Commentary: Northern Ireland Joins Golf’s Emerging Powers with Rory’s US Open Win

Author’s Note: I published this after Rory hit a tee shot within a few inches of the cup on the 10th.  It was a moment of beauty and I don’t doubt his victory once he hits -17.

Before last summer, no European golfer had won the U.S. Open since 1970 (England’s Tony Jacklin).  European nations had not won back-to-back U.S. Opens since 1924-5.  The same European nation had not won back-to-back U.S. Opens since 1907-8 – the formidable duo Alec Ross and Fred McLeod.  In recent years American golfers have lost their stranglehold on their national championship, winning only 2 of the last 8 tournaments, but the nations swooping in (Argentina, New Zeland, Australia, South Africa) have been off the continent.

Now comes Northern Ireland, a country roughly the size of Connecticut.  (I apologize to territories around the world for our desire to equate your size to a piece of America but we don’t know how else to explain it.)  Known far more for “the troubles” that plagued its city streets than its athletic prowess, Northern Ireland has now emerged as nothing short of a golf superpower.

Then Graeme McDowell held on for dear life at Pebble in 2010.  Then Rory McIlroy suffered heartbreak at Augusta and took it out on the field at Congressional, lapping them several times before it was all said and done.  Two Northern Irish have conquered the world’s toughest golf tournament.

Rory may be the future of major championship golf, sitting only at 22 years and drawing comparisons (ridiculous though they may be) to a young Tiger Woods.  His recovery from the events of April and steely demeanor over four days in Bethesda are the marks of a champion.  Comparing anyone to Tiger, at least publicly, is applying pressure they don’t need.  Ask LeBron James what it’s like to be anointed the greatest of all time without significant career achievements?  Watching Rory dominate the field this week has been boring for those of us craving Sunday drama.  Watching him dominate for the next ten years could provide the same joys Eldrick has provided since 1997.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

What is safe to say is that Northern Ireland has officially staked ist claim to being a golf superpower.  The troubled little nation that can’t be denied.  They are the only country with two players in the world rankings top ten, both with major championships.  (England has 4 players in the top 15 and not a major to be found between them.)  One wonders if we won’t look back in twenty years and think of this Graeme/Rory era the way we currently look at Gary Player’s career in South Africa: the beginning of a brilliant, rich tradition.

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