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North golf success is fine, but what of Cork?

There were a couple of troubling things about Rory McIlroy's wondrous romp at the U.S. Open last Sunday week. The first was the presence of Shane McMahon in the McIlroy entourage.

Just as he was lurking on the scene during the Masters debacle in Augusta earlier this year, McMahon, the former WWE wrestler and executive turned golf agent of sorts, was on the McIlroy beat. Apparently, the Northern Ireland maestro is now a client of a man who used to make his living in the steroid-fuelled world of professional wrestling. Does anybody else think this is a little less than wholesome?

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After all, McMahon has made tens of millions of dollars from his family's interest in the WWE. As has been catalogued at length over the past few years, during the time Shane and his father Vince ran wrestling, it was a sport (for want of a better word) where dozens of stars died premature deaths from steroid use and all sorts of other related drug and health problems.

The McMahons presided over an era in which some of the biggest names in the sport died in horrible circumstances. We are not talking one or two cases either. We are talking about almost 50 fatalities.

Shane McMahon left the family business a couple of years ago but is this really somebody you want advising a 22- year-old with the world at his feet? McIlroy appears to have everything going for him. He hardly needs this guy to help his image or his earnings.

The second bothersome part about the events at Congressional is less significant, still perplexing and very parochial.

As McIlroy rewrote the history book over the course of four days outside Washington D.C., he became the second man from Northern Ireland to win the U.S. Open in consecutive years. What an incredible statistic.

And the funny thing is that in the time before Padraig Harrington had his magical run through three majors, it was another northerner, Darren Clarke, who most people fancied to be the next man from the island of Ireland to hoist one of the big four trophies.

What are they putting in the water up there that allows them to produce these golfers? All of the UTV and BBC Northern Ireland guff this past few days about the great wee country issuing the world's best is completely justified in this instance. It's quite remarkable that a piece of land this small (and of course the ownership of it remains disputed in some quarters) can spawn three world-class golfers. We'll give Clarke that title though he never did win one of the four majors.

As the world falls in love with McIlroy (and ignores his friendship with the WWE behemoth), it behooves me as a proud Corkman to ask how come Cork hasn't brought forth a single world-class golfer in the modern era?

Yes, we know Harrington's father was from Cork and we can claim he supplied him with great sporting genes but the player is a Dub to the tips of his toes. How can Cork lay claim to the title of the sporting capital of the country when there is a huge gap on our honor roll like this?

When I sat down to write a sporting history of Cork nearly ten years ago, the most difficult part in most cases was trying to decide what to leave out.

There are so many characters, so many icons, and so many different achievements. It was torture attempting to pick one feat over another and trying to establish a measurement matrix other than my own prejudices. I could have filled another book with the games, the events, the men and the women who I left out of the final draft.

The only sport that presented no problem at all was golf. In golf, Cork has produced Jimmy Bruen, the best amateur of his time in the late thirties and early forties, and then not much really.

John McHenry flew the flag for a while there in the early nineties, and Denis O'Sullivan had a wonderful Indian summer on the European Seniors' Tour. But, even allowing for those cameos, we haven't had a single world-class professional.

This is the really odd thing. Cork has golf courses. It has golf professionals. It has everything that Northern Ireland has, apart from obviously a few more historic courses up there.

How are they bringing through world-class performers at the rate of nearly two or three a generation (Ronan Rafferty and David Feherty are two more who spring to mind)? What are they doing or what were they doing that we weren't? They use the same clubs. They have much the same weather that prevails in Cork. What explains the difference in the quality of their players and ours?

Some might say that until quite recently, golf in Cork and indeed most of the Republic of Ireland was an exclusively middle-class game. It wasn't even on the menu for most youngsters growing up. Golf clubs were considered institutions about which the rest of us shouldn't concern ourselves, a bit like rugby clubs.

All that has changed in the past 15 years or so. With the popularization of the sport and the increased accessibility to it, is it fair to surmise that we will now see the emergence of a new generation of Cork golfers, the pitching and putting equivalents of Roy Keane and Denis Irwin to fill the last gap on the county's sporting resume.

There is another potential explanation for Cork's failures too. One sports fanatic of my acquaintance reckons all the potentially great golfers from Cork were lost to hurling and cites as evidence the fact so many inter-county stars are handy around the green.

Of course, only somebody who truly loves golf could claim a person was "lost" to hurling. If Cork had more like this guy, we wouldn't be wondering why the best golfers in the world are coming from the other end of the island and not from round our way.

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