Graeme McDowell plotting late Dubai charge
Five-week break helps Major winner put some perspective on disappointing season
Graeme McDowell’s performances have improved since returning from his sabbatical in the autumn. Photograph: Victor Fraile/Getty Images
He is the picture of mindfulness out on these fairways, a man of virtuous patience in a pro-am that seems to stretch on for an eternity. It hasn’t always been like that this season for Graeme McDowell but he is here on The Montgomerie for the Turkish Airlines Open knowing that he needs a first- or second-place finish in the tournament proper if he is gatecrash his way into late contention for the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
If not? Well, it is not the end of the world; there are other options. Plan B, Plan C, beyond the preferred Plan A.
The simple fact of the matter is that McDowell currently lies in 64th position on the European Tour order of merit. As it stands, he is not going to get into the season-ending Tour Championship in Dubai.
“I am treating this as part of my general progression back to where I want to be. This is another week where I want to come and compete and play well. If I don’t get myself into a position where I can chase going to Dubai, then I will go back play those [final two] Fall Series events [on the PGA Tour] and get myself off and running on that,” he said.
For sure, it has been a disappointing season for the man known as G-Mac. It reached its frustrating boiling point at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits where a missed cut led to a break, a time he used to recalibrate and to figure it all out.
“I played the first 27 holes [in the PGA] as good as I can possibly hit the golf ball, and nine holes later I was packing my bags. That was the end of my patience. I took five weeks off, hitting the reset button, and I think I have been a different person on the golf course ever since, very relaxed and starting to enjoy the game.”
In fact, McDowell’s performances have improved since returning from his autumnal sabbatical.
Of his last 16 rounds of tournament golf (taking in the European Open, the Dunhill Links, the British Masters and the Hong Kong Open), he has shot 14 sub-par rounds. He has started to enjoy the game again and – critically – to put together decent rounds, even if a tournament win has proved elusive.
“Why haven’t I enjoyed the game this year? Because it has felt hard! I still love the game of golf. I don’t have a problem enjoying it when I am in control of my golf ball. I like being out here.
“It has been a fun process. The two back nines at Dunhill and British Masters I was frustrated very briefly just after those, but we’ve really been trying to stay patient and look at the big picture.
“I think I just got a bit nervous, not even nervous, just got a bit ahead of myself, making old, immature mistakes. I haven’t been there for a while, just getting excited, needing it too much, trying too hard. Rookie errors. I remember making those mistakes about 10 years ago, getting a bit antsy coming down the stretch and wanting it a bit too much rather than trying to relax and let it happen. It is hard to relax and let it happen when you haven’t really had it happen much lately.”
McDowell is working with both Clive Tucker and Pete Cowen and of reverting to a two-coach set-up, akin to his pre-US Open win of 2010, he explained: “Clive be a very analytical, fundamentals-type coach and Pete [is] the guy I want beside me on a Wednesday when I am trying to get ready for a big event.
“I like it. I haven’t been able to do the things that Pete has wanted me to do because my fundamentals haven’t been very good. So Clive gets my fundamentals correct and then Pete is able to work more effectively with me, so it is good.”
So it is that he is playing in this particular tournament for the first time, seeking to fast-track his knowledge of the course. He played nine holes on Monday, as well as yesterday’s pro-am and intends to take in another nine with Shane Lowry on today.
He knows what is needed with a card in his hand. A first- or second-place finish, with the enhanced points on offer, will tempt McDowell to stay in the mix for the Race to Dubai.
Otherwise, the more likely path towards the end of the year will be playing in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba and the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island back Stateside.
“I’d take a top-five [in Turkey] and a top-10 over these next three or four weeks here and sit down over my Christmas dinner and say, ‘alright, not my best year but we are still where we need to be. And we are ready to go’.”