Graeme McDowell admitted last night he will never top the feeling of his first major win, no matter how long he continues to play professional golf.
The Portrush player made the frank admission as the countdown began to tomorrow’s 111th US Open Championship here at Bethesda, a short drive outside Washington DC.
‘G-Mac’ was in reflective mood as he contemplated the completion of what he called “an amazing 12 months” as US Open champion and his defence of the title this week. But he revealed too, the ambitions that he now wants to drive him forward from the euphoria of winning the title at Pebble Beach last year.
“I cannot top that feeling,” he said of last year’s victory. “Your first time is the best, no doubt about it. Pebble is a special, special place and I’ve joined a very short list of very prestigious names.
“I still pinch myself, I still don’t feel my name belongs there but it’s there now so whatever. Amazing. The script was perfect with my dad there on Father’s Day on a beautiful day at Pebble Beach. It doesn’t get any better and 2010 was an amazing year.
“But looking ahead, I can really up my level of consistency. I can have a year where I can be more consistent and I want to win more major championships. I know how much better I can get in this game and so I can certainly have as good a year as 2010 . . . or better.
“They were really sort of little concentrated bursts of great playing in 2010 and I really think I can have a year where I can be more consistent than that. I want to win more events all over the world.
“I have spent the last 12 months looking back at Pebble but I feel like I have done it now. I am ready to get on with the rest of my career. Now, I want to look forward, not backward. But it’s tough to look forward when all everyone wants to do is talk about the past.”
McDowell, one of the nicest, most amiable men on the pro tour, wasn’t complaining. Far from it. He admits that what happened on the Californian coast 12 months ago has changed his life forever.
The spotlight and fame it has brought him will be of lifelong benefit. After all, until McDowell trumped all the big name stars by seizing glory on that memorable Sunday afternoon beside the sea at Pebble, Englishman Tony Jacklin had been the last European to win the US Open — way back in 1970.
McDowell is the first to admit that his form has been at best inconsistent in the 12 months since that triumph. He concedes the distractions have been omnipresent. Yet he says he feels under no special pressure in his defence of the title this week.
“It’s bizarre because if anything I feel like the glare is off me this week. I feel like I’ve done it. The last three or four months has been difficult. But now I’ve handed my US Open trophy back I feel like I’ve got nothing to defend this week.”
But crucially, he said, he felt for the first time at a US Open he believed in himself and his ability to win the trophy. “I’m really happy all my pre-tournament talking is now done because I want to look forward to what I want to achieve for the rest of my career.
“Yesterday on the golf course, I felt different, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders already. I couldn’t ask for a better group on the first two days and I’m excited. I feel less pressure already this week, I really feel like I am in a good frame of mind.”
McDowell was asked about the current ascendancy of European golfers in terms of the world rankings and he lavished praise on fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington. “There is no doubt that Padraig has given European golfers a belief that we can win major championships.
“As European Tour players we have had the opportunity to play so much golf over here and really get comfortable with the top players in the world and comfortable in these conditions. We’ve acclimatised and got the belief in ourselves that we can do it.”
First round tee times at Congressional CC, Bethesda, Maryland (all times GMT).
(US unless stated; (x) denotes amateurs)
12.00 : D Kim (Kor), C Reavie, S Lowry (Ire)
12.11: G Chalmers (Aus), K Triplett, AN Other
12.22: M Leishman (Aus), A Cejka (Ger), K Streelman
12.33: F Funk, (x) David Chung, Michael Campbell (NZ)
12.44: Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey (Eng), KJ Choi (Kor)
12.55: G McDowell (NIrl), (x) P Uihlein, L Oosthuizen (Rsa)
1.06: H Stenson (Swe), J Edfors (Swe), F Jacobson (Swe)
1.17: E Els (Rsa), D Love, J Furyk
1.28: J Rose (Eng), T Clark (Rsa), J Day (Aus)
1.39: J Overton, R Palmer, AN Other
1.50: B Jobe, N O'Hern (Aus), DA Points
2.01: C Greyling (Rsa), A Hadwin (Can), J Lamielle
2.12: M Tobiason, J Hutchins, M Smith
5.40: T Tryon, M Lafeber (Ned), S Barr (Aus)
5.51: G Sisk, (x) C-tsung Pan (Tai), M Richardson (Eng)
6.02: B Van Pelt, K-Tae Kim (Kor), B Crane
6.13: M Wilson, M Laird (Sco), P Hanson (Swe)
6.24: M Angel Jimenez (Sp), S Garcia (Sp), A Quiros (Sp)
6.35: F Molinari (Ita), M Manassero (Ita), E Molinari (Ita)
6.46: H Fujita (Jpn), T Hamilton, K Na
6.57: R Fowler, I Poulter (Eng), H Mahan
7.08: C Villegas (Col), A Baddeley (Aus), B Snedeker
7.19: K Chappell, D Kim (Kor), R Rock (Eng)
7.30: J Mills (Can), A Harto (Den), (x) S Pinckney
7.41: (x) S Irwin, R Nelson, E Gealy
7.52: C Deforest, (x) C Williams, W Heffernan (Can)
12.00: C Campbell, H Frazar, M Turnesa
12.11: J Hicks, M Siem (Ger), S Kang (Kor)
12.22: T Levet (Fra), B Gay, G Havret (Fra)
12.33: H Slocum, (x) R Henley, N Colsaerts (Bel)
12.44: P Harrington (Ire), A Cabrera (Arg), S Cink
12.55: R Ishikawa (Jpn), A Kim, YE Yang (Kor)
1.06: L Donald (Eng), L Westwood (Eng), M Kaymer (Ger)
1.17: J Byrd, B Haas, W Simpson
1.28: B Watson, A Scott (Aus), R Karlsson (Swe)
1.39: S Saunders, T Petrovic, S Piercy
1.50: M Edwards, (x) B Benjamin, AN Other
2.01: B Cauley, A Long, (x) M Barbosa
2.12: M Whitehead, W Wilcox, J Ellis
5.40: A Rocha (Bra), A Gonzales, B Dickerson
5.51: M Putnam, (x) P Cantlay, R Dinwiddie (Eng)
6.02: J Senden (Aus), R Garrigus, S Hend (Aus)
6.13: J Dufner, S Gallacher (Sco), S Yul Noh (Kor)
6.24: S Stricker, R Goosen (Rsa), D Toms
6.35: R McIlroy (NIrl), D Johnson, P Mickelson
6.46: C Schwartzel (Rsa), T Immelman (Rsa), Z Johnson
6.57: N Watney, L Glover, G Ogilvy (Aus)
7.08: R Moore, R Allenby (Aus), R Sabbatini (Rsa)
7.19: D Howell (Eng), K Kuboya (Jpn), B Baird
7.30: C Hoffman, A Noren (Swe), S Bae (Kor)
7.41: (x) B Patterson, B Blakeman, B Locke
7.52: C Wilson, D May, (x) B Hossler