Ahead of the Irish Open, the 41-year-old opened up on his recent struggles
Graeme McDowell “Not Ready To Walk Away” Amid Slump
Before lockdown struck, things were starting to look up for Graeme McDowell. Having hung around the 100-mark in the world rankings for the best part of a year, a T4 finish in the 2020 Sony Open in Hawaii was followed by a win at the Saudi International three weeks later.
Back in the top 50 and riding a little wave of momentum, the man from Portrush had visions of a career resurgence and even a return to the Ryder Cup as a player.
Covid-19 put paid to that idea – in 2020 at least – and coming back to professional golf after the tour shutdown, the 41-year-old has failed to recapture anything like the same kind of form.
Nineteen missed cuts in 28 starts, which included a run of six in a row, has the Northern Irishman languishing down in 167th and understandably battling some demons.
“Yeah, it’s been a really tough 12 months,” McDowell said on the eve of this week’s Irish Open at Mount Juliet. “It’s been certainly one of the tougher 12 months that I can remember in my career.
“Because the disappointing thing was, going into the time off, I was actually really starting to get a head of steam up. I won in Saudi, finished well in Hawaii and played well in the first round of The Players Championship.
“Like the dream of playing a Ryder Cup was starting to be very real all of a sudden, and I felt like I had a pretty good spell during my time off. Worked on the sort of physical side of my game. Worked out quite a lot. Felt pretty good.
“And then got back on the golf course and things started going sideways. Kenny got sick two weeks in, got Covid and took another couple weeks off after that and he couldn’t caddie for me when we came back because he was still testing positive.
“Two months later I’m missing cuts left, right and centre and then you start scrambling. You start searching, looking, trying and grinding.
“Started working with a new coach in December. That went sideways very fast. At this point, I really should be out here playing golf tournaments, enjoying myself, everything else is gravy from here. If I wasn’t to hit another shot here, it’s been a great run.
“It’s been a great career but I’m not ready to walk away. I’ve got things that I want to achieve, and it’s about kind of just refocusing on what does success look like for me now.
“It’s different from what it looked like ten years ago and just making sure that I do a better job and give myself the ability to go on the golf course and relax. The old cliche of get out of my own way.”
At the peak of his powers, that was an area of the game McDowell seemed to excelled in. Never renowned for being able to overpower a course, his ability to stay calm in even the most pressurised environments was his biggest asset.
Along with a devilishly good touch when in sight of the flag, such mental fortitude enabled the Northern Irishman to prevail at the 2010 US Open and, later that year, secure the decisive point for Europe at the Ryder Cup.
It’s also why he’s been able to bounce back from slumps before. Prior to winning the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in 2019, McDowell had fallen outside the world’s top 250 – his lowest ranking since 2004.
And although confidence is understandably low right now, a return to basics and some recent reflection on the things that made him a top-10 player has given McDowell renewed hope that there is light at the end of the this tunnel.
“I feel one of the mistakes I made the last 12 months is searching too deeply and trying to do things differently rather than focusing on the things that made me great to this point and trying to get better at those again.
“The last couple months has been about trying to reset, reflect on where I’m at, the mistakes I’ve been making the last 12 months and realising that 25, 30 years into a golf career, I’m not really going to be changing my pattern much at this point, and I need to do the things that I do.
“My basics need to be done better. Just do the small things better. That’s been starting to turn the corner the last five, six weeks.”
Looking around, there is also plenty of encouragement to be taken from the example set by some of his peers.
Just this year Jordan Spieth won for the first time since 2017, Phil Mickelson defied the odds at the PGA Championship to become the oldest ever major winner at 51, and Richard Bland got his maiden European Tour victory at the age of 48 and at the 478th time of asking.
“It is an amazing sport that we can still compete into our 40s, into our early 50s, like a guy like Mickelson who you could argue might be as physically healthy as he’s been in 20 years and performing at a very high level.
“Haven’t had a chance to chat with guys like Jordan and Phil. But certainly always watching them.
“But it is inspiring. It’s inspiring to see that guys can dig themselves out of holes. I’ve dug myself out of a hole a couple of times the last four or five years. There’s no reason why I can’t do it again.”