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May 18, 2016

Graeme McDowell

Straffan, Co. Kildare, Ireland

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Graeme, thank you very much for joining us, welcome to The K Club and Irish Open.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Nice to be here.

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Thoughts and feelings ahead of the week? Obviously a big one for all the Irish lads.

GRAEME McDOWELL: For sure. The Irish Open, fifth majors and all these comments that we make every year, it's a special week. Coming back, for a guy like me, who is living over on the other side of the Atlantic these days, it's always nice to come back to this part of the world.

Great to be back at The K Club. It's a golf course that I haven't played competitively for about 11 or 12 years, so I'm out there this morning feeling like I'm having to relearn a golf course. Memories of it certainly are weren't all that sharp, and some very unique green complexes here that you have to get your head around.

It's a great place to be back, good memories from 2006, and everything, the emotions of that weekend, especially from Darren. It's a cool venue. What Rory has done for this event, taking it from strength-to-strength, I think the future is really, really bright for The Irish Open.

And I think The European Tour, their initiative with giving the guys some ownership of the tournaments, looking at this one with Rory; and the British Masters with Justin and Ian and Luke; and the Spanish with Sergio and so on and so on, I think it's a great initiative. I think guys are getting behind it, and obviously it's helping drive the financials. It's helping drive the fields. It's definitely great that the tournament has really had that injection of just energy, I suppose, on all levels.

It's nice to come back and support this one, and looking forward to the weekend. This golf course feels like it should set up well for me. Obviously I'd dearly love to win one of these at some point in my career.

Q. With Rory's input here and the others, something you'd get involved in if you were asked, maybe host a tournament?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Think we could do another one in Ireland? Listen, I'd love to. We all have foundations we want to support. We'd all love to have some kind of ownership. Not too many guys in the world have as big a name as Rory McIlroy, so certainly a guy like him can carry an event like this paragraph par for sure.

Love to have some involvement at some point going forward, but I feel like we all kind of have our own little bit of an ownership of this one, and kind of golf in Ireland in general. We are all very proud of what we've achieved the last five to ten years.

And looking forward to the future, 2019, The Open Championship at Portrush, and just the future of this event, where it's going to go, from venues and financially and hopefully from the field strength, as well, and moving to hopefully the week before The Open Championship in 2019 which would be special and hopefully bringing a world-class field to Ireland.

I think it's a very, very strong initiative from The European Tour, giving the guys a little bit of ownership and letting them drive dates and drive venues and just driving the field.

Q. Where do you feel your game is at at the moment, and also in terms of Ryder Cup.
GRAEME McDOWELL: I've generally been feeling very good about my game this year. Started off kind of strong early in the Florida Swing. Lost my way a little bit sort of into the Match Play and Augusta.

Sort of hit the reset button after Hilton Head and came back last week, starting to get those good feelings back again, a little bit of confidence seeing the ball do what I wanted to do, staying patient, and a little bit of belief coming back again.

The weekend at THE PLAYERS was nice on a lot of levels, gave me that little bit of confidence coming here, and into next week, as well, and looking forward to the summer with three majors to play here in the next few months, a lot of big events. Looking to the French Open with double Ryder Cup points.

There's lots and lots of jockeying for position to come up here in the next few months and I feel like I'm well positioned mentally and physically to do that.

Of course I'd love to be part of the team. We had a little get together last week at THE PLAYERS. Darren did sort of a veteran's dinner on the Tuesday night, and I think he did the rookie's dinner on Thursday night. Obviously I was at the veteran's one on Tuesday night. And it was inspiring to visualise yourself at Hazeltine and being part of the team and what it's going to feel like in the team room.

I feel like it was that nice little bit of motivation that I needed, and like I say, it goes without saying that I want to be on the team.

Q. He's got three picks, but you obviously want to get in automatically.
GRAEME McDOWELL: I don't want to be a pick, for sure --

Q. Probably more difficult than it's ever been, isn't it?
GRAEME McDOWELL: No doubt about it. With so many great young players coming through, looking at Andy Sullivan, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowery and Danny. The veterans, as such, are not really performing the way they need to be, myself included, Poults and Westy and Luke and guys like that. Obviously we've got our stable of Rory and Stenson and Justin playing well, and a few of us have got to get our act together.

It's one of those things that will take care of itself if I can do what I want to do the next few months, and like I say, Hazeltine will hopefully take care of itself. But it's going to be a really highly-contested team, and it's going to be tough and picks are going to be hard to come by.

Q. What do you think of the finish here?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think the finish is fantastic here at The K Club. 16 they are going to have some tee options. By the sounds of things, I think they are going to use the back tee Thursday, Friday; and then start moving the tee forward Saturday, Sunday, give the guys a chance to go for it in two. It's not a very inviting target, 16. It's not one I see myself going for unless it's playing quite short.

17, you can ask my caddie about that. He's got a bad record on 17. Last time he was there, I think he was caddying for Thomas when Thomas made his 11 or whatever on 17. So I'll be trying my best not to visualise that one too much. We're giving him a bit of stick out there about it this morning.

I think 17 is a fantastic hole. It has that feel of the 18th at Sawgrass. You have to pick your target on the right-hand side and really hit a committed shot.

And 18, again, great two-shot par 5. I really like the finish here. I think obviously since they switched the nines around, I think the finish plays really, really good here, and like I say, it feels like a new venue, even though I've played a lot of competitive golf here, but it was a long time ago.

I was out there definitely trying to take some good notes this morning, and I like the way it sets up for my game. It's an accuracy golf course. You have to keep it in the fairway. The rough is pretty lush and the new green complexes are pretty difficult, a lot of kind of front-to-back, sloping greens. So you've got to be real accurate with your iron play.

Q. Does the pressure of being an Irishman at The Irish Open, does that mitigate against Irish players doing well, do you think, with so much expectation from the crowds? How tricky is that to deal with?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I think that's something I struggled with my first, six, seven years maybe, as an Irish player at The Irish Open. I think I've become a little bit more relaxed about it over the years. As my record was fairly awful there for many years, my expectation levels start getting a little lower, and I subsequently started playing a little better.

So I feel like I've shaken that off a little bit and come in here a little bit more relaxed and a little bit more open-minded and just try to enjoy the week for what it is. It's a great opportunity and it's always fun to play in front the great crowds that we always get at The Irish Open. A couple years ago, Fota, I had a fairly good chance at the weekend. It was nice to be competing.

Like I say, I'd love to win one of these. There's a lot of events in the world I'd love to win, and this is just another one. Hoping to just be relaxed and play as well as I can and we'll see what happens.

Q. México last year, you get the win, and everything seemed hunky-dory. Are you surprised it's been a bit erratic so far this year, or do you think you're just building yourself into form?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think I got a little frustrated just due to some high expectation levels in the Florida Swing. I knew how well I was playing. In a funny way, I made 8 at the last hole at Doral on Sunday, after having a great weekend and playing really solidly and it kind of knocked the wind out of my sails a little bit.

I went to Tampa the following week and missed the cut by one. Missed the cut at Bay Hill and went into the Match Play and got absolutely nothing out of the week. Kind of sitting there the week before Augusta thinking, what just happened.

I really felt like I was playing well, and like I say, got a little frustrated. Augusta gives me nothing generally anyway, and it was a little bit of a snowball effect really. I missed the cut at Hilton Head and my head was starting to come off rightly after I missed the cut there.

The frustration level started to build as a result of how well I knew I was playing. Took three weeks off, just hit the reset button and came out last week and felt a lot better about myself. It's a funny old game. It's a fun game. I was frustrated last year on different levels, just because I knew I wasn't playing well, and this year, it's been frustrating because I am playing well.

So I know which one I prefer. I come here honestly feeling very good about, like I say, physically, mentally, and looking forward to the next few months of golf. Busy stretch coming up and I feel like I'm ready for it.

Q. You sound like a man in the know on what's happening with the Irish Open going forward. Do you see Portstewart as being a possibly good venue for it, and what about Ballyliffin has been talked about before The Open in 2019 maybe. Can you talk about those?
GRAEME McDOWELL: For sure. I'm speculating as to rumours that you guys I'm sure are all well aware of, as well. I really don't know anything sort of concrete.

Portstewart is obviously on the radar for next year. I think back south again in 2018, and then perhaps back up to the north in 2019 again, and potentially the week before The Open. I think that would be a natural fit.

Obviously the Scottish is in there. I don't understand the politics of how all those things work and The Scottish Open is obviously a special event, as well, and they enjoy their slot for The Open. I can't say Aberdeen Asset Management wanting to give that one up too quickly, but I think we've got obviously plenty of fantastic venues around the island, and I'm all for north and south of the border.

This is a fantastic venue, taking nothing away of it. Should it be a links venue? Perhaps. Who knows. K Club is a great venue and it's a special place, and I'm actually really excited to be back here. It's pretty fun.

Q. 2006, you mentioned it, that was sort of a big week for you in terms of your commentating.

Q. And that sort of gave you the old spirit to not be in that position again, yeah.
GRAEME McDOWELL: For sure. I think back to that year and it was my first year taking a PGA TOUR card full-time. Physically, I wasn't at my best. I was hurt that year. I did a lot of things badly that year, from a scheduling point of view and wanting it too badly and chasing it and missing it, and then came here and did 5 Live on course, which was a lot of fun actually, and highlights in the evening, so I think I had about 18 hours of golf, subjecting myself to it Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Lit a fire underneath me, and said to myself, I never want to be on that side of the rope again in the near future. I wanted to play in Ryder Cups, not commentate on them.

When I think back to that Ryder Cup, it was a special one, that first tee, Friday morning, with the atmosphere. Gives you the goosebumps just thinking about it, when Darren and Lee came on to the first tee, it was something pretty magical and obviously very emotional. Like I say, would have been a nice place to make my Ryder Cup debut but I've enjoyed my last four. I want to play a couple more.

Like I say, a great place to be back. This is not a links golf course obviously, but there's something special about this venue at the same time.

Q. You're the only person to qualify for the last four.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I believe that's correct. Like I alluded to, certainly don't want to wait for a pick this year. It's going to be a hot team to get onto, but I feel like we're into the meat and bones now the next few months. Like I said, three majors, double points at the French Open, there's big events, next week at BMW of course. I'm desperate to be on the team, of course, but I know I have to stay patient and just let it take care of itself.

Q. Rory was in earlier and he said to us that he wasn't happy with the spin being put on his season and he felt the narrative that was unfolding wasn't particularly fair; he's gone second, he's gone third, the semifinals, he shot the 29 at Sawgrass. How would you assess his season so far and do you think he's ready to click, because he thinks he is.
GRAEME McDOWELL: So you're saying he didn't like the negative spin? For sure. I agree with him. I think he certainly looks like he's very close to playing well.

I think the world's media probably expect him to be winning every couple times he tees it up. I think it's been a special few years. There's been some very special players and he's been one of them. I think what he did in 2014, I didn't think was possible anymore.

After Tiger did it for many years, I just thought that the game had changed so much and there were so many great players, I didn't think anybody dominate the way Rory dominated in 2014. And then the way Jordan dominated last year, and kind of the way Jason Day has dominated for the last eight, ten months, so I didn't think that was possible.

But I still look at Rory compared to guys like Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, the great young players, the great 20-something young players in the world, I still think Rory has got the capabilities to be the best of them all still. I think he's the rawest talent and the best ball-striker and the best all-around game of any of the young players I've ever seen.

Yeah, it's very quick to judge and say he's not winning enough for his talent level, but I think he can still have a massive year from here.

Q. On the family front, do you have family news coming this year?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I have a baby boy coming August 29 this year, very excited.

Q. How will that affect your schedule towards The Ryder Cup?
GRAEME McDOWELL: No change to the schedule at all. I'll be playing pretty much heads-on until the end of July.

The Olympics is obviously a question mark for me. I'm not currently on the team, so I'll look to play the PGA Championship, have three weeks off, spend some time with the family and then I'll be into the middle of the FedEx Playoffs. We'll have our baby the Monday of the Boston tournament.

I'm in good shape in the FedEx, so I'll be looking to play as much golf as I can. It's just one of those things. It's not ideal, but family's family, and obviously they take priority, and looking forward to that next baby on the way.

Certainly something I feel like I'll take in my compared to having my first one a couple years ago. Know what to expect this time.

Q. You've been asked a few times today already about qualifying for The Ryder Cup, but you mentioned out on the course this morning, you still need to qualify for The Open.
GRAEME McDOWELL: I thought that was off the record on the course, Bernie.

Q. I was very nice to you today.
GRAEME McDOWELL: There's no trust anymore. Trust is gone (laughter).

Q. Question (laughter) how important is it to be playing these four majors in a Ryder Cup year, if you qualify?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Like I keep saying, talking about three majors and The French Open and all these things. Yet I'm not in The Open Championship currently.

So it is important that I am there. Obviously those are where the big points are. Those are where the big World Ranking points are, and that's going to be my way in, is going to be World Ranking points.

I haven't missed an Open Championship since 2004. My caddie has not missed an Open Championship since about '93. So he doesn't want to miss it. I don't want to miss it. I think my way in is going to be the FedEx points, and unless I can get myself in the Top-50. Those are the two ways in for me. I think they are going to take the top five not already exempt in the top 20 in the FedExCup points list, sort of after the U.S. Open. That's going to be a good way in for me perhaps.

Like I say, if I play the way I feel like I can play the next four or five weeks, maybe get myself in the Top-50 anyway. We'll see. Obviously hoping to be at Troon. That's a very key part of the summer and wanting to be there, because I want to play France, Scotland and the British, as well. So I'll be looking to be there.

Q. Someone who is regarded as a good match-play competitor, would you like to see more match-play events on the calendar, or any other formats you'd like to see maybe experimented with?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, match play is a funny one. We grew up playing a lot of match play, of course, here in Ireland. I think we've just got the right amount of match play.

I think The World Match Play; give me back the old sort of one-and-done format. I haven't really enjoyed the sort of group stage format the last couple years, but that's a biased opinion because I haven't played well.

I preferred the old, you knew your fate: You've got to go out and beat the guy or you're going home. This year I got beat by Jason Day on Wednesday, and played my match the following day and I felt like a dead man walking. Even though potentially you're still in the tournament, but that's not the way it felt to me. It really felt like I had nothing to play for anymore.

But no, I think we play enough match play. It's good. The Ryder Cups and the Seve Trophies and the Royal Trophies and the team match play is a lot of fun. I think the old Volvo Match Play and World Match Play -- do we have a Volvo World Match Play? No longer? I think if we had that back on The European Tour schedule, that would be stacks of match play.

Regards other formats, it's tough to know. 72 holes is the traditional game of golf. Do we need a 2020 version of golf? That's kind of what all the geniuses in the world are trying to come up with, and hopefully they can up with one. I'll support any format, if it's fun and fast and obviously drives the game of golf on all levels.

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Graeme, thanks very much as always.

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