You may not know Gary McDowell but you know his work. We went to chat to Graeme's younger brother, who is part of Royal Portrush's greenkeeping team
There was a time in their childhoods when it was hard to split the McDowell brothers at Rathmore Golf Club.
“But then, obviously, Graeme did the practice,” smiles Gary, the star’s younger sibling.
“I was more interested in going down the street with my mates and that sort of thing.”
When McDowell’s father Kenny took up golf in his 30s, as Graeme explained in his pre-Open press conference, he caught the bug “pretty hard”.
“He brought his boys out on the course with him and they got the bug really quickly, as well.”
The sport has become both Gary and Graeme’s lives, just in rather contrasting ways.
While the latter jetted to America, and forged the start of major-winning career playing college golf, 16-year-old Gary walked out of school and straight into the greenkeeper’s shed at Royal Portrush.
“I came here for a week’s work experience and came back as soon as I finished school and started again,” he says.
That was 22 years ago.
He has never wanted to be anywhere else, finding his niche in these historic dunes on the County Antrim coast.
“It’s pretty much being out in the fresh air, being around a golf course,” he says of the attraction. “I always liked golf and I play myself. It’s just the different things you do. It’s not just grass cutting. It’s a lot of different things.”
“[Royal Portrush] is one of the best places you could work. What’s happened now just shows how good the course is as well.”
While Graeme was preparing for a hometown return on Thursday, Gary’s build up was somewhat low key – but arguably more important to those taking part in the tournament.
His countdown began at 4am. With little over two hours before Darren Clarke was due to hit the first tee shot, the greenkeeping crew – led by course manager Graeme Beatt – raced to put the final touches to the course.
“I was cutting fairways,” McDowell explains. “We started at 4am but, because the light didn’t come up properly, it was 4.30am or 4.35am before we really got started.
“We had to be off the course by 6.35am again before Darren teed off.
“The way it is set up there were five of us cutting like 10 fairways and another three or four of us cutting another four or five fairways. We got it done. We were finished pretty much by 6.30am.
“We went in order, out to the 8th and cut across and finished off the last three or four and the other boys started in the middle got them done.”
The task was a little less nerve-wracking than hitting a tee shot into the narrow 1st fairway in front of thousands – “I do it that often that cutting fairways is cutting fairways”, said a nonchalant Gary – but this week is still the climax of a long wait for both since it was announced the world’s oldest major would return to Royal Portrush for the first time since 1951.
“We’ve been preparing for four years – ever since it was announced. The diggers came in and did the reconstruction and two new holes so it has been pretty much four years.”
“It’s been reasonably smooth,” he says of the run up. “We got on top of things in the last three or four weeks and everyone has been pretty relaxed, chilled out and it’s been pretty decent.
“As far as I know, all the players this week have been raving about how good the course actually is. They’ve all been raving.
“I’ve talked to a few of them and they’ve said some bits and pieces about the course, and asked me about the greenkeeping side of things. They’re pretty interested some of them.”
When it’s all over tomorrow, the two McDowells probably won’t be talking shop over the dinner table.
Gary’s always resisted the temptation to try and stick Graeme on a mower and his brother doesn’t bore the family with tales of the life of a superstar sportsman.
But as for swapping places with his illustrious brother? Has he ever been tempted to see how the other half lives?
“Golf? I’ll leave that to Graeme. I’ll do the easy job.”