, Parkin finally realised what was wrong. 

Revealed Philip: “It was no wonder there were no practice holes. I had been standing on the first tee!”


Gary Player

Gary Player may be Mr Golf, but the nine times Major winner still has his heroes.

After missing the cut in the Senior British Open at Royal County Down last week, the man in black pounded ball after ball on the range at the weekend, searching for his game.

Taking an occasional break, the great South African spent over an hour chatting with his practice ground neighbours. The subject - Ben Hogan’s famous ‘move’, the secret of the American’s legendary ball striking.

Needless to say, Player didn’t see eye to eye with his fellow South African and 1991 Senior British Open champion, his brother in law Bobby Verwey.

The Hogan legend lives on, but 64 year-old Player still searches for perfection.

Ladies golf

Something is stirring Down Under. 

Rebecca Coakley’s stunning six shot win in the Irish Ladies Open Strokeplay Championship at Birr last weekend has created quite a buzz.

Born in Australia of an Irish father and English mother, Coakley was brought to Ireland when she was born but left to live in Australia when she was five.

Despite that she was very much at home in Birr, shooting rounds of 70, 71 and 64 to finish well clear of Cork’s Claire Coughlan.

Rebecca said: “I come back nearly every summer and I’m hoping to come back for good because I’d love to play for Ireland. I’m thinking of playing amateur for the next couple of years and then maybe I’ll turn professional.”