On His Way Back

By Randall MellMay 13, 2011, 9:47 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Graeme McDowell was fighting crazy thoughts in New Orleans two weeks ago.

A few short months after feeling invincible over shots, after winning the U.S. Open, after clinching The Ryder Cup, after beating Tiger Woods in a dramatic duel at the Chevron World Challenge, McDowell wondered if he had totally lost his mojo.

“You go through a spell like I've just gone through, where I just couldn't piece anything together, you have crazy thoughts, like `Will I ever win again? Will I ever be in contention again? Am I done? Am I finished?’ It's just the craziness of this sport,” McDowell said. “You never really know what’s around the corner.”

Just a couple weeks after McDowell felt himself nearing panic mode, what's around the corner looks different. Another prestigious title is moving within reach.

With a 3-under-par 69 Friday at The Players Championship, McDowell is in contention going into the weekend. At 8 under, he is two shots off the lead.

“Sports psychologists say, 'Don't wait for the golf ball to make you happy, try to go out there and be happy,'” McDowell said. “But the way my golf ball has been flying, it's been pretty tough to be happy. Sometimes you can be as positive and upbeat as you like on the golf course, but if you can't hit it, there's no amount of positive thinking that can get you around.”

The Players Championship
Graeme McDowell won four times worldwide in 2010. (Getty Images)
Two weeks ago, McDowell missed the cut at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. It was his third missed cut in his last four PGA Tour starts. He felt like he had lost his swing even though he still ranked No. 5 in the world.

“I probably hit rock bottom in New Orleans,” McDowell said. “I couldn’t hit the ball any worse . . . Fifteen handicap would have been about right.”

McDowell was miserable, and he let the people closest to him know exactly how miserable.

“Even grumpy, Graeme’s pretty good to be around, but, yes, everyone on the team’s been taking turns getting something in their ears,” Ken Comboy, McDowell’s caddie, said. “But on a day-to-day basis, we’re all pretty honest with each other. We’re all trying to do this the right way.”

McDowell, a good-natured 31-year-old from Northern Ireland, confessed he was a difficult member of his own team.

“Everything flashed through my mind,” McDowell said. “I sacked everyone, rehired them, probably sacked them again.

“When you're out there for five-and-a-half hours and having a rough day, it's amazing all the time you have to think about stuff. I've got a great team of people around me who keep me positive, and they've helped me try to stay patient. It's tough, though.”

Comboy likes what he’s seeing from his player this week. He's seeing form that made the world stand up and take notice.

“He’s starting to play the golf he played last year again,” Comboy said. “He’s controlling his ball flight, and he’s controlling his distance.”

McDowell said a combination of factors probably conspired to hurt his game. After all the success of a year ago, there were a new set of expectations, new responsibilities.

“You forget the reasons you’re there,” McDowell said. “You get to the point in your golf swing where it feels easy, so you take your eye off certain departments of your game.”

McDowell said his swing changed, he began shutting the face upon takeaway. He said he was stuck with a new ball flight that was starting left of his target and couldn’t fix it.

“When the ball starts left, I’m dead,” McDowell said

Though McDowell took to working as hard as he ever has this spring, he only became more frustrated. He said he was changing swing thoughts every day, changing them in the middle of a round.

“I didn't really know what I was trying to achieve to be honest with you,” McDowell said. “I've spent the last six weeks beating more golf balls maybe than I've ever hit, just searching, searching for something, and I've really not been able to find it.”

Enter Pete Cowen, McDowell’s long-time swing coach. Cowen, based in England, made the trip to McDowell’s Lake Nona home in Orlando, Fla., last week for a back-to-basics session. They fixed the shut face on the takeaway, improved his positions at the top of his swing, and he began flushing it again.

It was about this time last year that McDowell’s game kicked into another gear. He won the Wales Open the first week of June for his first victory of the season and won the U.S. Open two weeks later. He won four times around the world last year.

McDowell arrived at The Players this week with back-door top-10s at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the Honda Classic but without feeling like he’s had a real chance to win.

“I told my caddie yesterday, 'I miss being in contention. I miss the pressure,’” McDowell said. “Let’s try and get ourselves in the mix.”

McDowell’s got himself there halfway through The Players.

“To be honest with you, I’m really going into the weekend with no expectations because I came here with a new swing,” McDowell said. “It’s a small variation of the old one. I was really here just trying to get confidence.”

His team can see the confidence flooding back.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMellGC
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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm