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The six keys to Northern Ireland's golfing success

Northern Irish golf has emerged as an unlikely golfing superpower how does a country with the population of Columbus, Ohio outperform the rest of the globe?

WITHIN MOMENTS OF Darren Clarke’s approach to Royal St George’s 18th green yesterday, Rory McIlroy tweeted a reaction that anticipated a great deal of today’s press coverage: “Northern Ireland…… Golf capital of the world!!” [sic].

Ensuring that three of the last six major championships have gone the way of golfers from the six counties, Clarke’s victory has underscored the unlikely emergence of Northern Ireland as a golfing superpower.

But what is it about the North, exactly, that makes it such a successful breeding ground for golfing success?

1. Pádraig Harrington

Okay, it might seem a little churlish to trace a story of Northern triumph to its roots south of the border, but when it comes to inspiring Ireland’s elite golfers, no one’s influence comes close to matching that of Harrington. When the man from Stackstown won three majors in the space of two years, it proved to his (arguably) more talented peers just far single-minded focus and tenacity could carry you.

Polar opposites and close rivals since their amateur days, Clarke and Harrington have never really enjoyed the most open of relationships. It’s a measure, then, of the sheer weight of the Dubliner’s influence that Clarke couldn’t avoid stressing his importance in yesterday’s post-round press conference:

“It’s been brilliant but it wasn’t just G-Mac and Rors… it was Pádraig and for Irish golf in general, his major wins and the way he achieved them, he got the ball rolling.”

2. Weather

While the rest of the field spent the weekend being torn to pieces by a brutal combination of hard, running fairways, gusting wind and bladder-tightening squalls of rain, Clarke looked cherubic and serene in shirt sleeves. A youth spent on the ranges of Northern Ireland may sound a bleak prospect, but it helps form the sort of golfing imagination that life on the manicured campuses and resorts of the US just can’t match for variety.

Asked after Saturday’s round about his links experience, Rickie Fowler could only remember encountering similar conditions once before; by contrast, Clarke already had over thirty years’ experience manoeuvring the ball in wind. Low, high, left-to-right, right-to-left: the Northerner had an arsenal of shots his closest contenders couldn’t dream of challenging.

Pádraig Harrington: inspired Irish colleagues. (Pic: PA)

3. Courses

Not only does the Northern Ireland have the sort of weather to create a golfing imagination, it has the courses to hone its expression. Royal Portrush might be currently lobbying hard for a place on the modern Open rota, but its only one of many classic layouts to be found in Ulster.

4. The Golfing Union of Ireland

As a rule, Ireland mightn’t coach sporting excellence with the same level of efficiency that other, larger nations do, but when it comes to golf, it has an elite junior program that can hang with the big boys.

With access to everything from a dietary advice and coaching to travel expenses and logistical assistance, the island’s most talented youngsters have everything they need to improve their games; it’s a fact to which Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry can well attest.

5. Chance

It might be inspiring and optimistic to view sporting achievement as the product of diligence and hard, painful labour, but practice can only elaborate on basic physical endowment. When it comes to the North’s trio of major champions, you’re talking not only about incredibly dedicated professionals, but individuals gifted with the sort of natural hand-eye coordination the rest of us can only dream of.

Darren Clarke was the most talented amateur of his generation produced by within British and Ireland, Graeme McDowell graduated from university as the most decorated NCAA golfer in history and Rory McIlroy is a once-in-generation talent to rival that of his hero, Tiger Woods. Certain local conditions might skew the odds in their favour, but genetics is doing a lot of the heavy lifting.

6. The craic

Big Darren is fond of existing as a hard-living stereotype, Rory might be no stranger to the occasional Jagerbomb and G-Mac may seem to rarely be without a bottle of Heineken in hand, but rather than undermining their competitiveness, their love of drink betokens a buoyancy and  optimism that has only helped their cause over the years.

Did agonized self-reflection help Rory recover from his Masters implosion earlier in the year? Not likely.

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