McDowell relishing his first Ryder Cup adventure
Ryder Cup new boy Graeme McDowell tells Peter Hutcheon he is ready to celebrate the best year of his golfing career by turning on the style in Valhalla
For a man who has just achieved one of his lifetime’s ambitions, Graeme McDowell is incredibly laid back.
Of course, merely making the Ryder Cup team is one thing, winning matches in the heat of battle is quite another. But the 29-year-old is as fiercely competitive on the course as he his relaxed off it and having worked so hard to make it to Kentucky, he wants to finish the job in style.
“I’ll play in all five matches, no problem,” he declared after completing a few practice holes with dad Kenny at Royal Portrush yesterday.
“I love playing without a card in my pocket because you need to be aggressive to win and I am an aggressive player.
“I think in the last ten years the Americans have played the course but in matchplay you need to play the man. If your opponent sticks it to five feet then you’ve got to get inside that.
“I’m aggressive with irons and go for pins a lot and that’s what you need to do to win matches.”
Surprisingly McDowell has had nothing more than a curt, “Well done,” from captain Nick Faldo who did not endear himself to Ulster golf fans with his decision to award his second wild card to Ian Poulter rather than Darren Clarke.
“It disappointing for Darren and I’d have love to have played with him at Valhalla but sadly it’s not to be,” said McDowell.
“Nick has his reasons for picking Ian and he’s a great player and it is really a strong side.
“I know all of these guys well and I’d play in the foursomes or fourballs with anyone, although I’d love to play with Padraig (Harrington). The way he’s been playing, I think the Americans are running scared of him a little and it would be great to play alongside him.”
McDowell’s place on the team has seemed assured for most of the season, but he did slip out of the automatic places for a week — before nailing down his spot with his win at Loch Lomond.
“I take so much away from that,” he says. “That second shot on the 16th was just about as nervous as I can remember being over a shot, but I pulled it off.
“All year long I’ve been trying not to think too much about the Ryder Cup, even though it was obviously a major goal since the K Club to make sure I was on the team this time around.
“I wasn’t even aware that I’d slipped out of the team until someone in the media told me and I’ve tried to have stock answers about the Ryder Cup because I knew I would be asked about it week in and week out.
“So I’m pleased with the way I have handled that and it’s allowed me to concentrate on what I’ve been doing on the golf course.”
Without a doubt this has been the best year of McDowell’s career. Two European tour titles, a first Ryder Cup, well established inside the world’s top 50 and in contention at the Open.
There was that Tavistock Cup match against Tiger Woods. “I had a 20-footer to beat him on the last, but it horsehooed out,” he recalled. And none other than Phil Mickelson was kidding him about the reception he can expect in Valhalla when he was paired with the world number two at the US PGA.
“He said that the fans at Brookline when the Americans went crazy over Justin Leonards’ putt, are nothing compared to what we can expect in Kentucky,” he said. “It was all just a bit of fun.”
McDowell heads to Germany for the Mercedes-Benz Championship, the last event before the Ryder Cup, after meeting up with some friends from Orlando to play golf around Dublin this weekend. And with him on the plane will be Dr Karl Morris, the sports psychologist who has worked so hard with McDowell in the past couple of years.
“We’ll be talking a lot about the Ryder Cup and what to expect and how to go about it,” he explains.
“We’ve done so much important work about how to stay calm under pressure, controlling emotions and keeping nerves in check and all these things are going to be so important in a Ryder Cup. It’s amazing what nerves can do to you.”
McDowell has certainly shown courage under fire in the past. Three of his four European Tour titles have come via play-offs. The six-iron he hit to within a few feet to defeat Jeev Milkha Singh to win the Ballantines Championship is one he recalls fondly —and it won him the shot of the month for March. That’s the sort of pedigree which should convince Faldo to play the Ulsterman regularly in the first two days, although it’s unwise to second guess the six-time Major winner. Rookies are rarely played more than a couple of times in the foursomes and fourballs.
McDowell is one of four rookies along with Soren Hansen, Justin Rose and Oliver Wilson.
“It’s a fantastic team and I think we will do very well,” he said. “We may not play a lot of matchplay as pros, but most of our amateur golf was matchplay and I think we play it a lot more than the Americans do. I’m close to all of the guys on the team although Padraig is a hard person to get close to as he is so private. But mostly we’re playing the same tournaments, going to the same places and enjoying a beer or two afterwards on the Sunday evening.”
McDowell has never played Valhalla, although caddie Ken Comboy — on Paul Casey’s bag at the last American Ryder Cup in Detroit — has been there before.
“Ken’s been fantastic for me all year,” said McDowell.
“He tells me that the first tee is elevated so at least I know I’ll be able to get it airborne. I don’t know what it’s going to be like standing on that first tee — probably a little like it was when I teed it up for Ireland for the first time — and that went pretty well.”
By opting for Poulter and Casey rather than Clarke and Colin Montgomerie, Faldo appears to be signalling the end of an era and McDowell wants to be at the forefront of the new generation.
“I’ve always wanted my career to be judged on Majors and Ryder Cup,” he says, “and that starts now.”