British Open 2019: Graeme McDowell receives massive ovation on opening tee

July 18, 2019
Graeme McDowell

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — The anticipation that had been building for months finally came to a head on Thursday at Royal Portrush. Darren Clarke hit the opening tee shot at 6:35 a.m. local time, and less than three hours later, Portrush’s other favorite son, Graeme McDowell, readied himself for his 9:15 a.m. tee time alongside Henrik Stenson and Xander Schauffele.

The grandstand behind the first tee was at capacity, and spectators lined the first fairway three and four-people deep, all the way to the green. It was impossible to even see the players on the tee in many places along the fairway because of the crowd, but that didn’t stop people from standing, straining for a peek, reveling in the moment. When McDowell at last appeared on the tee, the crowd roared with joy.

“G-Maaaaac!”

“Let’s go Graeme!”

What a moment for the local fans.

A few months ago, McDowell’s tee time here at his home Open wasn’t a sure thing. But he rallied mightily to earn his place in the field, and the local community couldn’t be more thrilled to support their hometown hero.

Stenson was called to the tee first, followed by Schauffele. They both received hearty cheers. But then it was time for the man of the moment.

“Now on the tee, from Northern Ireland, GRAEME MCDOWELL!”

The crowd went absolutely bonkers. My colleagues later told me that the sound of the ovation reverberated all the way into the media center, hundreds of yards away from the tee.

And the adoration didn’t end with the opening shot. McDowell was greeted at each green with raucous applause and cheering, as though it was Sunday afternoon instead of Thursday morning. Fans called out to him from outside the ropes, and he tipped his cap.

For Northern Irish players like McDowell, Clarke, and Rory McIlroy, it doesn’t get more special than playing an Open Championship that’s returning to your home country for the first time in 68 years. It was a beautiful scene. I felt lucky to see it.

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