PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Hello par, it’s Graeme McDowell.
Thanks to the heroic efforts of the affable Northern Irishman the 110th U.S. Open ended on Sunday. Who knew that was even an option at the national championship, which has rolled into Monday the last two Junes.
Not that McDowell made it easy. Not that Pebble Beach was easy, but with a series of clutch putts and an unflappable calm to match the sway of Stillwater Cove “G Mac,” as he is known to friends far and wide, outlasted the likes of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and, yes, even Gregory Havret.
“He’s a QHB, a quality human being,” said Mike Dunphy, who now works for Cleveland Golf but was the golf coach at the University of Alabama-Birmingham just before McDowell made his jump across the pond.
Dunphy has spent enough time with McDowell to know his closing 74 and even-par 284 total at the fifth Pebble Beach Open was a long-time in the making. Clutch putting was always his strong suit, but grinding would always deliver the big one.
“Graeme was always going to hang in there and stay, he’s that kind of guy,” Dunphy said.
On Sunday with clouds hanging low over storied Pebble Beach, McDowell took “hanging in there” to a new level.
He began the final 18 of the year’s second major three shots back and never blinked. Dustin Johnson, the three-day pacesetter, played his first 54 holes in 6 under and his next four in 6 over, paving the way for McDowell.
And McDowell made pars. He pared his first four holes, made birdie at the fifth hole to move one shot clear of Els and weathered a bogey-bogey stretch along the cliffs of doom (Nos. 9 and 10) to claim his first major championship and Europe’s first U.S. Open in four decades.
“The U.S. Open has always been a tournament, you know, if people asked me which major did I feel like my game is most suited to, I normally said the U.S. Open because I've always been pretty good off the tee, accuracy wise,” said McDowell, who two-putted for a nervous par at the picturesque last from 20 feet to edge Havret by a stroke. “But U.S. Open, I don't think I've ever missed the cut in the U.S. Open. The golf course has always kind of fitted my eye in some shape or form.”
It’s a testament to how far McDowell has come since arriving on campus at UAB that his longtime caddie Ken Comboy said Saturday, when his man shot a respectable 71, was more difficult than Sunday.
“It’s controlling your emotions more than anything. This tournament is like 18 different questions,” Comboy said. “I think he believed strongly he could do it today.”
It wasn’t always that way. Never is. The path to every major championship is paved with largely undisclosed victories large and small.
For McDowell the epiphanies began in 2007 at the U.S. Open when he opened strongly but struggled to weekend rounds of 75-77.
“I told him at Oakmont a few years ago you’re never more than two or three pars from getting back into it,” Comboy said.
Sage advice, particularly at Pebble Beach, where after three days of what Phil Mickelson called “fun” officials pulled the string on the party.
There were just five sub-par rounds on Sunday when traffic, like that on 17 Mile Drive, began moving in just one direction – down the leaderboard.
McDowell, however, had long ago learned the importance of par. When he won at Loch Lomond in 2008, and again in 2009 when he played solidly for the European Ryder Cup team. The final piece of his pre-Pebble Beach record came two weeks ago in Wales when he won his fifth European Tour title.
“This time in Wales I felt like I was ready to use that victory for big things. Little did I know what was around the corner. I couldn't imagine this week, but I felt ready for it, I really did. I felt calm and I felt confident this week,” said McDowell, who seemed perfectly groomed for the windblown links at Pebble Beach having grown up at Royal Portrush, the classic Northern Irish gem.
Some will consider McDowell the square peg in the round Pebble Beach hole. The storied layout has produced champions with names like Kite, Watson, Nicklaus, Woods and now, McDowell. But then what “G Mac” lacks in name recognition and Q rating he more than makes up for in spirit.
“He means the world to me,” Comboy said. “He’s such an open, honest guy.”
And now, he’s an Open champion, thanks to par and one of the meanest days the Monterey Peninsula has seen in decades.