Graeme McDowell has declared it his dream to play the British Open Championship in his hometown of Portrush, as he vowed to help bring major golf back to Northern Ireland.
After receiving an honorary degree from the University of Ulster in recognition of his triumphs on the course, the man Rory McIlroy succeeded as U.S. Open champion said the region must first focus on hosting an Irish Open or another European Tour event.
2011 BRITISH OPEN
International Final Qualifying (IFQ) events are held on five continents to give more players the chance to gain direct entry into golf's oldest championship.
"I know myself and Rory would be behind a Northern Ireland event with the potential of then getting the British Open back to Portrush. That would be something," he said, stressing the importance of securing sponsors.
"That is a dream of mine,” he added. “To play the Open Championship in Portrush is a wild dream, to play a European Tour event in Portrush is an achievable dream and I will do everything I can to make it happen."
The remarkable back-to-back U.S. Open victories by Northern Ireland golfers have prompted calls for the British Open to return to the region for the first time since 1951, when it was played at Royal Portrush.
As he rose to address fellow graduates at the university's campus only a few miles from Portrush, McDowell admitted he was more nervous than during the closing stages of the 2010 U.S. Open or in the crucial final singles match at last year's Ryder Cup.
"Take me outside of my comfort zone, off the golf course, I've hit a couple of pretty important shots in my career last year but nothing really close to how I feel right now," he said.
With his parents, Kenny and Marian, sitting in the front row to watch him receive his honorary doctorate in science, McDowell urged to the young audience to set high goals in life, but ensure they had some fun along the way.
"I've been very lucky," said the 31-year-old, who turned pro before he could complete a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. "I've been fortunate in my career, I've had a lot of good breaks, made a lot of good decisions and holed a couple of good putts at the right time, so it's been an amazing experience."
Reflecting on Northern Ireland's U.S. Open successes, McDowell said there was something a "little bit special" about his homeland.
"To have back-to-back US Open champions to come from a small country of Northern Ireland -- 1.6 million people, whatever we have -- I think the odds of that are pretty astronomical," he said. "It really says something about the type of people we build here in Northern Ireland.
"The graduates here today have had the chance to come and study over the last three or four years in such a beautiful part of the world and I'm very proud of this part of the world,” he added. “It's something extra special about this north coast line and the air. I'm not sure what it is, but they build us kind of tough in this part of the world."