Graeme McDowell back in the States and aiming high
He may the the reigning US Open champion, but America is the place for Graeme McDowell to get away from it all.
The fuss surrounding the Ulsterman since his June success at Pebble Beach has yet to die down and he confesses that his game has suffered as a result.
Paired with Padraig Harrington for the first two rounds of last week’s ‘3’ Irish Open — the two team up again at the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, Ohio this week — he’s felt the full glare of the spotlight.
“My schedule couldn’t have been more overwhelming if you think about it with Loch Lomond, The Open and the Irish Open so it’s going to be interesting to see how I’m received in the US. I’ve always enjoyed playing golf out there and hopefully it will be good at Firestone,” said McDowell.
“The last few weeks have been real eye openers for me.
“I now know what it means to be a Major champion, and all that goes with it.
“It’s quite overwhelming, but it’s a good problem to have.”
Apart from the two rounds of golf with the Dubliner, McDowell has arranged to have dinner with Harrington this week to discuss how to cope with the demands that come with being a Major champion.
Harrington, who won back-to-back Open titles as well as the US PGA in between, is used now to being among the favourites for the world’s biggest events.
McDowell fully intents to add another Major title to his US Open crown and after a disappointing Open he heads to whistling Straits next week fully intent on being a contender again.
“Firestone is a great week to get out and get some work done, especially on my short game,” he said. “I’ll be going on to Whistling Straits ready to go, definitely.”
Rory McIlroy has been paired with Phil Mickelson for the first two days this week, while Tiger Woods, in his first tournament since the Open at St Andrews, plays the first couple of days with in-form world number three Lee Westwood.
Meanwhile Harrington, runner-up in Killarney to Ross Fisher on Sunday despite shooting a closing 64, reckons that the days of American dominance in the game are coming to a close.
“The US Tour is no longer a breeding ground for US-born players,” he said.
“If there is an issue going forward, I would say the US Tour is so strong with the international players coming here that it means the young US-born player doesn't get the opportunity to learn how to win as much as an international player who is playing on his home Tour before he comes out.
“Before I came to the States in 2004, I probably won 20 times, or close to it and a lot of guys before they come to the States, they've won tournaments.
“A good season here in the States for a young player, might be to get in contention three or four times, maybe win once. Whereas a good season for a young player in Europe, he gets in contention 12 times and wins twice, maybe three times and those 12 times he's in contention, he's going to learn a lot from those.
“So there's no doubt that this is a tough thing to say, that the strength of the US Tour just doesn't help grow young players.
“This could be a controversial comment, but with Tim Finchem strengthening the Tour as they have over the last 10 years, it's made this as strong as possible.
“He's made it as easy as possible for the international players to join and is that to the detriment of the US-born players.
“So you've got to be absolutely exceptional as a US-born player to make it to the top.”