The tiny country has produced three major champions in the past 13 months. What's the secret?
The country of Northern Island is 5,345 square miles—slightly larger than Connecticut. It has a population of approximately 1.8 million—about the same as West Virginia. Part of the United Kingdom, it has been the site of religious and political conflict, civil war, and terrorism that has at times been bloody. It's cold, rainy and serves only the best Guinness.
And it's currently on one hell of a golfing run.
With Darren Clarke's three-shot victory at the British Open at Royal St. George's on Sunday, the tiny country has produced three of the past six major winners after having exactly one in the 151-year history of major championships—Fred Daly at the 1947 British Open. Grizzled veteran Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open last year at Pebble Beach, and 22-year-old phenom Rory McIlroy blew away the field in this year's Open at Congressional. Now Clarke, who struggled to contend in majors during a turbulent past decade that included his wife's death from breast cancer, has made it a hat trick.
On some level the country's dominant stretch is not that remarkable. Clarke, McDowell and McIlroy are all elite players who have been in the top seven in the world rankings at some point in their careers. But the last time a country other than the United States had multiple people win consecutive majors was way back in 1910, when Alex Smith and the immortal James Braid claimed the U.S. Open and British Open titles for Scotland. Not only did the Northern Irish match that with McIlroy and Clarke's major titles just a month apart, but they've got McDowell's U.S. Open crown from last year for good measure.