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March 9, 2016

Graeme McDowell

Palm Harbor, Florida

BRIAN DECKER: Welcome Graeme McDowell to the Media Center here at the Valspar Championship. Graeme, making your first start this week at this tournament. Thoughts on the golf course after the Pro-Am today.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah. Really like the golf course. You know, heard a lot of players talk to me about this event many times and just telling me how good the golf course is, you know, very positional off the tee.

Yeah, I like the way it sets up. I came down the Monday of Honda just to get an extra practice round in. I had a couple commitments early in the week. I knew today was my only other practice round. I had a little look at it a couple weeks ago.

I like what I see. Of course, how, they've had their struggles with the renovation and the Florida wet winters that we have and I think the golf course has held up really well. Going to be very playable and obviously some strong winds today. I see the forecast tomorrow as well.

It's a tricky golf course. You got to play well, you know, kind of fits into the general Florida swing toughness. I think Honda, Doral and this one and Bay Hill are a tough four week stretch as we get throughout the season.

BRIAN DECKER: You mentioned the Florida swing and some of the courses that you play. How does it prepare you for Augusta coming up and some of the other Majors as you get motivated to play on some real championship level golf courses like that.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: There's nothing easy about these golf courses here in Florida. I think looking at the par-3s in particular, I look at Honda and Doral and Bay Hill next week, having never played here before and I add this one to the mix as well, there's golf courses with as tough a set of par-3s as we see throughout the year.

There's no -- this is a really good time of the year to really toughen us up and get us ready for the meat and bones of the season from Augusta onwards really into the summer.

You know, I think the PGA TOUR certainly eases you in with a little bit with the Fall Series and Hawaii and some of the West Coast stuff. This really to me is kind of the signaling of the tough season and the beginning of the big stretch of golf coming up.

I enjoy the Florida swing. Great to be out at Valspar here, great to be adding it. Enjoying the golf course and looking forward to seeing what we can do.

BRIAN DECKER: 9th in the FedExCup coming in here with three Top-5 finishes. Do you feel like you're making some progress in being closer to where you want to be as you get closer to the Majors?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Very much so. The Fall Series really took care of a lot of things for me. It's coming off the back of a very average year last year, below average and to win in Mayakoba and 3rd up there at the McGladrey was very big for my confidence and momentum going into the off-season and I feel like I've taken that into the new year as well.

My 5th at Honda was very solid and I felt like I played better at Doral last week than perhaps my finishing position reflected. All in all I think it bodes well for the year.

I feel like I've, you know, mentally and physically in a much better place than I was this time last year and looking forward to a big year. This is, like I say, great to be here in Florida and in my car driving to tournaments and being close to the family and feeling like I'm playing well and looking forward to a big year.

Q. You're playing a lot right now. Is it going to be all the way through Augusta?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Not Houston. Not Houston.

So, you know, Doral was kind of a question mark on my schedule until Honda and we slipped in there, and the Match Play, I think mathematically, is not a question mark anymore. I think I should be able to hang on to 64th through Bay Hill.

This was probably the only one that I would have thrown out again and I really wanted to come and play this tournament. Just decided just to play some golf, get my head down. I had a stop/start kind of start to the year. Went to Hawaii. Probably wasn't really ready to go play. I would have given my left arm to be in Kapalua in September of last year. I need to go to Kapalua.

I wasn't really ready to be there. I went to Dubai and got sick on the way out there. I didn't feel good there, either. The Honda was really sort of the start of my season for real and, like I say, just decided to play some golf.

Going to play through here, Bay Hill, Match Play and going to play Augusta, Hilton Head and probably San Antonio as well.

I'm playing a lot of golf right now. Looking forward to it. I'm enjoying my golf. I ready a quote from Phil, he's loving the game. I'm kind of there as well. I'm enjoying playing the game.

Last year I think I was feeling tough and frustrated and panicking a little bit and this year I'm actually enjoying it and enjoying being on the golf course again, which is nice.

Q. Why was it that you added this tournament this year and why wasn't it part of your schedule in the past?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Kind of what I alluded to a second ago. When you play Honda, Doral and Bay Hill, something kind of has to give in the middle and this one always kind of given. This year, with Doral not being a guarantee for me I decided to add this one and obviously I ended up, did play Doral last week and decided after my practice round here a couple weeks ago that I liked the golf course and I was going to come play anyway.

So, like I say, it's nice to be able to jump in your car and come down the road and feel like you're close to home. The Florida swing has been pretty good to me over the years as well. I'm enjoying playing in my home state here and enjoying being here for the first time.

Q. What are some of the most common comments you've heard over the years about Copperhead from your fellow pros and what struck you today about it?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Just tough, positional. Length not being an issue. You know, I think fairway -- I think overall ball-striking is going to be a big key this week. I think you got to hit fairways and greens. You know, I think by their own admission the greens are not as good as they like them to be this year with the renovations and just the bad winter and stuff.

And I think hitting fairways and greens is going to be a massive thing. The rough is pretty squirrely around the greens. The traps are pretty penal in places. Ball-striking golf course.

I think you look at the winners here, Johnny Senden and Jordan Spieth. And, to me, I look at the list of winners and I always see ball-strikers, guys that really hit it good, hit it pure, lot of medium and long iron play here and lot of accuracy with your iron play.

Iron play going to be a big key and I like the way it sets up from my point of view. Looks like it's going to be a bit of wind the next couple days, too. Enjoying the golf course. Like I said, it really looks good.

Q. Why is Augusta been sort of, I don't know if love/hate is the right way to put it, but it's given you some fits and you've obviously, you want to try to play well there.
What is it and why is it that way?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: You know, I'm not really sure. I feel like I go to Augusta and I spend my time obsessing about the tee to green element and then I feel like when I talk to you guys on a Friday afternoon after a missed cut it's not been the tee to green element that's hurt me, it's been around the greens and on the greens that's hurt me.

So I think probably knowing I'm a great putter and not putting well at Augusta frustrates me. I think I'm going in there this year kind of with a little bit more of an open mind from the point of view of spending more time on the greens and really starting to learn those and embrace those and I think you have to embrace putting those greens.

If you get scared of them and get defensive with them they'll really find you out.

The tee to green element I think I've obsessed over the years and I kind of got the hang of that as I've gone back there and realize that really is around and on the greens where it's won and lost there.

So, you know, obviously it's a long golf course as it's transitioned over the years. When it's soft there's no doubt it is long for me.

I've picked up a few mile an hour ball speed and clubhead speed this year. I'm driving it better. I think that's going to put me in good stead in Augusta.

I'm going to obsess about the greens more. Putt it good and drive it more. I love Augusta. It just doesn't like me yet but there is time.

Q. Actually, Graeme, if I could take you back to the Tuesday or Wednesday before Mayakoba, we had you in, and despair is certainly too strong of a word, there were question marks.
You talked about can I still do this, can I still win. I think that was one of the reasons you added Mayakoba to your schedule. Obviously we know the result.

The result since then would indicate such but where are you mentally? Is it fair to say you've done a complete 180 since the win in Mexico?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: For sure. I remember sitting beside you in the press conference on the Wednesday of Mayakoba, people were asking me why I was there and why was I not in Europe and playing the Race to Dubai.

There's no doubt, I had gone through a little bit of soul-searching process as to what it was I wanted to get out of this game, you know, and I rededicated myself from a motivational point of view and I stripped it all back to what my goals needed to be.

It was kind of like I had to focus on one time in Mexico or another the way I was playing. If I continue to not play consistently I was going to struggle to have a card on both sides of the Atlantic.

I had to make a choice. The choice was the PGA TOUR at that point. So I feel like going back to basics and just re-focusing on one thing.

You know, it's amazing kind of four days later -- it ended end up being Monday finish so, four and a half days later I'm in the press conference with a trophy and kind of my world changed a lot, you know, but I think it just kind of showed me that get a little bit more basic and little bit more directed with my thinking helped me focus on what it was I was trying to achieve, you know, and there's no doubt the win has taken the pressure off from cards and all that.

When you're not playing well, you're slipping down the World Rankings, you're outside of the Top 50 and all these kind of automatic monies and more ranking points and all the things you get from being in Majors, and WGCs and playing well in those, you kind of have to get raw with it and think this is my job, this is my living, what am I going to do about it to make sure I've got a job to go to in a couple years' time.

It was kind of why I ended up in Mayakoba and why I was being honest in the press conference. That was kind of process I had been through in my mind.

As I sit here today I'm starting to think more like I was thinking more four, five years ago thinking about the Majors, thinking about trying to be the best player I can be again rather than the complacent, maybe Top 25 player in the world like I was for a few years and got married and had a baby and just kind of became a little bit complacent about what I was doing.

I'm more motivated to get back to the top of the game and get back to where I want to be and show my kids what I've got.

BRIAN DECKER: Any other questions?

Q. Graeme, you talked about this in the past, how hard has it been for you once you won that Major Championship to sort of get remotivated and refocused to go after another one and another one after that.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I certainly feel like life has changed a lot since I won at Peeble, you know, on the course, off the course, you know, go through various kind of little life experiences, you know, obviously dealing with the extra commitment level inside of the ropes and sponsors and just kind of as a Major Champion people want a little piece of you and they're paying you the money to do it.

So, you travel around the world and your schedule is tough. And there's no doubt, so I went through that whole phase of my kind of a climatization as the new player I had become.

Obviously you get married and you have kids and go through that whole experience, kind of working on your time management and your commitment levels and traveling and leaving the kids.

And the sacrifices become more real, I suppose, the game we do make a lot of sacrifices traveling, leaving our family behind. Of course, we get very well rewarded for it if we play well. They are sacrifices all the same. Dealing with that a little bit as well.

So, there's no doubt, I feel like I learn something new every year in this game. Thankfully I've got a good team around me to help me see, kind of give me the neutral opinion and show me what's really happening.

Sometimes, I think you get lost out there sometimes and you really can't see the wood for the trees for what's going on and so I feel like I've been smart enough in my career to move on from my mistakes and make good decisions and come out the other end a better player.

I feel like I've emerged -- I probably look back to mid 2014 where the process started. I made the Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles. I really wasn't on top of my game, you know. I had a good Ryder Cup, beat Jordan in singles and placed 3rd in Shanghai.

I really put a Band-Aid over something. I knew my game wasn't in good shape. '15 didn't play well. By the end of '15 I was really panicking.

It's been a two and a half process and I've come out the other end and I really believe I'm playing as well as I have in a very long time right now and I feel like I'm mentally in as good a place as I've been.

Kind of reassessing my goals and refocusing on the Major chances. I want to win another Major before I'm all done, at least one more. That's the goal. We're going to work hard to get there.

BRIAN DECKER: Thanks so much, Graeme for your time coming in today. Good luck this week.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Thank you. Hope to speak to your guys again.

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