Small island, huge stature

Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy have earned major titles recently, but the luck of the Irish has nothing to do with it. Instead, their success is the product of dedication, talent and a real love of the game.


Though Ireland is a small place, Padraig Harrington says, there is a lot of good golf competition. (Getty Images)


You can talk about the luck of the Irish all you want.

But Rory McIlroy made his own good fortune last month when the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland won the U.S. Open by eight strokes. Ditto for his good buddy -- and fellow countryman -- Graeme McDowell the previous year at Pebble Beach.

And Padraig Harrington, who hails from the Republic of Ireland, started the surge when he won the 2007 Open Championship and both the 2008 Open and PGA Championship. His first major victory came exactly 60 years after Northern Ireland's Fred Daly won the Open at Royal Liverpool.

"Ireland is a great country for competitive golf," Harrington said. "A lot of other European countries are sending their amateurs to our big tournaments now because they realize that we consistently produce competitors. All the competition is right from the age of 18 all the way up, there's a strong competitive golf system in place.

"We've produced a lot of good European pros, as well, and Ryder Cup players. We're a tiny country, tiny number of players, but there's just a lot of competition."

McIlroy, who will be seeking his second straight major at Royal St. George's, says it starts with the people and the affection the country has for the game.

"I think golf is very accessible back home," McIlroy said. "There's obviously a lot of great golf courses. And a big help to me growing up was the Golfing Union of Ireland and the help that they gave me throughout my junior career and amateur career, enabling me to go and play in different places in the world, learn about different conditions, different cultures, which really prepared me for coming out on Tour."

Seeing Harrington win three times in the span of six straight majors was an inspiration to McIlroy. And watching McIlroy -- his frequent practice round partner -- triumph at Pebble Beach gave McIlroy even more confidence.

"Irish golf is obviously in a very healthy state at the moment," McIlroy said.

While McIlroy, Harrington and McDowell have set Irish golf apart in the last four years, there is a legacy of great players from the island. Players like Christy O'Connor Sr. and Darren Clarke have made their mark around the world and played pivotal roles in Ryder Cup competition.

“Ireland is a very small place,” McDowell said. “People love their golf in Ireland, they're very proud of their golfers in Ireland, and we continue to produce great players. Through the years -- what Harrington did a few years back, people just couldn't believe it. And for me to win the U.S. Open last year, I mean, it was just met with an unbelievable reception, and now we've got the U.S. Open trophy coming back to Northern Ireland again.

“Golf is a sport in Ireland which crosses the border. All the trouble we've had there the last three, four decades, golf and sport really bridges that gap. People north and south of the border in Ireland are really proud of what golfers are doing, and we're so proud of our golfers back home."