Graeme McDowell admits “facing the demons of mortality” got his career back on track in time to realise his ambition of playing in the Open in his home town of Portrush.
The former US Open champion slumped to 259th in the world in March and the prospect of realising his dream seemed as distant as his 2010 major victory at Pebble Beach.
However, having had another serious talk with himself about his career prospects were he not to turn his form around he holed a 30-foot par putt at the final hole of June’s Canadian Open to secure an Open qualification spot.
McDowell admits the prospect of seeing his golfing career disappear off a cliff was the wake-up call he needed.
“I’m always having a decent chat with myself, that’s life,” said the 39-year-old.
“My journey has been really about kind of facing the demons of mortality. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, this is not going to be around forever, this game’.
“When you’re top-20 in the world for years and years the game felt easy. Then all of a sudden you’re battling to get back into the big events and you’re missing cuts and you’re finishing 133rd in the FedEx.
“You’re thinking ‘Well, what happened?’ and realising that if you continue down that road that the game of golf is going to disappear quickly.
“So it was really just that staring mortality in the face and saying ‘Hey, I don’t really want that so I need to refocus and motivate’.”
Four months ago, while the world’s top 50 golfers were competing in the WGC Match Play in Texas McDowell was flying to the Dominican Republic to play in the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, an event with the joint-lowest purse on the PGA Tour.
He won it by a single shot and so began his climb back up the rankings and, ultimately, his date with destiny on Northern Ireland’s north coast.
“There’s a big part of me that might have said ‘I should be at the World Match Play, what am I doing down here?’,” he added.
“Instead a little bit of experience the last few years is ‘Hey, this is an opportunity and if you were to win down here this week it’s going to open the doors that you want to open again’.”
Playing in an Open at Portrush is everything to McDowell but it means just as much to the locals who remember him growing up in the town.
He will have massive support when he tees off alongside 2016 Open winner Henrik Stenson and American Xander Schauffele and it is something he hopes to feed off.
“I was on the first tee yesterday and it felt like there was about 10,000 people (and I was) a little nervous for a Tuesday,” he said.
I'm going to feel a little fired up tomorrow morning on the first tee.Graeme McDowell
“I figured I’m going to feel a little fired up tomorrow morning on the first tee. I’m trying to picture the crowd as a Ryder Cup crowd, that they’re all there to support me in a positive way.”
McDowell, fellow Northern Irishmen Rory McIlroy and another Portrush resident Darren Clarke as well as the Republic’s Padraig Harrington – with seven majors between them – have all played a huge part in the Open’s first return since 1951.
“When I eventually got out here on tour and started spending time at Open Championship venues and got familiar enough with Peter Dawson (former R&A chief executive) to be able to kind of give him a little bit of a ribbing,” explained McDowell.
“It started off as a joke: ‘Why can’t we go back to Portrush?’ Myself and Darren and Rory, especially.
“When the ball really started to get rolling was when Padraig won his three majors and then I won and Rory and Darren picked up a major each and the jokes turned kind of serious.”