Ryder Cup winning golfer David Howell arrived in Northern Ireland yesterday for a “bittersweet” visit.
The English golfer, who missed out on a place in The Open, cut the ribbon at the newly revamped Knockbracken Golf Centre yesterday morning before making his way to Royal Portrush where he will join the rest of the Sky Sports broadcasting team.
He said: “I missed The Open by one in the qualifying two weeks ago which was heartbreaking. It’s always nice to be here in some capacity but obviously I’d prefer to be playing. It’s going to be a bit bittersweet for me this week.”
The Sky Sports presenter continued: “But hey, I’m lucky to be here in another capacity.
“I’ve got a few people that I know from Portrush but I probably won’t have time to see them. We’re working from 5.30 in the morning to 10 at night.”
There has been a driving range at Knockbracken in south Belfast for more than six decades though it has undergone significant investment since it was taken over by golf club rental business Clubs To Hire earlier this year. Yesterday saw the new and improved range reopened by the PGA European Tour player.
Mr Howell said ranges such as the one at Knockbracken provided the perfect place for people inspired by this week’s Open championship to “have a crack” at the sport.
He said: “The world’s attention is going to be here. I’m sure that anyone who comes along will be inspired to at least have a go.
“When you hit a ball it’s such a sweet feeling, it’s worth giving it a try. Hopefully the lads will influence a few people to give it a crack.
“Somewhere like Knockbracken gives you a chance to play tee shots, you can hit off grass, hit bunker shots – you can hone every aspect of your game before going out onto the course.”
Looking to the Open Mr Howell was asked if he thinks the famous Claret Jug could remain in Ulster. He said: “Rory (McIlroy) hasn’t won a major this year but he is in absolutely fine form.
“There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of expectation, but it would be lovely to see him rise to the occasion.”
Talking of the other front runners, he said: “Brooks Koepka is the man of the majors at the moment. It’s a different challenge for him on a links course. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles it.
“From a British perspective I think Matt Wallace is just someone who is trending really well with his career and he’s got the bit between his teeth. I expect him to have a really strong performance.”
Looking ahead to the coverage of the tournament on Sky Sports Mr Howell said: “The broadcast this week will be unbelievable, the editing they put into it is second to none, there’s so many innovations.
“The thing with golf is it’s a slow burner to watch, if you get an exciting finish like we had last year then the fact it’s taken four days to get to that crescendo, that’s part of the appeal.
“Golf is no different to any sport that you get some exciting finishes and other times someone can run away with it, and you just have to applaud them.
“The one thing that isn’t in doubt is that there will be a fantastic atmosphere at Royal Portrush.”