Monday, July 18, 2011

The Irish Dominate Golf's Major Championships

Here are the winners of golf's major championships over the past 5 years:

The Masters
2011 Charl Schartzel
2010 Phil Mickelson
2009 Angel Cabrera
2008 Trevor Immelman
2007 Zach Johnson

U.S. Open
2011 Rory McIlroy
2010 Graeme McDowell
2009 Lucas Glover
2008 Tiger Woods
2007 Angel Cabrera

British Open
2011 Darren Clarke
2010 Louis Oosthuizen
2009 Stewart Cink
2008 Pádraig Harrington
2007 Pádraig Harrington

2011 Aug 11-14
2010 Martin Kaymer
2009 Y.E. Yang
2008 Pádraig Harrington
2007 Tiger Woods

Of these 19 majors, 6 were won by Irishmen. Paddy Harrington jump-started the Irish charge with 3 major championships including back-to-back British Open victories. For Irishmen the world over, it was particularly gratifying to see the Republic of Ireland's Tricolour flying on the 18th green of the British Open!

Golf is a game of confidence and Paddy's major championships gave his fellow countrymen the confidence and belief that they too could win. Graeme McDowell followed on Paddy's heels with his victory at the 2010 U.S. Open. Rory snapped right back from his Master's meltdown and won the 2011 U.S. Open. And the sentimental winner at this year's British Open was journeyman Darren Clarke.

Ireland is an island of 6.2 million people. The world population is 6.7 billion. So how does a country with 0.0009% of the world's population win 32% of the last 5 years' major championships?

From a golfing perspective, Irish golfers have an advantage being raised on links golf where the wind, the rain, and the undulating ground require golfers to be good ball strikers, control their ball flight, and learn how to mentally deal with the forces of mother nature. But the Scots and Brits also play links why are the Irish dominating?

I think it has to do with the character of the Irish people. They are a hearty stock who have lived in a violent country of political, economic, and religious troubles for centuries. They are a stubborn lot instilled with a great work ethic. They are a creative and crafty bunch. Lastly, after a cold wet 18 holes, Irish golfers retire to the clubhouse and warm their bones with the greatest of all Irish inventions: Guinness.

I remember playing the course at Westport, Ireland during a particularly stormy day. On the 5th hole, it started to hail. My playing partners (both Irish) didn't blink an eye. When we got to the green, the putting was like playing bumper pool with half-inch sized hail stones. Neither of my Irish players even commented on the conditions. We simply kept playing on. At Waterford, I paid my green fees despite an imminent storm which I planned to play through. On the first hole, the clouds opened and it was a torrential downpour. My ball was washed off the green floating in an inch of water. I had no choice but to bag the round. I went into the clubhouse and asked for a refund since I had not even completed one hole. The man didn't want to return my money..."we don't do that here he said - you play on". Well it was impossible, and he finally admitted as much and offered what we call here a "rain check". I explained I was leaving the country in a few days and would probably not be back anytime soon. We settled on a half refund. Despite McIlroy's recent whine about the weather after the British Open, most Irish golfer's simply accept mother nature's significant role in the game of golf.

But I did have two glorious days at Ballybunion - golfing the links under blue skies on the west coast of Ireland. The wind off the ocean was constant. Depending on the hole, the wind could be in you face, at your back, or from your left or right. I shot an 84 on the old course, with a 10 year old Irish caddy helping me every step of the way. I consider that round my greatest golfing achievement.

As most things Irish, underneath the golfing celebrations are political implications. Paddy is a Catholic who comes from the so-called "Republic of Ireland." He has no problem embracing the tri-colour Irish flag that symbolizes Irish freedom from English oppression. Darren Clarke, I have read, is also a Catholic that sympathizes with the cause of Irish freedom. Clarke was tending bar once when a call came in saying the pub would blow up in 5 minutes. Clarke believed the caller, emptied the bar, and sure enough, a bomb exploded in the pub. Graeme McDowell is a Protestant Ulsterman.

Rory McIlroy is a much more complicated case. Rory is a Catholic, but has said on at least one occasion he considers himself British. That's a hard one to fathom, but who knows what makes people in the so-called "Northern Ireland" do what they do and say what they say just to survive. In the 2009 World Cup of Golf, he represented Ireland. When the sport returns to the Olympic Games in 2016, after more than a century of absence, he has said he “probably” will play for Britain. Asked in an interview with the PGA Tour Web site last year whether he considered himself more British or Irish, McIlroy answered, “Pass.”

Last month, the very day after McIlroy’s United States Open victory, sectarian violence broke out in the Short Strand neighborhood of East Belfast, five miles from Rory's childhood home. Bricks and Molotov cocktails flew for two days. Three people sustained gunshot injuries. Police estimated that 400 to 500 people were involved in the disorder.

A pro-British paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, murdered the McIlroy's great-uncle in 1972. According to previously published reports, the great-uncle, Joseph McIlroy, moved into a Protestant area of East Belfast when the Troubles were at their height. Presumably, he had faith in the essential reasonableness of his neighbors. It was misplaced. He was shot dead in his kitchen. No one was convicted.

Did anyone notice that as McIlroy walked off the 18th green at Congressional Country Club last month, someone tossed a green, white and orange tricolor in his direction? It was not clear exactly what happened to the flag, but it quickly disappeared. Did Rory spurn the flag or did it merely fall by the wayside? Not surprisingly, a Facebook page showed up on this subject. Note the very contentious comments:

Rory Turning Down the Tricolour?

One has to feel for a young kid stuck in such an uncomfortable political and religious spot when I'm sure all he wants to do is appeal to both sides and simply play golf. For a more detailed story on this issue, see this excellent article in the NY Times:

McIlroy Transcends Boundaries

The British Open was actually played in Ireland once. It never should have been! The Irish have their own tournament, and the Irish Open will be played next week in Killarney.

Ireland is one island and it is one country. Anyone born on the island is Irish. Golfers from this small country are currently dominating golf's major championships. So let us forget the "troubles", forget the ridiculous marching season, and raise a pint of Guinness to the four major champions from the country of Ireland.

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