Graeme McDowell is back in the winners' circle, inside the world's top 50 and eyeing a spot on Padraig Harrington's Ryder Cup team
Graeme McDowell Exclusive – Let The Good Times Roll
Pebble Beach, 2010: Graeme McDowell becomes the first European to win the US Open for 40 years. Where does the time go?
G-Mac is happy to reminisce; he has plenty of significant material to access – Ryder Cups, multiple titles on both major tours and, of course, Pebble.
However, he prefers to look ahead. Besides, he only turned 40 last year. What’s that other cliche?
The last few seasons have been tough – he admits as much. Last March, however – and prior to that landmark birthday – he won his fourth PGA Tour title. Of course he’d rather have been playing in the WCG-Mexico Championship, but his world ranking had plummeted.
Then, in January, a top-five finish at the Sony Open saw him move back into the world’s top 100. “I know it’s not going to be around forever,” he reflected.
Then came victory in Saudi Arabia, his first win on the European Tour for five-and-a-half years. Panic over. McDowell is not going anywhere.
“That’s more just the philosophy of my attitude really,” he says of those comments, allaying any fears that he may have lost his competitive edge. “I think the older you get and the longer you’ve been out here, the more you appreciate it.
“When you’re in your mid-20s, 30s, you’ve got that invincible bulletproof feeling. You think it’s going to go on forever. Then you realise that you shouldn’t take playing good for granted.
“It’s that Drew Brees [NFL record-breaking quarterback] quote where he said he’s trying to treat every season like his last. It’s more just about what that means and the attitude. Work as hard as you can and appreciate what you have and every opportunity. Hopefully there will be a lot of them.”
On the early evidence, this new philosophy is serving him well. He looks to be his old self. His pre-shot routine looks purposeful once again; he’s in control.
In Saudi Arabia, even a ‘bad time’ – a harsh one given he’d taken part in an on-course interview with Sky Sports – didn’t disrupt his march to victory. McDowell has always been one for the big occasion. Come the key moments, he’s a player who seems to relish the pressure.
“I think one of the guys asked me earlier in the week if I get out there with a chance to win on Sunday afternoon, will I still remember how to do it,” he said, after claiming European Tour victory number 11.
“You’re always worried that stuff goes away. That’s the intangibles. That’s all the X-factors that you can’t practise. You cannot practise what it feels like to kind of try and win a golf tournament coming down the stretch.”
McDowell is not the only 40- something enjoying a resurgence. He took inspiration from Lee Westwood winning in Abu Dhabi a fortnight beforehand. ‘Westy’ winning has proved to be a lucky omen for G-Mac.
In 2010, his Ryder Cup teammate took the spoils at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis – and we all know what happened a week later on California’s coast.
The Seminal Moment
Ah, yes, Pebble Beach. It’s okay to look back occasionally.
After winning the US Open, McDowell – who was Golf Monthly playing editor at the time – said in his column: “Being a Major Champion is everything I hoped it would be; it’s been a pretty cool experience.
“The emotions I felt on that 18th green were incredible. Knowing I had achieved what no other European had done since 1970 and also having my dad there on Father’s Day.”
Ten years on – or thereabouts – and those memories bring back a great deal of pride, not just around that Major breakthrough, but that whole period of his career.
Two weeks prior to winning the US Open, he had shown the field a clean pair of heels at the Wales Open. A third victory would come later in the season at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, before he upset host Tiger Woods in the American’s own end-of-year exhibition tournament. It was a vintage year was 2010.
“The weekend there [Celtic Manor, Wales Open] is probably as good a 36 holes as I’ve put together in maybe my whole career,” he says, the memories of how high his playing level was at that time still vivid.
“I shot seven or eight-under on Saturday and I think I was six or seven-under through 11 holes on the Sunday, so for a span of 30 holes I was 14-under-par around a fairly tough golf course.
“Then I took a lot of confidence to Pebble with me and I really controlled my ball well that week on the big stage. I actually just read a quote on the BBC website from right after I won the Wales Open and the quote said, ‘I’ve got a big tournament in me’.
“It was fairly prophetic at the time. Two weeks later I was holding the US Open trophy. It’s been the greatest ten years of my life, for sure.”
This period includes a few lows – if you can call them that. In 2013, he claimed a hat-trick of titles. At Le Golf National, in 2014, he defended his French Open title, and he tasted victory again in 2015, this time on the PGA Tour.
When you’re not winning consistently, though, you’re in a drought, or so they say. This is not strictly true. McDowell accepts that there were one or two “lean” years, yet all things considered, he believes he handled his US Open success – and with it the increased expectation levels – rather well.
“It was just a crazy run of golf, and eventually you’re going to have to run over a brick wall, because it’s very hard to keep that level of play up. It wasn’t like I went into a massive slump. Looking back, I felt like I handled it okay.
“I was never… I never expected super stardom. I never expected to be a number-four player in the world, and when it came it was like, ‘Whoa’.”
Having children drew a similar reaction, at which point McDowell’s priorities changed. His world ranking began to slide and by the end of 2018 he’d fallen outside the world’s top 200. So what? He wouldn’t change a thing.
“When I was 25 to 30, my weeks off I’d go back to Lake Nona, hang out with the boys and have a few beers. There’d be plenty of time for golf and for practice.
“Now it’s like the kids are up in the morning, the kids have got to go here and there. It just changes in a flash and before you realise it you’re not playing as well as you did. Then you’re trying to work out what just changed, what happened.
“I think it’s easy for people to kind of go, ‘Ah, listen, G-Mac got far too involved in his restaurants and his businesses’ and this, that and the other. I don’t know what the answer is, but I tell you what, having kids was a bigger impact on my life than anything else.
“I wouldn’t change it for the world. They’re the best things that have ever happened to me.”
Ryder Cup Aspirations
McDowell isn’t worried about the ifs, buts and maybes – it’s all about the future.
He’s back in familiar territory inside the world’s top 50 – and he’s intending to make 2020 another big one. Two years ago, he experienced golf’s greatest event as a vice-captain.
Having tasted so many highs as a player – including that winning putt at Celtic Manor in 2010 – he’s determined to rekindle that love affair with a club in his hands.
“I feel like I’m playing well enough this year to make the Ryder Cup team,” he says. “I’m teeing it up most weeks trying to win. I feel like if I can get on a hot streak, then I’ve got a great chance of making the team. There’s nothing like playing in the Ryder Cup. I’ve played four. I’d love to play a fifth.”
Should that happen he’ll be quick to acknowledge the impact of his new coach, Kevin Kirk, who he started working with in August last year.
“He’s injected a lot of focus and motivation into my practice and my way of thinking. He helped me get my ball flight back a little bit, and it’s amazing to be getting these leaps forward this soon. He’s told me there’s absolutely no reason why the best golf of my career can’t still be ahead of me.
“I took my eye off the game of golf for maybe a second, and a hundred young, hungrier players came past me,” he adds.
The quest to arrest that trend is already well underway.
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