Graeme McDowell was always going to come home to Portrush this week.
Did he have to extricate himself from a spectacular slump in form to do it? Yes?
Did he need to win the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship while the elite were busy at a World Match Play gig? Yes.
Did he need to drain a 30-footer on the 18th at the Canadian Open early last month to make the field here this week? Yes.
But he was always going to make an appearance.
How could he not, when his mother had booked him months ago for a local RNLI fundraiser on Monday morning just gone?
There were a few more commercial niceties to perform as well, but the question is whether he would have stayed for the Open if he hadn’t managed to claim a place.
He still can’t say.
“I’d say obviously my plan was to do those and get out of here because I couldn’t stand to be here. It would be too bittersweet.
It would be too tough to watch the guys go out there and compete on this place where I kind of learned the game. Who knows? Thankfully we didn’t have to answer that question.
McDowell has spoken more than once about what it means to play this Open in his home town, but there was an extra sense of significance this time as he took a stroll down memory lane and ruminated on the ghosts of the past and how it would have haunted him to miss out.
“Yeah, like you say, growing up here in the town of Portrush, I must have walked past the photo of Fred Daly with the Claret Jug in his hand about 10,000 times in my home club of Rathmore, just 500 yards down the road there. And growing up with the legend of ’51 and kind of everything that happened at that Open, Max Faulkner...
“To have kind of gone through the ranks and turned pro and started playing Open Championships myself. And to have played a small role, I guess, in kind of getting the gears in motion again to get The Open Championship back here, I mean, it’s a proud moment to see it come together.”
It’s easy to gloss over this stuff, or dismiss it as the sort of guff we hear from professional sportspeople all the time, but there was a discernible hint of pride in McDowell as he spoke of Rathmore’s status as “a working man’s club” and how the game was affordable to his father who had held down three jobs for most of his life.
Kenny McDowell was in his 30s when he was bitten badly badly by the golf bug. He passed it on to his boys and plenty of others with his involvement in Rathmore’s junior section. Among the privileges they earned was a fairly frequent access to the Portrush Valley Links and, from time to time, the Dunluce course.
Listening to McDowell reminisce on all this was to leave no doubt as to how hard it would have been to be denied access inside the ropes this week but tThe question now is what G-Mac can hope for on the course itself. Sticking around for the weekend would make for a decent start.
McDowell has turned his game around in 2019 — this Open appearance will be his first since Troon in 2016 — but he approaches the 148th hosting of this tournament on the back of consecutive missed cuts at the Irish and Scottish Opens at the Renaissance Club.
This week will ask more of him. The 2010 US Open winner was taken aback on Tuesday when he stood at the first tee of his practice round in front of an unusually large audience and felt the sort of goosebumps normally felt on the preserve for the Thursday of a major.
Rory McIlroy will not be giving in to the temptation to feed off the partisanship and general enthusiasm of the locals. He is treating this like any Open. McDowell’s intention is to view it as a Ryder Cup-type occasion. The hope is that he can use that swell of emotion and local fervour to take him higher.
I’ve really tried the last three or four days to double my normal patience level at a golf tournament and just embrace the fact that people want pictures and they want autographs and they want to say: ‘Hey’. And I’ve decided that I was just going to go with whatever people wanted the last few days.
“In a funny way, missing the cut in Scotland last week gave me some extra time to come in here and prepare. It will just be about kind of the first nine holes, trying just to settle down, get patient, and try to make a few birdies and get off to a nice start. That will be very important for me.”