The Open: Nick Dougherty explains the challenge of the first tee shot in front of home fans
Last Updated: 18/07/19 6:55pm
Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy are the fan favourites at Royal Portrush this week, and Nick Dougherty describes how emotions run a lot higher when you are playing in a home Open ...
Watching that took me back to when I played The Open at Royal Birkdale back in 2008. That was a really emotional one for me, because it was only three months after my mum died.
Everyone seemed to know, and that was my home town. It was where I first used to go for lessons and Birkdale was always more of a home Open for me than Hoylake.
The noise from the crowd was phenomenal. I was playing with Jim Furyk and Camilo Villegas and the cheers on the first tee were ridiculous and made me very emotional. It actually made it very difficult to focus on playing golf.
You want to soak it up because it was so special, but for me it was also tinged with some sadness. I knew they were rooting for me because it had been a tough year.
But playing in front of your home fans is an amazing thing and you wouldn't change it for the world, although it definitely ramps up the pressure. You want to do well so badly, and you feel like you're playing for the fans and don't want to let them down.
That's how Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy would have felt on the first tee on Thursday. These guys are legends here, and the fans would so love to see either of them go on to win on Sunday.
For G-Mac, just to be here competing was huge as it wasn't that long ago that it looked like he might miss out. To hole that putt on the last hole in Canada and book his place was such a huge relief for him. The prospect of not qualifying for an Open at Portrush would have been very upsetting.
He grew up next door at Rathmore, and this is his golf course. His brother, Gary, is a greenkeeper here, so when you factor in the family, the friends, the history, being here as a player is a big, big deal for G-Mac.
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Regardless of how he performs this week, this is a celebration of golf in Northern Ireland, and what he has contributed to golf in Northern Ireland. The major successes of Clarke, McIlroy and McDowell played a huge part in the R&A bringing The Open back to Portrush.
Darren had the honour of hitting the opening tee shot early in the morning, and he looked just as emotional when he was greeted by the loud cheers around the first tee.
He's experienced that before, when he nailed that incredible drive down the first fairway on the opening morning of the Ryder Cup at the K Club, just a few weeks after losing his wife to cancer. That was probably the harder shot in the cauldron of emotion that you get at the Ryder Cup, and that was probably a one-off moment.
But so is hitting the first shot of an Open Championship, which has become rather ceremonial since Monty had that honour at Royal Troon three years ago.
Clarke did well to focus under the adulation and the will of the people behind him, and it is actually quite an awkward tee shot on the first at Portrush... just ask Rory!
The out-of-bounds markers are quite close on either side of the fairway, but Darren got an excellent drive away and found the short grass, and that's where you need routine to take over and put emotion to one side.
He was precise with his target, avoided the negative thoughts and it was a cracker. Yes, he did lean a little as his ball drifted right, but it was fine. What a way to start The 148th Open ... and then he went and made birdie!