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US Open: Graeme McDowell plotting more fairytales

By Mark Garrod

Graeme McDowell’s place in golf history is already assured but sportsmen and women can’t spend their time dwelling on past glories.

There are always fresh goals and targets, the insatiable desire to keep winning and improving is found in the DNA of world class performers.

Many would forgive the Portrush man for letting his US Open glory go to his head — a voice within the 31-year-old could be telling him ‘it will never get any better than this’.

But the reality is — and McDowell knows it — that there can be more major moments in his golfing career.

As he prepares to defend his title in Washington, the Ryder Cup hero will feel he has something to prove — that he isn’t simply a one-hit wonder when it comes to winning majors.

There will always be pressure to repeat the Pebble Beach trick but rather than being burdened by the weight of expectation, McDowell should be relishing future challenges with renewed confidence and self-belief.

Can he be more than a one-hit wonder? It’s all in the mind.

Much though he has loved his year in the spotlight, holding one of the game's four biggest trophies for the first time has taken some getting used to and placed on him many more demands.

“I'm excited to get there and have that weight lifted off my shoulders,” said McDowell.

Asked if it was a weight bearing down on him, he said: “No, but subconsciously it might be.

“When I come out the other end I don't know how it's going to make me feel, but all I know is that I'm going be ready to get on with the rest of my career.

What I've learned over the past year is that maybe I can handle being one of the world's top players. It's been a great learning experience just to go through the process because I'll never go through it again — this will always be my first major.

“It'll always be my defining year, my rookie year as a top player. I feel like I've experienced everything there is to experience in this game and anything else will feel reasonably normal. Winning your first major is very surreal. It doesn't feel like you think it's going to feel.

“It feels a lot more normal than that, but of course everything that goes with it is not normal and there's a period of trying to accept what you've achieved.

“It didn't hit me for weeks afterwards. Even at the Open (a month later) I was still feeling pretty emotional.

“When I see statements like ‘first European for 40 years, first Irishman to win the US Open, only the third Irishman to win a major championship’, stuff like that hits me hard.

“It helps me grab the reality of what I did. Yet I just remember having a certain calm confidence during the week.

“I remember (mental guru) Bob Rotella coming up at the start and asking if I wanted to do anything. I said ‘Doc, I'm feeling very quietly confident. I'm in a calm place in my mind, I'm enjoying my golf, seeing my shots and executing them well’.

“I'd won in Wales and in nine holes at Lake Nona on the way to Pebble I had seven birdies. My game was all there — I know a few of the caddies had a sneaky punt on me.”

McDowell, who recorded a play-off triumph over Tiger Woods in December from four behind with a round to go, can take inspiration from Padraig Harrington, who captured the 2007 Open.

Harrington made a successful defence at Birkdale, then won the US PGA title as well. The first had not been done by a European since 1906, the second since 1930.

Now McDowell, one of seven first-time winners in the last eight majors, believes he can follow suit — even though he has had only one other top-10 finish in majors before or since Pebble Beach.

“Subconsciously we all want to prove ourselves,” he said.

“I don't want to be a one-hit wonder — I want to be the best player I can be.”

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