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March 14, 2017

Graeme McDowell

Orlando, Florida

MARK WILLIAMS: Like to welcome Graeme McDowell to the interview room at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Welcome back. You've had three top-10 finishes here, including a couple of runner-ups. You're coming in here off a couple of top 14 finishes at Honda and Valspar. So just talk about this week and coming into the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, obviously a very special week this week. First Invitational without the man. And it's been cool, obviously to be part of the Host Committee and be involved in the tournament and the build-up and Mastercard put together a really cool commercial which is going to be running this week and cool to be part of that. I guess being a local boy here in Orlando these days, this is a tournament which has become very special to me. It's probably my first big finish in the United States back in 2005, I think second here, and that kind of started my love affair with the city of Orlando a little bit. Bringing my kids up here and had both my kids in the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies and like I say, very special week for me and I think that for all the players, obviously we'll have a lot on our minds in regards to what Arnold's done for the game and what he's created here and I'm sure it will be well supported and it will be a fun week. I think that he would like us, he would probably would wish us all to be celebrating rather than commiserating this week and I think it will be a celebration and hopefully some great golf played and hoping I play as late as I possibly can on Sunday afternoon myself. So it's going to be a fun week. I hear the course is in great shape and like I say we are here to celebrate and have a big week and in remembrance of one of the icons of our great sport.


Q. Talk a little more about your approach to being a host and what that has meant and what you've tried to do to promote the event or just what you did?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: For sure. The timeline of things really, I was asked to come and be part of a sort of board room get together in December. Just all the heads of all the TV networks, Mastercard, Arnold's foundation, PGA TOUR, just really asked to come and give the players' perspective a little bit about the tournament. I'm probably less so about 2017, more about going forward, how do we grow this event and really continue Arnold's legacy at this tournament going forward. So, I gave them a little bit of an insight into what makes a great week and what makes Bay Hill so special and what really what Mr. Palmer brought to the event and what made it special for us to meet him when we did and what he really brought to the week. I guess that led on to being asked to being part of the tournament Host Committee as well. So, I haven't really been out there kind of on the range asking guys to play, I really feel like this year was always going to be a good field and it is a good field. Obviously, there are guys who are not here and they may be unfairly criticized for that, I really have been a believer in that guys will remember and respect Arnold in their own way and being here or not being here this week has really to me has no bearing on that. It's obviously a really busy time of the year with Mexico a couple weeks ago and the World Match Play next week, so I respect the best players in the world, their decisions, some of them, to not be here. I get that, I understand that, and I don't think it's reflective of how they feel about Mr. Palmer at all. So, like I say, I feel like my role is really just been involved in growing the tournament and going forward and giving the people that put this tournament on a little bit of insight as to what brings players back. This golf course is one I like, it's not a golf course that everyone likes, it's got a few holes that are slightly polarizing perhaps when the golf course is set up a certain way, but for me as a hometown boy it's a no brainer that I'll be here going forward and hopefully we can really create something and make this. I mean, obviously, what the PGA TOUR have done with the legacy events and the three-year exemptions, what Mastercard has done with the purse this week, what brings players back every year is obviously scheduling, it's golf course, it's purse, it's weather, it's really all the big things, really, that you can only give them so much good food and nice cars and a bottle of Ketel One in your locker this week. That helps, you know. There's only so much that a tournament can do, at the end of the day it's the bigger stuff that is going to keep bringing players back and this is a special tournament and we need to maintain that going forward.

Q. Everybody has their memory of, I first met Arnold Palmer when, whenever it was. So, perhaps since we're talking about Mr. Palmer right now, if you could share your first impressions your first meeting with Mr. Palmer, when, where, how, why.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I guess from a professional golf point of view, 2005 late in the Sunday afternoon walking up the hill and being greeted by a legend and calling you by your first name. Pretty special for a young kid, 25 years old or whatever I was at the time. Having my biggest PGA TOUR finish ever and shaking hands with Arnold Palmer. That was amazing. The first time I ever met him was back in the mid '90s. The British Seniors Open came to Royal Portrush for two or three years in a row and it was just hanging over the back of the fence at the range and just kind of, I hadn't really ever been exposed to professional golf very much growing up where I grew up. We didn't really see many events around Northern Ireland. So the British Senior Open was a big deal. Having Palmer and Gary Player and all the legends of the game coming over to play. And I just remember talking to him and how engaging he was and just how just the charm and the personality of the man and how genuine he was and how he just touched people, just by looking at them and saying something kind and I think that was just the man that -- I mean, obviously, we got to know him as a golfer, but the person was even more special. You only had to spend a few minutes in his company to understand why he touched so many people the way he did.

Q. You spoke about your role as a host this week. How difficult is it to sort of preserve his legacy and kind of pay tribute to him going forward and keeping that alive here at the tournament?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: For sure. Yeah, how do you preserve the legacy? I think it's interesting, for the younger player, I think, who have grown up in the last 10, 15 years of the Tiger Woods world. There's no doubt that we feel what Tiger Woods has done for the game of golf every week we tee it up. How he's transcended the sport, brought so many more people to the fan base, how TV and social media have changed so much over the last 15 years. I think that, for the younger players, maybe it's harder for them to understand what Arnold Palmer did for the game of golf. The fact that he was the first golfing superstar, the first guy who was more than just a golfer, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, all of the things that we try to emulate ourselves now as a player becomes a superstar and all of the little layers of the off course life that we get exposed to and that we want to create for ourselves. The biggest athletes in the world, Tiger and Jordan and, sorry, Michael Jordan, guys that are maybe bigger than their sport. I think that, like I say, it's hard for the younger guy to really grasp what he has done for the game. I think in a funny way since his passing we probably are getting a better education now as we read and as we watch and as we feel everything that he's done for the game. So, obviously his legacy will be carried forward via this tournament, but it will be carried forward in so many different ways. I think obviously the city of Orlando, it's easy for us to touch and feel what he's created from a philanthropic point of view, what he's meant to this city. And that's very easy to feel. But this event's big. Going forward, obviously, his foundation, I'm sure, will continue to do amazing things. I think we have been given a massive education since he's passed away and we probably appreciate him more now than we ever did. A big regret for me was not taking the time to drive 30 minutes across Orlando and come and have a couple of Ketel One's one afternoon and that was on my list of things to do the last few years and you know what, I left it too long and I didn't get a chance to do it and I regret that. So, it will be interesting to see what happens with this event going forward and that's what I hope to bring to the table.

Q. This is an invitational tournament, but Arnold made sure a lot of moving parts were involved, for example he would give an invitation to the North Florida Section PGA pro. He would give an invitation to the Southern Amateur champion. He would pluck guys like Vijay, international players who weren't necessarily well known at the time. A Billy Hurley with the military component there at the naval academy. And he would give him an invitation. Even though it's an invitational, there seemed to be a concerted effort to make sure that almost all moving parts of golf were involved in getting a chance to play in this tournament. Do you foresee that being a part of it going forward?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I think I feel like the family will want to continue that, that tradition. And that was obviously what Mr. Palmer wanted for the tournament, so I can't see that changing any time soon. I didn't actually know that there was that many different exemption and invites, which is really cool. It was one of my first big tournaments that I ever had an opportunity to play in in 2005. I'm not sure if I was an invite or top-50 at the time. I could possibly have been an international invite. So, I see that being continued. Like I say, I think the family will really want to continue the wishes and wants for what Arnold wanted for this tournament and really continue the Tradition going forward and I see that continuing.

Q. Thinking about where golf was before Mr. Palmer and where it is now, what do you think was his most important contribution or how did he change the game the most do you think?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: That's a great question. I think just as a role model, really. I think that he treated people and carried himself on so many different levels the way that we all aspire to. From his signature on every autograph that he ever signed, to just the way he touched people and the way he gave back and really just as the most one of the most rounded athletes that we can think of. His personality was bigger than his golf in so many ways, and like I say, he was as great a role model as we can think of in the game of golf. So, obviously his involvement with the Golf Channel and how TV emerged in the last 20, 30 years, when he was involved, the superstardom kind of vibe, there's just so many intangibles that as young players we can't really grasp because the world has changed so much in the last 20 years. But he laid down the foundations for a lot of the things that we know and feel today. But like I say, that role model aspect I think is something that we all could learn a huge amount from, and I certainly try to carry myself like him and treat people the way I would want to be treated by Arnold Palmer if I would have met him when I was a kid.

Q. Two, if I could. It seems like a cool tradition to have players sit at his desk this week and sign some things. Did you take a turn doing that?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I haven't done that yet. I think I'm going to save that for tomorrow afternoon.

Q. What do you think the emotions of that will be?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think that will be very special and I think it kind of echos back to what I said earlier about the education that we're all going to kind of receive via -- and that was something else that we were talking about in December when I was part of the board meeting was kind of, if there was ever a week to educate players on how to carry themselves, this would be an ideal opportunity, without sitting guys down and patronizing them. I think that part of the continuing legacy would be to use the Bay Hill Invitational as an educational week for guys to understand how they should conduct themselves, how they should respect every time they sign their signature on a hat or flag and how they should treat people and what the man created and did and as a businessman and charitable giving. And I have never been in the office before, like I say, I regret not taking the time to come over and spend some time with him. So I'm looking forward to doing that and going up and signing, they got some stuff for us to sign up there and I really believe that that's the kind of purpose of why they want guys to go up there, they want to touch it and they want to have the players touch and feel and understand what he was and what he meant to the game and what he stood for.

Q. Your game, a lot of weeks you wouldn't circle T-14 as a great result. But given the hole you put yourself in, what did you pull out of Tampa momentum-wise for the stretch ahead?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, for sure. I think I made the most birdies in the field last week, which is always a good sign of things. 4-over par after four holes on Thursday is not really going to get it done on the PGA TOUR, let alone any tour, really. But it was great. It was great to dig myself out of that and play as well as I did on the weekend. And I think a big comparison to this year versus last year, I missed a lot of cuts last year and making cuts even 30 or 40 or 50th position on the weekend you can just build some momentum. You play a nine holes or a 18 holes on a Saturday or Sunday that just kind of gives you something to pull on as you move into the following week. So I feel like I come in here it this week really starting to feel like I'm happy where my game's going. It's trending in the right direction and kind of got a quiet confidence about what I'm doing on the golf course and kind of don't feel like I'm super under pressure to go finding something as I got a couple of commitments here these Monday and Tuesday and I can go into the pro-am tomorrow morning ready to play some golf. So, as a host and as a Mastercard ambassador this week, I was a little worried that it was going to be a crazy week, but Amy Saunders and her family have, one of the things she said to me was that, if my father was alive, he would be very respectful of the fact that you've got to play golf this week and we want to be that way as well. So they haven't asked for anything outlandish or anything above and beyond the call of duty this week. They really want me to come and be a playing host and focus on my game of golf as well. So it's an exciting week. It's fun.

Q. Being that you're such an Arnold Palmer fan and a host and so connected with him, it's sure to be something very meaningful for you to do well this week. So my question for you is, when you played so well a few years ago here, you must have had some sort of feel as to what happened that made you play so well and how will you replicate that feel this week?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: This has been a funny golf course for me. I either take a short drive home on Friday night or I play pretty well. So, it's a funny track for me, this one. It's a tough golf course. You really have to drive the ball well. I do like the toughness and the Florida swing has been pretty good to me over the years. I feel like courses like PGA National, Doral, even Tampa last week, even though it was only my second time playing the course, and Bay Hill, they're tough golf courses and you really have to play well and scramble well and grind well. So, I'm hoping for a firm and fast week, with a little bit of wind this week. And it's just one of those golf courses that I feel like, if you're driving it well, it just sets up for the way I play and sets up for my style of game. So, it would be amazing to play well here this week, I certainly don't feel like the tournament host kind of title has brought any added pressure for me. I'm embracing that as a completely different thing. When it comes to me teeing it up, I'll be playing golf like I normally do at Bay Hill. But the tournament host stuff is very much just an honor to be part of and remembering Mr. Palmer and obviously growing the tournament going forward. But come Thursday morning I'll be focusing on my game.

Q. So many young players are winning not only more often, but seems like more consistently these days. Curious for your explanation for why that's taking place.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I can the belief level has changed a lot. Just on a conscious level out here that it's okay to win big tournaments in your early 20s. I think what Tiger did in his young career and in the early 2000s and I think the belief level, I think the old sort of turn pro and spend three or four years cutting your teeth and maybe in your late 20s or early 30s you might be experienced enough to go and win the biggest events in the world, I think that the young players, whether it's something to do with college golf or the level of amateur, how many opportunities the best players get to come and play professionally before they turn pro, there's just a readiness level. I really feel like on the weekends, this whole tag line of choking, it doesn't really happen anymore. You just don't see guys backing it up anymore. Guys just keep the pedal down. I watched Adam Hadwin at the weekend there, I mean, first time winner, apart from one swing that he made on the back nine on Sunday, you couldn't really have faulted the way the kid played. He closed that one out. To me, that's just characteristic of how guys win now. There's no kind of fading away on Sundays. Guys keep the pedal down and I think that the standard of play is so good, but I think the belief level from young players, that it's okay to come out of college and be ready to win on the PGA TOUR and win WGC's and Major championships and you got Rory and Jordan and Jason Day and you got these young guys who are just setting the bar so high now. There's no fear anymore and obviously the level of play is incredible. They're hitting it so far and so straight and whether that's technology or Trackman telling 15 year old kids that need to be launching it at 13 degrees and 2,500 spin. When I was a kid you just give me a driver and hit it down the middle and away you go. It's crazy how ready these guys are now and how professional they are and I lose track of how many young kids I play with now and I just shake my head and go, man, this kid is, he's ready. I played with Curtis Luck, the Australian amateur, in Dubai this year and I was just like, man, this kid's ready to win on the PGA TOUR tomorrow. And there's so many of these guys. So, got to make some cash quick, let's put it that way. Getting old.

Q. Were you influential at all in Rory's decision to play at all this year?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: None. I don't think so at all. I think the days of Rory listening to me are probably long gone. He's pretty good at making his own decisions these days and I should probably be watching and listening to him more than he listens to me these days. So, no, Rory started to play this event the last couple years and maybe kind of changed his mind on the fact that he didn't like the golf course and decided when he came and played and said, well, maybe I do like this golf course after all. We're all very fickle individuals when it comes to golf courses that we love and golf courses that we don't love. Typically the ones we love, we play well on, and the ones we don't love, we don't play well on. So it doesn't take a sort of brain surgeon to work out when guys don't play well on a golf course, they might not be back the following year. So, no, I can't really take any credit for Rory being here. I wish I could. I wish I was that good.

MARK WILLIAMS: Graeme, we appreciate you coming in. Thanks for everything and all the best in your dual roles this week.


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