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'Facing the demons of mortality': Graeme McDowell reveals the self intervention that helped him make the Open Championship at Royal Portrush

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell discusses his route back from outside the world's top 250.
Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell discusses his route back from outside the world's top 250.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

It's time to get real.

This week, the 148th Open Championship is being played at Royal Portrush. I know that you know that, but read it again. Let it sink in.

It's the biggest sporting event we've ever known in this wee region and it begins tomorrow morning.

At the centre of it all is a boy from the 'working man's club'.

Graeme McDowell was introduced to golf at Rathmore GC, Royal Portrush's tenant on the Valley Links; 'the artisan's club', he reiterates.

His dad, bitten by the golf bug in the 30s, brought his children with him.

And so the game keep Graeme, along with plenty of others in Northern Ireland, 'out of trouble' with entire summers lost between the dunes.

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"I was fortunate", he reflects, echoing Rory McIlroy's words from a few hours before. "The game of golf is so accessible and affordable in this part of the world."

It's real golf.

 

McDowell's route from Rathmore to major champion was well charted when he got his hands on the US Open trophy in 2010.

Since then, however, it's been a fairly rocky road.

In fact, it took something of a self-intervention this time last year to avoid the unthinkable; missing out on this week.

It was time to get real.

"My journey has been about facing the demons of mortality," he explained.

"I told myself if I kept playing the way I was the game was going to be gone a lot sooner than I thought.

"When you were top 20 in the game, it felt easy. Then you slide out and you're battling to get back into the big events. You're missing cuts and wondering what happened.

"It was staring that in the face and refocusing. I started to get less frustrated and enjoy the act of trying to pull myself out of the hole. The fog started to lift, I finished strong and came out pretty strong again this year.

"If you stay patient, good stuff will happen again and thankfully it did."

Just four months ago, McDowell was outside the world's top 250 golfers. Then, at last, his first PGA Tour win since November 2015 arrived at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.

"That was an opposite event on the same week as the World Match Play," he said.

"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?' Instead a little bit of experience the last few years and it's 'hey, this is an opportunity this week'.

"Every player has these conversations. I've always been honest and real."

There it is again. Real.

But this week, truth be told, still doesn't really feel it yet.

It was, after all, only ever pie in the sky.

"It started out as a joke with Peter Dawson (ex R&A CEO). 'Why can't we go back?'," recalls Graeme.

"The reasons were infrastructure and this and that. The ball really got rolling when Padraig won his three majors and Darren, Rory and I followed. The jokes turned kind of serious.

"Then we broke the European Tour attendance record here at the Irish Open in 2012 and the R&A realised this could be a success. It's so exciting to have it back."

Now it's just a matter of putting in a few real scores.

"I certainly believe I can," he says.

He's done it plenty of times before on this course, after all. McDowell reached the final of the North of Ireland Amateur Championship on the Dunluce back in 2001 and carded a ten under par total during the 2012 Irish Open.

And there have also been some not-quite-so-real scores as well; two 63s in casual rounds.

"Never in the North of Ireland qualifiers, which is when Rory did 61. When you've got a card in your pocket and you're playing the competition pins, a score like that is a real score," stresses Graeme, building us up for the punchline.

"Not when you're out maybe having a Magners on the 10th tee with the lads, that's not a real 63.

"Or maybe it's a better one," he quipped, and it's hard to argue with the logic.

Whatever the conclusion, there will be no questions this week.

It's as real as golf has ever got in Northern Ireland.

The Open Championship has arrived.

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