If words were golf shots, Graeme McDowell’s name might be all over the game’s record books.
The man from Northern Ireland works the English language almost as effectively as he has been working a golf ball in major championships of late.
Perceptive and insightful, funny and charming, McDowell’s a natural with a microphone in front of him, as he showed again Thursday co-hosting Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive.”
What is it about Irishmen in golf? As a group, they can wax poetic on the game’s vagaries better than just about anyone. David Feherty, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy are all colorfully gifted communicators.
Maybe it’s the Legend of the Blarney Stone and the gift of eloquence it allegedly grants.
Whatever inspired the legion of Irish writers and poets, from William Yeats and James Joyce to George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, there’s a gift in the marrow of these players, too.
“I don’t know what it is,” said McDowell, 32, the 2010 U.S. Open champion who has figured largely in the last two majors. “Maybe it’s just our upbringing. We come from fairly humble backgrounds, and I think it’s something about the country we live in, with its traditions and humility. You picture us storytelling in front of a fireplace with a pint of Guinness and a musician playing. There is that culture, and I think a lot of it is the characters, a lot of characters.”
After his “Morning Drive” duties were complete, McDowell sat down to give Golfchannel.com his take on his re-emerging game and the last two majors.
After winning the U.S. Open two years ago, McDowell struggled making the transition to another level as a player and spokesman. He wasn’t much of a factor in last year’s majors, missing the cut in three of them. That has changed this summer. Though he didn’t come away with the trophies, McDowell gave himself a shot, earning a spot in the final Sunday pairings of both the U.S. Open and the British Open.
Here’s McDowell in his own words:
So what was it like getting a couple tastes of major championship contention after last year’s struggles?
“I definitely missed it. I craved to be back in that kind of scenario. 2011 was a tough year, but I think I learned a lot about myself and handling my new-found position within the game, I suppose, and the higher world ranking and just my own expectations. I feel like since September of last year, I’ve really put these things into use. I’ve been playing very consistently now for close to 12 months. I’m very happy where my game is, and I’m looking forward to the PGA Championship, the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup.”
How much did playing in the final Sunday pairings at the U.S. Open and British Open whet your appetite for more?
“There’s no doubt that I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been to compete in the biggest events in the world, especially the major championships. I reinforced, to myself, that I enjoy those scenarios. I have some things I need to address in my game, processes and routines, things that may not be as sharp as they need to be under pressure. I got off to flat starts both times this summer, but I’m generally happy the way I conducted myself under pressure and under that microscope again.”
Where do you need work to bring home the trophy next time?
“Pre-shot routines. I think my pre-shot routines in 2010 were really sharp but probably not as sharp right now. Just seeing shots, the imagery. I think I need to be a little more instinctive again; maybe I’m trying to be a little too perfect and prepare a little bit too well under pressure, instead of just letting the brain take over and being instinctive. That’s something I’m going to work on between now and the PGA.”
So what is it like being in the final Sunday pairing of a major? Is that fun? Or is that torture?
“I think the more you put yourself in those scenarios, the more comfortable you become. The U.S. Open was the first time I had been in that cauldron for a while. My body wasn’t quite used to the feelings and the emotions. The Open Championship I felt really good, really comfortable. I was a little nervous but nothing like I was at the U.S. Open.”
“Two events – Adam missing the putt on the 16th, and the roar [shortly after] with Ernie making birdie at the last. Obviously, we didn’t know he birdied the last, but we sensed it. There was such a big roar. It was the only thing that could have happened. Adam ripped it up the middle of 17 and then he did the only thing you couldn’t do, miss that green left. There’s a lot of room right of that pin. It wasn’t a good shot, but it was probably the only real bad full-swing miss he had all day. He really did hit the golf ball great. A great golf swing, just one of those guys you like to watch.”
Though you had chances the last two majors, you watched guys with belly putters win. You use a standard putter. So, are you waiting for the long putters and belly putters to be ruled out of the game?
“I fully expect they’ll ban them at some point. It’s going to be interesting, but I would be in the camp where I would like to see them go.”
Yet you don’t think they’re a giant advantage.
“I don’t think Adam putted very well in the last round, so I don’t think it was an advantage to him. If it was that advantageous, everyone would be using them. But, yes, when it comes down to a 6-footer under pressure on a Sunday afternoon at a major, it might just be that little bit easier to have one part of extraneous movement taken out by anchoring the putter to your body. It makes it just that little bit easier under pressure, but you still have to get yourself there.”
So are you champing at the bit to play the PGA Championship and give yourself another shot at winning your second major?
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to Kiawah Island on Tuesday on the way to Akron [for the WGC-Bridgestone].
I’m hoping it’s better than Whistling Straits. That wasn’t my favorite course. It looked very linksy. I loved the way it looked, but I just didn’t like the way it played. It was too soft.”