Inside the ropes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 November, 2010, 12:00am

Graeme is not particularly fond of a certain airline in China, while Rory articulates disdain towards a professional football player who has disparaged his buddy. It's just another day in 'Twitterland', where millions of people globally will tweet whatever is on their mind. The difference is these tweets come from the reigning US Open champion and one of the top young players in all of golf, so obviously there are more than a few people following them.

'Sports fans have more access to all the best players in sports now and that is a great thing,' US Open champ Graeme McDowell says. 'It makes athletes more real and gives the fans some sort of insight into the happenings inside the ropes.'

It's a sentiment shared by McDowell's Northern Ireland compatriot, 21-year-old Rory McIlroy. 'I grew up watching Tiger [Woods], Phil [Mickleson] and Ernie [Els] and they all seemed like these superhuman guys,' he says. 'But now with twittering it makes us seem more real and accessible.'

McIlroy and McDowell are the marquee duo as the Open tees off today at Fanling and for the amiable Irishmen it's been a year like no other. McDowell began 2010 as a very talented but largely anonymous player who had four wins on the European Tour in eight years. He finished it with a memorable US Open victory at Pebble Beach, followed a few months later by sinking a pressure-packed putt to win the Ryder Cup for Europe. Along the way he won two more European Tour events, while managing to squeeze in a guest appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno as well as a cameo on the hugely popular HBO series Entourage.

'If someone had handed me this script in January, told me to read it and asked me what I thought of it I would have said you're pulling my leg,' says McDowell. 'It's been a crazy season. Of course, I have dreamt of winning majors, but to win the US Open at Pebble Beach on Father's Day with my dad there. And then three months later to be standing on the 16th green at Celtic Manor and to hole the best putt of my life, the biggest putt of my life. I was obviously pretty nervous, but, yeah, there has been some fun stuff going on this year.'

Joining McDowell in Hong Kong from the victorious Ryder Cup team will be captain Colin Montgomerie, as well as Ian Poulter, Miguel Angel Jiminez and McIlroy. A lethal combo, McDowell and McIlroy went undefeated in winning two matches and halving one.

Despite just turning 21, the precocious McIlroy was hardly awed by his first Ryder Cup experience, which should come as little surprise. The native of Holywood, Northern Ireland, shot a 62 in the final round of this year's Quail Hollow Championship to slay a star-studded field and become the first player since Woods to win a PGA Tour event prior to his 21st birthday.

His sprawling mop of curls has become something of a trademark and, while his youthful enthusiasm is contagious, there rests an old soul inside his adolescent body. Despite a steady stream of adulation and various sponsors and tournament commitments, it is difficult to spend time with McIlroy and not come away impressed by his composure.

'Golf is the easy part it seems these days,' McIlroy says. 'I just have to keep telling myself this is what I always wanted to do and it's not that difficult to remind myself of that. You have to wake up every morning and feel fortunate that you are able to travel to places like Hong Kong to play golf.'

McIlroy claims he has grown greatly though his experiences in Hong Kong, where he has finished second in the past two years. 'I was part of that play-off in 2008 and it was one of the best experiences I have ever had on a golf course,' he says. 'The spectators make it, what a great buzz and atmosphere.'

Both he and McDowell seem genuine in their love for Hong Kong. 'One of my favouite places in the world,' says McDowell. 'We get to go to so many great places but we don't get to hang out much. Here we stay in the city and go to Lan Kwai Fong and the races in Happy Valley. And this is one of the weeks when we don't see the players' lounge ever because we sit out on the terrace at Fanling eating Singapore noodles and dumplings.'

'I couldn't wait to get back here,' adds McIlroy. 'The atmosphere in the city is amazing and when you keep coming back you get to know the areas better.'

And with that both are racing to the window on the 52nd floor of IFC II to take pictures of the city, thoughts of The Dark Knight movie racing through their heads. 'This is where Batman jumped from one building to the other,' says McDowell. 'I loved that movie.'

Tweet, tweet.