McDowell has major ambitions at Pinehurst

The Ulster golfer has come a long way since his debut at this year’s US Open venue in 2005

 Graeme McDowell  hits a bunker shot during a practice round for the US Open at Pinehurst’s  Course No 2 in North Carolina. Photograph:  Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Graeme McDowell hits a bunker shot during a practice round for the US Open at Pinehurst’s Course No 2 in North Carolina. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 01:01

A lot has changed in nine years for Graeme McDowell, who comes into this 114th US Open a much changed player to the one who debuted in this championship on this course in the North Carolina sand hills in 2005.

No longer a kid blinded by the bright lights; this time, he is back with designs on the title.

“I remember so little about 2005 because it was very hard to have peace of mind and to understand what you were doing.

“You were so enthralled with everything else, outside the ropes, the golf course and (it being) a US Open . . . nowadays, you put the blinkers. I was like a horse that was too busy looking around me to concentrate on the finish line. Nowadays, I’m a guy who’s got the blinkers on and knows how to concentrate on the task at hand.

Patience and discipline

“So, I guess, from that point of view I am a very different player. I can focus, and have the patience and discipline to execute,” says McDowell, who claimed his only Major when he won this famed trophy at Pebble Beach in 2010.

McDowell – who is winless so far this year but has notched up five top-10 finishes on the US Tour in demonstrating a consistency rather than the killer’s instinct so required to finish off the job – has developed his own strategy in coming into the majors with the intention to peak.

He didn’t arrive here until Monday evening, when he went out and played seven holes – alone, with his caddie Kenny Comboy and coach Pete Cowen – which involved hitting shots between moving mowers as the green staff tended to the course and skipping holes. He was the last player out on the course.

Yesterday morning, he was out early – along with Shane Lowry and Aaron Baddelely – and got in a full 18 holes. His eve of championship routine will involve just a further nine holes.

Of course, McDowell has also paid no less than two reconnaissance visits, the second last week ahead of playing Memphis, in mapping out his game plan. No stone left unturned, and all that.

On Monday evening, as darkness closed in and he finished his practice holes, two men were waiting by the clubhouse. Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, the co-designers tasked with renovating the course.

“The job they’ve done here is amazing. Obviously, I was here in 2005 and I didn’t think the set-up was very good. This is a second shot golf course and it wasn’t giving you an opportunity to hit second shots.

“The fairways were far too elusive in 2005 and it needs to be the greens that are the tests here. I think they’ve done an amazing job recreating the architecture. It feels like its been there forever. It’s really cool.”

Scramble

So, does it suit him? “I think it does. As opposed to Merion last year which got too wet and the rough was too penal, this week I feel like I can keep the ball in play and be disciplined in my iron play and scramble.

“I had a weekend’s good scrambling down in Memphis (in the St Jude Classic last week). I didn’t hit the ball my best during the last two rounds but in a funny way I got the workout with my short game I needed because it doesn’t matter how good you play, you’ll not hit 14 greens this week.

“I challenge anyone to hit more than 12 greens a day here, it’s that type of track. Twelve greens would be a great ball-striking round, I think, around here and there’ll be six, seven, eight scrambling opportunities per day and the guy who scrambles best will win.”

If McDowell wants some symmetry to cling to in his quest for a second US Open, perhaps he should ask himself: “What’s in a name?” Think tartan. In 1999, the winner was a Stewart. In 2005, the winner was a Campbell. And, as we know, McDowell is an Irish version of an old Scottish name. You never know.

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