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'I can compete with the best': Graeme McDowell reveals key changes that can fire him to more major wins

 

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Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell

©INPHO/Oisin Keniry

Graeme McDowell

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a little bit of optimism can go a long way.

While he's keeping it in perspective given the current situation, Graeme McDowell is full of confidence about the future of his career.

The last was an eventful decade for the Portrush man, beginning with the ultimate high of his sole major victory at the 2010 US Open, and ending with McDowell hitting the low of 257th in the Official World Golf Rankings last year.

Now turned 40, he says he has good reason to believe he is on course for a return to the world of major titles.

"I want to get back competing where I need to be to get myself into the top 20 in the world, on Ryder Cup teams and competing to win majors again," he said on the 3 Off The Tee podcast with Irish professionals Harry Ewing and Ian St John.

"Unfortunately we have run into this hiatus but I'm feeling confident, like I've got a great path forward. I'm looking forward to getting back on the course and doing a lot of great things.

"I'm really excited about what the next few years could hold. Kevin (Kirk - coach) has told me, and it has stuck, that there's no reason why my best golf can't be still in front of me in my 40s. I want my kids to be there when I hoist a trophy - that's the visual.

"Thankfully, there's a huge mental edge to this game. When I'm thinking well, I can compete with the best of the guys out there."

And that's a key point.

McDowell has never been the type to blast his way to the top with booming drives.

Rather, it's his propensity to think his way round a course and utilise his short-game that took him from the Rathmore club to a constant in the world's top 20 from 2010 to 2014.

When he tumbled almost uncontrollably down the rankings for the following four years, McDowell admits that ability was somewhat stolen away.

"You're wondering what's going on," he said. "Then all of a sudden the pressure starts to build and you want or need it too badly.

"When I look back, I've played my best golf when there has been a freedom, when confidence is high. There's just a knowing that you're playing well and can compete. You go from that knowingness to the need and when you start that, that's when you get in your own way.

"I had a spell of 12 months where my pre-shot routine was even breaking down. I was walking in there scared. That haunted me. It was scary."

So last year, it was time for change.

It started with a phonecall to Karl Morris, co-author of 'The Lost Art of Putting'.

"Karl knows me so well and we talked through the mechanics of what I do," McDowell said.

"I used to have a physical out-breath before the putter goes back, a relaxation technique which got me into the moment of 'this is what you're good at, what you practice for, who you are'. My putter has always been a massive weapon for me.

"I'm very much a 'why' person. I need to know why I'm doing something. Karl said that breath is the brain switching. The better you become at that, it takes you into that 'feel' state your brain needs to be in rather than mechanical.

"So as soon as he said that, I started practicing it and doing it better. A month later I'm at the Dominican Republic with 15 one-putts in a row and putting like me again."

That week in the Caribbean brought a first PGA Tour success since 2015 at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, a 'huge relief', a two-year Tour exemption and the purchase of 'time to reassess'.

Then, shortly after a 57th place finish at The Open in Portrush, McDowell made a coaching switch by ending a 12-year partnership with UK-based mentor Pete Cowen and bringing in Patrick Reed's coach Kevin Kirk.

"I wasn't getting to see Pete as much as I needed to," he explained.

"I got together with Kevin, who studied under Pete and spoke the same language. He has helped me a lot with technique but also my general approach to practicing  - going to the range and achieving things, not just hitting a perfect seven-iron and another one.

"It's not a game of perfect, it's about making the ball do what you want and staying within a margin of error.

"For a seven-iron from 170 yards, a 10 per cent miss is 17 yards. That's reasonably good. It's knowing those margins and practicing within them. That's what Kevin brought to me."

Add it all together and it has resulted in a win at the Saudi International - holding off Dustin Johnson, tied fourth at the Sony Open and a blast back up the rankings.

Even hours before the coronavirus hit pause on the golfing schedule, McDowell had fired in a four-under-par opening round at the Players' Championship.

With a new coaching set-up and a return to his old habits, McDowell has every reason to believe the future will be bright.

Belfast Telegraph