Irish Eyes Are Smiling

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My first name is Brian. My middle name is Flannery. My mothers maiden name is McDermott.
 
And one of my proudest days as a journalist came in 2000 when Dublins Irish Times newspaper asked me to write a piece about the American perspective on the Emerald Isles Darren Clarke the day before he thumped Tiger Woods in the 36-hole final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play at La Costa.
 
Our job as reporters is to root for the story, not the players. But when the shots are counted, the day is done and the checks are cut, I am never unhappy when an Irishman has left richer than when he arrived.
 
Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington earned his first PGA Tour victory just four days before St. Patrick's Day.
In fact my experience with Irishmen is that they almost always leave the rest of us richer than we were when they arrived.
 
Im not talking about leprechauns and potato jokes and green beer and clichs. Im talking about the lyrical quality of being Irish; the lilt in an Irishmans voice; the twinkle in the eyes of so many of them.
 
Irishmen somehow seem to know, earlier than most, that life is short. And the Irishmen I know arent about to be cheated by that realization.
 
Sunday at the Honda Classic in Florida, Padraig Harrington, a Dubliner, crafted a final round 63 to become the first man from the Republic of Ireland to win on the PGA Tour.
 
Im sure, Harrington said after his round, I kept a few pubs open tonight.
 
I will never forget interviewing Harrington on the practice tee at San Franciscos Olympic Club during the U.S. Open back in 1998. The subject was Irish golf patriarch Christy OConnor Sr., Harringtons boyhood idol.
 
Harrington told me about watching OConnor hitting knockdown 6-irons into the wind at Royal Dublin in weather I wouldnt put me cat out in.
 
Sunday in California, The republic of Irelands Des Smyth won on the Champions Tour for the first time. Smyth is the pride of a wonderful little links course called Baltray in County Louth just over from Drogheda and up the road from Royal Dublin.
 
I will never forget interviewing Smyth in 2000 near the scorers tent after Smyths unsuccessful qualifying round for the Open Championship in Scotland. Smyth was in his late 40s at the time. His eyes were bright and his smile was joyous. He would keep trying to qualify, he promised, until he couldnt play the game anymore. Then a friend swept by and ushered him off for a pint.
 
I could go on and on, something the Irish do very well. I could tell you stories about John Byrne, who knows as much about Irish golf courses as Joyce did about writing; I could tell you about a man called P. J. Crotty who played the flute like a distant dream and remains, to me, the soul of the west of Ireland, even more so after his recent passing in Lahinch. I could tell you about Dermott Gilleece, my favorite Irish golf writer who reports when he should report and writes when he should write and is never too busy for a question.
 
I could tell you about the late John Robert McDermott, my mothers brother, (Harrington would say: me mudders brudder) who sponsored me at confirmation and also wrote penetratingly about golf for much of his career.
 
And I could even tell you about the chilly, gray day on a Dublin beach near where the River Liffey pours into the Irish Sea. That was where I found OConnor Sr., the great man himself, walking his dog and glad for the company.
 
Earlier, OConnor had told me why he turned down all those invitations to play in the Masters. The price of a round trip plane ticket back then, he said sternly, was very dear. And the national economy back then, he reminded, was not the Irish Tiger it is today.
 
There is, of course, a dark side to the Irish, too. And OConnor, Gilleece told me, was not a man you crossed lightly after a night on the tiles.
 
Drinkers and brawlers are labels the rest of the world is comfortable with when it comes to characterizing the Irish. More often than not, the Irish at least see the humor in it.
 
At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Spain an Irishman reached the gold medal round in boxing for the first time in more than 30 years. Why, a reporter from the Boston Globe asked the Irish coach, had it taken so long?
 
We fight better, the coach replied, when there are more stools around.
 
Anyway, Harrington will be playing in the 2005 Masters in less than a month. He will be one of the favorites.
 
You can be sure they will be talking and dreaming of this Thursday in Ireland. They will be rooting for Harrington at Augusta. And they will be rooting for the story.
 
Thursday is, after all, St. Patricks Day.
 
And the Irish are, after all, the Irish.
 
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