It wasn’t the U.S. Open that first thrust Graeme McDowell into the golfing limelight.
At the University of Alabama-Birmingham, the Northern Irishman made a name for himself as the top collegiate golfer in the United States. He won the Fred Haskins Award in 2002 after winning six of his 12 starts. Later that year, McDowell turned pro and in his fourth start on the European Tour, he won. The Portrush native’s stock was high.
From 2003 through 2009 McDowell went on to win three times in Europe, two of them in 2008 that helped him to a spot on the European Ryder Cup team at Valhalla.
That’s quite a solid showing, but the hype that once surrounded the amateur McDowell had waned.
In 2010 it came back.
In early June, McDowell closed with a 63 to win the Celtic Manor Wales Open and then two weeks later he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He clinched the Ryder Cup for the Europeans, won again on his home tour at Valderrama, and ended the year taking down Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge.
Riding the high, McDowell negotiated a new contract with Srixon/Cleveland Golf and left Callaway – a move that certainly raised some questions. He proved naysayers wrong by placing third in his season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua. He captured top-10 finishes in his next two starts on the PGA Tour but since then, Graeme has gone cold.
In his last four starts, the 31-year-old has not finished higher than T-42. He missed the cut in both his stateside hometown event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and at the Masters.
With questions surrounding his game, McDowell linked to an Irish Golf Desk article through his Twitter account on April 22, saying it was a “Decent summation as to where my head is.”
“I think I have got a tiny bit frustrated this year just because of the off-course life distracting me a little bit. But I think I have turned the corner,” McDowell said in the article.
“There have been a couple of instances this year, Bay Hill was probably one of them, where I was running around Tuesday and Wednesday, doing too many things off the golf course. I got on the first tee on Thursday and I didn’t feel ready. That’s the kind of stuff that I can’t accept. My preparation is key and a light bulb went on for me at Bay Hill. I had to get back to focusing on the important things. I am still a golfer and I still want to win golf tournaments. That has to be the priority.”
McDowell still looks to be trying to sort out his mind and his game after a round of 1-over 73 Thursday at the Zurich Classic. But then again, it wasn’t until June of last year that his season took off.
He heads to Congressional on Monday to host a media day as the defending U.S. Open champion. And perhaps that’s the kick start he needs to ignite the fire in his belly for 2011.