McDowell bandwagon hits Magnolia Drive

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The Independent Online

If Paul Revere had shouted: "The Irish are coming, the Irish are coming" in that midnight ride from Boston, then it is unlikely the locals would have reached for the muskets under their beds so much as the fiddle on the living-room wall. Revolutions are all very well, but they aren't half as much fun as banging on and on about some ancient ancestry your grandfather may or may not have been winding you up about.

If Paul Revere had shouted: "The Irish are coming, the Irish are coming" in that midnight ride from Boston, then it is unlikely the locals would have reached for the muskets under their beds so much as the fiddle on the living-room wall. Revolutions are all very well, but they aren't half as much fun as banging on and on about some ancient ancestry your grandfather may or may not have been winding you up about.

No wonder, therefore, that the Americans have greeted the green invasion of their scoreboards this past month with all the enthusiasm of a riotous tee party: Padraig Harrington's victory in the Honda Classic a fortnight ago; Des Smyth's maiden win on the Seniors Tour the same day; Darren Clarke's eye-catching pants at Bay Hill last week, a triumph of sartorial inelegance. And then there's Graeme McDowell.

The 25-year-old from Portrush is one of the talking golfers on the Stateside circuit right now after his joint-second- place finish in Orlando last Sunday sent him hurtling into the world's top 50 and thus up Magnolia Drive into next week's Masters. It is a mutual admiration, too, borne of the years, which he maintains were formative, that he spent at the University of Alabama. "I had a great time in Birmingham. It took my game to the next level," the Walker Cup player said. "But I have to be honest and say that it took me a while to adjust."

No surprise there. A sweet home it may be, but Alabama has long been a law unto itself. For example, until quite recently it was illegal in the southern state to wear a false moustache in church if it made the other parishioners laugh. Groucho Marx was not a resident. "Yeah, it was an interesting place to go to school, that's for sure," McDowell said. "People ask me, 'Why Alabama?', but sometimes circumstance just takes you places where you're meant to be."

It has also taken him to the wildly differing climes of Wales and Florida. It's a long way from Pontypridd to Ponte Vedra, and even longer, you feel, from his home in north Cardiff to the new residence he has just bought in Lake Nona. Why Wales? Simple. He met his girlfriend - the Cardiff model Kimberley Stanworth - on the 14th tee at the Wales Open in 2002. Why Lake Nona? Simple. Trevor Immelman was selling his house in the exclusive Florida resort and McDowell thought, "Why not?"

It is obvious that where destiny calls McDowell, he faithfully follows. But even he will have to stop to consider which avenue to take of the many his giddying rise has now opened up. "Things are going to change a bit with my schedule now that I have my American Tour card, although I want to stay loyal to Europe," he said. "Ultimately I would like to be out here in the States at this time of year. I don't miss all of the travel back in Europe - I don't have to do Australia and Asia. But with the Ryder Cup in Ireland next year I have got to think long and hard about how much of a priority it is going to be for me, making the team and everything. Of course, it's a dream to play a Ryder Cup in Ireland, and now I am faced with options. It's a really good problem to have, to be fair, and I trust my manager enough to point me in the right direction."

That is somewhere McDowell has been pointing ever since an extraordinary run in the collegiate ranks saw him break Tiger Woods's scoring record. America sat up and took notice, especially when he returned to Europe, turned professional and won his first Tour title in just his fourth start - the Scandinavian Masters in 2002. "Maybe that was a little too quick," he admitted. "It took me about 12 months to get my head around where I was."

In fact it took him until last year's Italian Open to repeat the trick, although by then it was obvious that here was another Irishman of the future. The immediate future, of course, starts in earnest after this Players' Championship, with the build-up to Augusta. "Yeah, dreams come true and all that," he said. "It's going to be so exciting just to play golf there, to putt on those greens and stuff. I went there to watch when I was in college and was transfixed by the place. My mum and dad are coming over as well, and I know when they see the course and everything they'll go crazy."

But despite the fact that McDowell uses the same tailor as Clarke - the London-based designer Tony Q - they will not be going "crazy" at their son's choice of trouserwear. "I'll leave that to the Clarkes and Poulters," he said with a snigger. "Thankfully, Darren likes to keep his materials unique to himself. I don't have any access to his orange-and-red check. And that's probably a good thing." For McDowell and his mum, both.

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