Graeme McDowell: The day I became world class
The penny dropped for Graeme McDowell that he fully deserved his place at golf’s elite table with his incredible 63, 64 finish to win the Wales Open in June.
And a fortnight later that new-found self-belief catapulted him to the US Open title.
His unbelievable year saw him go on to clinch the Ryder Cup for Europe, face down Tiger Woods at his own tournament, be named joint European Tour player of the year with Martin Kaymer and be named as one of the favourites to be crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
“The weekend of the Wales Open, two weeks before the US Open, and the way I played that weekend was probably the best that I have ever played,” he said.
“I think I was five, six shots behind going into the weekend and I shot 63, 64 over that weekend. Something just flipped that week and I suddenly felt that all the hard work had come together.
“I felt totally in control of the golf ball, I felt totally in control of myself and I took that with me a couple of weeks later coming down the stretch I felt so emotionally in control and I felt very ready.
“That weekend at Celtic Manor was definitely a life-changing weekend for me from the point of view that I felt I belonged in the upper echelons of the game.
“That's what this game's all about. This game's about confidence, this game's about belief and I've had a lot of both of those things this year.” Although success came early to McDowell — he won the Scandinavian Open in just his fourth start on the European Tour — he couldn’t take his game to the next level.
Evidence of that came when he stood on the first tee in the second round of the 2006 Open at Hoylake as overnight leader — and almost hit the grandstand with his opening shot. He did not challenge again.
McDowell could have been content to earn a million or so a year on Tour and set himself up for life — but his easy-going manner belies an iron will to succeed.
He took drastic action in ditching Chubby Chandler as his manager, preferring the approach of the fledgling Dublin-based outfit Horizon.
And that was the start of a remodelling of his game which led to the amazing season he has just enjoyed.
“It's been an amazing season for me. There's been some big highlights,” he says.
“It's very difficult to pick out one when you have such dream highlights in one season. The US Open for one, just a major ambition, to be out there at Pebble Beach on Father's Day with my dad Kenny there was just an amazing script really. The Ryder Cup is just something different, the tournament itself is just different class I love it so much.
“To have the opportunity to be the last guy and get the winning point was extra special, you know, and I mean a couple of days ago to take down Tiger Woods in his own tournament on the last day with a four-shot deficit was a pretty sweet way to end the year.”
Rory McIlroy’s emergence threatened to overshadow fellow Ulsterman McDowell — but it is the Portrush man who is riding high in the current world rankings at seventh with the 21-year-old four places behind.
And McDowell has joined the chorus of disapproval of the US PGA’s decision to ignore McIlroy and select Rickie Fowler as their Rookie of the Year.
“You can't really compare Rickie Fowler's season to Rory's. Rory, what is he, 11th in the world now?” he said. “He's one of the most talented players I've ever seen. To win Quail Hollow in the style he did, to be challenging in major championships at the young age of 21 years old, I certainly think he was deserving of Rookie of the Year.
“But, at the end of the day it's just a title — it's nothing. Rory McIlroy will go on, I believe he will become one of the best players in the world — if not the best player — and win major championships. I certainly agree with Lee Westwood that Rory was a lot more deserving than Rickie Fowler.”
While McDowell and jockey Tony McCoy have both been shortlisted for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year prize, the Portrush man claimed the local bragging rights when he was yesterday named Northern Ireland BBC Sports Personality!