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US Open: McDowell nearly missed out on golden week

A few weeks ago, Graeme McDowell sat down with his manager and decided the 2010 US Open may not be for him. Yesterday, he sat down with his manager and decided David Letterman was not for him. Yes, life has immeasurably changed for the Ulsterman.

But only yesterday did he reveal how close he came to missing the major which has earned him golfing immortality.

“A shot here and there and I wouldn't have been in the Pebble Beach field,” he said, before explaining a quite giddying scenario. Going into last month's BMW PGA Championship he was 50th in the world rankings, knowing that in the next Monday's cut-off point only the top 50 would earn a berth at the most scenic setting in sport. If he was nudged out, he could always tee it up in the 36-hole qualifier at Walton Heath that very Monday. Yet after finishing in a tie for 28th, McDowell sat in the Wentworth clubhouse and made his choice.

“If I don't get in it's not the end of my summer,” he told his adviser Conor Ridge. So he scratched himself from the next day's shootout and off he went to bed. “I didn't want to think what was happening in America,” he said.

What was happening was that Brian Gay and Scott Verplank were coming to the 18th at the Byron Nelson Classic with the chance of leapfrogging him in the rankings. If they both made birdies, McDowell would not have been celebrating becoming the first European winner of the US Open in 40 years and the first major winner from the United Kingdom in 11 years.

But they didn't and he is. “I woke up early the next morning, checked the rankings on the computer and thought ‘Ok, I've got the US Open.',” he said. “Little did I know. Wow!”

“Wow!”, indeed. It was an exclamation he was to hear plenty of as he jumped on to a private jet here in Monterey yesterday morning and made his champagne-fuelled way to New York. He had opted to appear on the Jay Leno Show rather than Letterman and it was to be very much Leno's gain. For who the talk-show host would encounter was an erudite young man with an inspiring story of toils landing the spoils.

“I had a pretty humble upbringing,” said the 30-year-old. “I had very hard working parents, both worked full-time. I was introduced to the game of golf at eight-years-old. I was very lucky to grow up in such a great golfing neck of the woods up there in Portrush.

“I was in love with the game from the word go. I love everything about the sport. Myself and my younger brother [Gary], who's a scratch player, we did nothing but play for the next 10 years. My dad drove me hard, through my amateur career, up through American college golf and into the pro ranks.

“I was certainly under no illusions. I was going to have to work for anything and everything I achieved in my life.

“I was well-behaved in school and my grades were good. I always worked hard, always practiced hard. I definitely served my apprenticeship to be here right now.”

His father was there on the 18th green when the glory was finally confirmed.

As Kenny McDowell and his son hugged, the US networks poured the treacle over a scene made for Father's Day.

It was corny but irresistible and everyone joined in with the emotion.

Nobody cried more than Ridge who failed miserably to obey the instincts of a manager to remain aloof in the background.

“We know he's not the most talented, not the best ball-striker,” said Ridge. “But we also know that nobody has a bigger heart than G-Mac.”

And there was the point which should be noted by Britain's golden generation, by the Lee Westwoods, the Paul Caseys, the Luke Donalds and the others who fell short once again.

In the build-up to Pebble, Tony Jacklin, the last European to lift the US Open Trophy way back in 1970, told the Independent On Sunday: “It isn't just talent, it's the bits you can't see that do the winning; the heart and the mind.”

However, there are already whispers in America of a fluke winner, of a player who shot a 74, the highest final round of a major champion in 25 years. Let them whisper. “Careers are defined by majors,” said McDowell. “And mine is off and running.”

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