Graeme McDowell carries the swagger of a true believer
Former US Open champion feels he has the game to contend at Hoylake this week
Graeme McDowell smiles as he walks off the third green during a practice round ahead of the British Open Championship at Hoylake. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Let’s cut to the chase. Graeme McDowell has that swagger back, the one that comes with winning. But there’s more to it than that, and the Ulsterman’s quest to get his name on the famous old trophy – “I’d give my left arm for the Claret Jug. I would, actually. That would be the end of my career, but it would be a nice way to go” – provides an insight into the mentality of champions and of his hunger for more titles.
After a season that has simmered and come good like a slowly-cooked casserole, McDowell – who won the French Open on his last appearance on tour – is, quite literally, licking his lips at the thoughts of taking on the field and the course here in this 143rd staging of the British Open. There is a fire in his belly, a determination to add further Majors to his CV.
Next chapterAs McDowell, whose breakthrough Major win came in the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach put it yesterday: “I feel like I’m ready to kick on to the next chapter in my career now and compete and win more Major championships. I certainly don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. And I’ve learned a lot over the last few years since my US Open victory.”
One of those lessons came at Royal Lytham and St Annes two years ago when McDowell entered the final round in a share of second place, but slumped to a closing 75 that ultimately dropped him down to tied-fifth behind winner Ernie Els. That was the closest he has come, so far, to getting a hand on the Claret Jug. That day, as he reflected yesterday, was spent trying not to get in Adam Scott’s way rather than focusing on his own game.
“You learn things all the time. But I certainly learned that these things are marathons, not sprints. There’s a long, tough week ahead of us, and you really have to pace yourself and be patient.”
And he is up for the challenge.
“This is my kind of golf course this week. And I want to give myself as many opportunities as I can to win Majors. It’s hard to win. Week in, week out, there’s so many great players in the world. Winning regular tournaments is hard enough, winning the Majors is something different, something special. I’d love a Claret Jug. Probably that and the Green Jacket are neck and neck. The Claret Jug is probably the one that I feel like I have the game to win as opposed to the Masters.”
Gathered paceThis season has gathered pace as it has gone on. McDowell, for sure, has resembled a lightly-raced thoroughbred who has timed his run perfectly but it is the Majors which he believes will define his career and his eye is on the grand prize.
McDowell – who also knocked on the door at the US Open at the Olympic club two years ago – remarked: “I’m going to sit back and view myself in 10, 15 years, whatever it is, when I decide that I don’t want to hole six-footers for a living anymore. I don’t know, as long as I can give my career 100 per cent the next ten years, I’m not going to view my career as anything but a success, really.
“But I guess what I’m saying is I’m more motivated than ever to win Major championships. And I think I’ve got the experience and belief and knowledge to, on any given week, where if I can play my game, when I put myself in contention, that I have the tools to then hang around for 72 holes and perhaps get the job done. I feel like I’m more ready than I’ve ever been to win another Major.”
So, could Hoylake – where he featured in the futile chasing bunch on Tiger Woods’ coattails in 2006 until a final round 79 left him free-falling down the leaderboard to eventually finish a chastened tied-61st – be the kind of course that allows him to deliver?
For one, McDowell believes it is a course that suits him. As Woods proved eight years ago, albeit on a firmer links, this is a course where the big-hitters have to rein in an automatic compulsion to reach for the driver.
Past trouble“Is distance going to be an advantage around this golf course?” wondered McDowell, before adding; “I don’t think so, no. I don’t think there’s a lot of opportunities to blow it past trouble here . . . . it’s a placement golf course, I think.
“Look at the way Tiger won here in 2006. He can dominate with length, but he didn’t have to. This golf course doesn’t ask that question. It asks you to play a game of chess more than anything.”