Graeme McDowell's back to roots of success
As any hacker will testify, sometimes in golf it is wiser to go back to where you started before attempting to go forward again.
Interestingly enough, that adage applies to the finest professionals as well. As Graeme McDowell confirmed on his returned to Celtic Manor this week.
Mention the Ulsterman and the resort in the Gwent hills gazing down on humble old Newport and the mind inevitably springs back to that “People's Monday” last October when the Ulsterman earned the winning point for Europe in a spectacular scene flooded in drama and emotion.
Indeed, the hero himself was struck by a torrent of recollection when his courtesy car nosed into the Usk Valley.
“It was raining so it was instantly familiar,” he said with a smirk, recalling the deluge which made it the first four-day Ryder Cup.
“It was great coming back, all those photos on the walls evoking lovely memories and then going out there and reminiscing about a few of the shots I hit. And I must admit, just for the craic, I did stage a recreation of that famous putt against Hunter [Mahan] on the 16th. I made it, as well. So I think I've still got it around here.”
Whatever happens to McDowell, that putt and that point have cemented his legend in the annals of the biennial dust-up.
Except Celtic Manor also holds a special place in McDowell's heart for a week in 2010 other than the Ryder Cup. The Wales Open is not everybody's idea of a big date on the calendar, but in McDowell's household it will always be ringed in red ink.
“This event was huge in the grand scheme of things to what happened to me last season,” he said. “When I think back to this time last year I had achieved nothing and owhat was waiting around the corner for me in the next six months was something I could never have imagined.”
Without the Wales Open, McDowell would not have been in the anchor role in Colin Montgomerie's singles line-up.
He would not have travelled over to the US Open at Pebble Beach the next week with his self-belief levels anywhere near as high. The last-point heroics,
the victory over Tiger Woods at his own tournament, the ascent up the rankings to No 4 . . . all of this would have remained in fantasyland.
Consider that this time 12 months ago he was 49th in the rankings and the significance of this milestone becomes apparent. “My victory here was just huge for my confidence,” he said. “It was a turning point.”
It is fair to say his career was in need of that strong yank on the steering wheel. McDowell hadn't triumphed since his supposed breakthrough at the 2008 Scottish Open and the season had began much like the 2009 had finished — the occasional top 10 flanked by a myriad of mediocre placings. But then, as the Wales Open loomed he caught a break when scraping inside the world's top 50 to qualify for the US Open. “The
pressure had been lifted and I went into this tournament feeling ready to do something,” he said. “The 36 holes I played on the weekend was the best I've ever played in my life. I shot 64-63, holding off Rhys Davies, the home favourite, who shot a 62. I struck the ball unbelievable, better than I did at Pebble. I remember saying in my post-tournament interview, ‘I feel I'm playing well enough to have a very big summer'. Well, I walked away from here and two Sundays later there I was lifting the US Open trophy.”
He added: “This is just the perfect place to come back to and tune myself back into the way I felt last season. I'm probably having a better season so far this year than last year, so, win or lose, hopefully I can use this week as the same sort of catalyst.”
This is no glib statement. Once again McDowell's campaign is in need of a kick up the waterproofs. He missed the cut at last week's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, just as he did at The Masters, and has fared no better than the third place in Abu Dhabi which was his maiden outing of 2011. However, he did hold the 54-hole lead at The Players (before collapsing to a final round 79) and beat Rory McIlroy on his way to the quarter-finals of the Volvo Match Play two weeks ago. So the mood is not as low as it was.
The mental aspect of being the reigning champion should also be honed. Wales should help in that regard. “I'm sure there's going to be a bit of a sub-conscious mental barrier to cross over here and the US Open,” said McDowell. “Here at Celtic Manor is going to be a great prelude for me as I'm going to get a bit of a practice in defending a title, though I understand the US Open is going to be a different kettle of fish. The spotlight will be on me, no doubt. That's something you have to deal with, and something I have dealt with in the last year. Being under the microscope is no excuse for not playing your best.”