Graeme McDowell feels well equipped to solve Troon puzzle on return to scene of Open debut
Graeme McDowell recalls the sense of awe and naivety that came with his debut in the Open Championship when it was last played at Royal Troon.
The year was 2004. McDowell was a couple of weeks shy of his 25th birthday.
He had been on Tour for just two years and, although the Portrush native had won twice by then, this was the big time.
"I made my debut in a Major here in 2004. I missed the cut comfortably, but it was great," he said. "I was like a rabbit in the headlights because this is the big show, a Major. But it was a learning experience."
Fast forward 12 years. McDowell stands on the putting green at Troon having played a practice round alongside Shane Lowry and Argentina's Emiliano Grillo and shakes his head at how quickly the time has passed.
On July 30, he celebrates his 36th birthday. He is a multi-millionaire, happily married with one child and wife Kristin expecting a son next month.
Off-course, businesses are going well. The tally of victories is 14 worldwide, including that precious US Open in 2010.
If a fortune teller had taken the G-Mac of 2004 aside and predicted all of this happening, how would he have reacted?
"I certainly would have taken it. Looking back, you feel like you could have done better, but that's golf for you," he said. "I come into this week able to open my eyes and take it all in, and see that this is just a puzzle that needs to be solved rather than it being a Rubik's Cube.
"That's how I felt in '04 whereas now I feel more controlled, I have more belief and I'm more patient, and I can solve the puzzles a bit better."
Solving the puzzle that is Troon fascinates him. This could potentially see the bombers such as Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day make a mockery of length on the front nine if the prevailing winds blow, but there is much more to Troon than just smashing drives.
"The heavyweights can do things on the front nine in this wind direction. I don't see a lot of drivers for me," said McDowell. "Even the fourth, par-five, I see that as a two-iron.
"I put a little strong hybrid into the bag especially for this week, and it's a club I'm probably going to use quite a lot."
He sees the options available and the variety of shots required for this links layout as improving his chances of making a strong bid for the Claret Jug, and listed the key requirements for any potential champion at Troon.
"You will have positioned the ball well and you will have control of your flight very well, there are a lot of cross-wind shots, a lot of holding it against the right to lefts and a lot of drawing it against the left to rights," he explained.
"They're small targets, the greens. It's not like St Andrews where you're doing a lot of pace putting from distance. These greens are small.
"There's a bit more chipping and a bit more bunker play than there normally is on a links course, where you can chip, run and putt from distance.
"Someone who chips it like Shane (Lowry), for example, will be able to use his 58 (degree wedge) a lot more than he would at a normal links course."