Editorial director Jay Coffin sits down with U.S. Open Winner Graeme McDowell
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Life sure has changed since Graeme McDowell’s surprise victory at the U.S. Open last month.
He can’t begin to count how many congratulatory e-mails, voice mails and text messages he’s gotten, and one of Greg Norman’s people just asked for his number so the Shark can give him a shout. He’s already shaken enough hands at the British Open to have a future career as a politician – and it’s only Tuesday.
But all this love can come at a price. While a few first-timers have gone on to quickly add another major title (see: Padraig Harrington), the list of those who’ve done little else of significance is much, much longer.
“I’m very aware of the pitfalls – complacency, expectation levels, really trying to change my game now that I’m a major champion, there’s all kinds of mistakes that guys have made in the past,” McDowell said. “I feel like I’ve got some good processes and some good work ethics going on, and it’s important that I do that.
“It’s difficult to put Pebble Beach behind me, and I don’t want to put it behind me because I’m enjoying every second of it and it’s been an amazing experience,” he added. “But I’ve got to look forward to the rest of the season. I’ve got some big goals I want to achieve.”
Pick which of the many young, talented Europeans would win a major, and McDowell’s name probably wouldn’t have been first on the list. The 30-year-old has spent most of his time on the European Tour since turning professional in 2002, and the closest he came to a win on the PGA Tour before the U.S. Open was a tie for second at Bay Hill in 2005.
He just made it onto the automatic exemption list for Pebble Beach by cracking the top 50 in the world – No. 49, to be exact, after finishing tied for 28th at the BMW PGA Championship in England.
But McDowell played solidly at Pebble Beach, and was steely enough to hold off some of the world’s best; Ernie Els finished third, while Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods tied for fourth.
“His game is suited really well for the majors, anyway,” said Rory McIlroy, McDowell’s good friend and fellow Northern Irishman. “He doesn’t do anything wrong. He makes a lot of pars, gives himself lots of chances. And he’s got a great short game. … I had sort of viewed winning majors as this higher level, and it just made me realize that it wasn’t. You just needed to play well in the right week, and have a few things go your way.”
If McDowell is to win another major, a British Open would seem to suit him best. He opened with a 66 to take the first-round lead at Royal Liverpool in 2006, and was two shots out of the lead going into the weekend at Royal Birkdale in 2008. (He then blew up with an 80 in the third round.) In his only British Open at St. Andrews, McDowell tied for 11th and shot par or better for all but one round.
At the 2004 Dunhill Links, he shot a 62 on the Old Course.
Oh, McDowell also happens to be from Portrush, a city on Northern Ireland’s northern coast where the weather is very similar to St. Andrews. The gorgeous, sun-kissed skies that have lingered above the Old Course the last few days were expected to give way to rain and wind later Tuesday, with the weather staying miserable through the weekend.
“When the wind blows and it starts raining, people always say to me, ‘Geez, you must love this.’ I hate it the same as everyone else does,” McDowell said. “But yeah, I grew up in it, and maybe I’ve got the kind of game that can deal with it a little bit more.”
McDowell got to brush up on his British Open game last weekend at the Scottish Open, where he tied for 21st.
“I was hitting balls in the rain last week at Loch Lomond thinking, this could stand me in good stead for next week,” he said. “Obviously the forecast is pretty changeable around here, you never know to expect on a day-to-day basis, but you’ve got to be prepared for anything this tournament can throw at you.
“I’ve got all kinds of wet gear and cashmere and woolly hats and mittens, and we’re ready for anything the course is going to throw at us this week.
Not to mention all those distractions that go along with his newfound celebrity.
“My preparation remains exactly the same,” McDowell said. “Obviously coming here as the U.S. Open champion is a special feeling. (But) I think it’s important that I remain the same guy.”