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June 11, 2019

Graeme McDowell

Pebble Beach, California

BETH MAJOR: Like to welcome in the 2010 U.S. Open champion, Graeme McDowell. Talk a little bit about coming to Pebble Beach.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: It was special to come back to this part of the world. We were just talking, I played the AT&T. It's a pretty familiar golf course to play here, especially today. It's just one of the most amazing pieces of golf real estate in the world, and to feel like I'm part of the history on this place.

As I get older, obviously here this week. It's a competitive place. It will firm up and get faster as the week goes on. Goes without saying, I won once around here, I obviously feel like my game suits this golf course. And certainly not here to take the views in as much as I'm here to compete. And looking forward to compete.

BETH MAJOR: Does it ever get old hearing yourself announced as the 2010 U.S. Open champion?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: No, it never gets old. Like I say, as I get older, it's something I appreciate more and more and more. I've been working hard on my game the last couple of years, and one of my big goals is to get myself back there on the back nine on Sunday afternoon in the not too distant future. I'd love another run at the top of the game, get myself back in the top 50 in the world and see if I can maybe get another big one before it's all said and done.

But it's certainly a great memory from the last time I was here. I got my dad here again with me this week. And a lot has changed in my life the last nine years. But certainly amazing memories coming back here, and looking forward to the week.

Q. Can you just tell us a little bit about the celebrations on Sunday night, who was drinking the most on the plane? Secondly, do you still have the gray cardigan from 2010 stashed away somewhere?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think Peter Millar is sending me a gray cardigan as we speak.

I have one on the way. I'm not sure it's going to be cold enough this week again. But bust out the cardigan. But I may have one waiting in the wings on the weekend for old time's sake.

Sunday night was obviously -- typically when RBC put the plane on, it's normally after The Open Championship coming back to the Canadian Open and it gets a little colorful on that plane sometimes after a major. But this time we were on a way to a major, so it was perhaps a little less colorful this time. Shane had a fantastic week last week, and qualifying for The Open Championship personally was such a big goal for me that it was a big relief. And we had a couple glasses of wine and certainly enjoyed ourselves. And it was a great weekend for Irish golfers in general, with Rory winning and Shane finishing second and me squeezing into Portrush. It was certainly a weekend, a Sunday night that felt it needed a little bit of celebrating, and we did so.

Q. Has the gritty way that you've bounced back and the way that you got into the Portrush last week, has that changed your attitudes coming here even more so that you are here to compete and go for more rather than just have a walk down memory lane?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: For sure. I think four or five months ago, you know, if you'd have told me you're on the first tee with Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson this week at the U.S. Open, where my game was or where my confidence level was, I would have been very intimidated, no doubt about it. I think the last three or four months with the victory and some good finishes and starting to kind of put myself under the gun a few times and getting the juices flowing again, confidence is one of these very fragile things, you know, it certainly goes away a lot quicker than it comes back.

And I've certainly -- it's certainly been a slower process than I imagined getting the confidence back. It is coming. And I walk -- I come into this week feeling very good about my game, looking forward to the challenge of teeing it up with two great players on Thursday and Friday, and trying to dissect this golf course and get myself in position to hopefully be able to compete this weekend.

But so much great golf ahead this year. I came into this year with very simple goals, trying to get my PGA TOUR playing credentials locked up and get myself into Portrush. Those were my two very simple goals, and I achieved both of those now. I can start kicking on and looking ahead to get myself back in the top 100, back in the top 50 in the world. And I believe I'm playing well enough to do that. And I feel like my confidence is coming back.

Q. You were talking about trying to get your TOUR card wrapped up. In the last several years when you've been struggling, have you ever sat there and just thought, I'm the U.S. Open champion, what the heck happened here? I'm sure you think that a lot, I don't know.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Not really ever sure I had that conversation with myself. I might have said to myself, hey, you know, I'm the U.S. Open champion, it wasn't a bad run, you know? When you start kind of having a conversation with yourself about mortality and thinking I could be ready for the second stage of my life and my second career, it's a conversation I had with myself middle of last year. And I started to realize I love being out here. And the vision of it going away, playing the way I was playing, if I continued to play that way, it was going to go away quite soon.

So I realized that when it was gone, I was going to miss it really terribly and that I should really take the opportunity to enjoy myself a little bit more while I'm out here, actually enjoy the challenge, not see it as frustrating and something that was beating me up rather than saying, well, hey, this is -- I'm doing something I love. Working hard. It's a hard game. Some days it feels easy, some days it doesn't.

So enjoy the moment. Embrace the challenge. And that was kind of the promise I made to myself second half of last year and came into this year, and obviously it's amazing how mental a game it is when you let yourself enjoy the sport a little bit more, good things start to happen.

Yeah, I never really ever said to myself, hey, you know, you won a major championship, you should be better than this. Golf is a fickle game. I took my eye off the ball it felt like for a second, and a hundred 25-year-old kids came running by me. It's the nature of the beast out here. It's a tough game. You have to keep your eye on the ball, and you have to keep working hard, and I feel like I've done a good job refocusing myself.

Q. What are some of those spots on the course where you get the special feelings about 2010?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Pretty much most spots, to be honest with you. The walk from the third tee to -- sorry, the fourth tee to the 10th green is pretty hard to beat. I played the back nine this morning. It's just a lot of memories. Like I say, I'm not here to reminisce. In a funny way, I'm very happy that I've played so many of the AT&T pro-ams that I have, because I kind of got the reminiscing out of the way. My dad and I came here and played together in '14. It was the first time we came back. It was beautiful weather, and we certainly enjoyed the walk and enjoyed the memories.

But when I play the golf course, I remember some pivotal moments, some shots that I hit in 2010, some up-and-downs, some things that happened, for sure. But there's a lot of great stuff happened early in the week. I hung tough on Saturday when Dustin shot 66, 65, whatever he shot, it was an amazing round. Sunday was a grind. It was very difficult. The golf course got firmer and faster.

I'm expecting the golf course to do that again this week. It was incredibly benign and soft this morning. There was barely a breath out there. Pitch marks on the greens and you just know that's not going to be the way it's going to be come Friday, come Saturday this week. And it looks like they have the golf course right where they want it right now, which is exciting.

Q. What do you remember your reaction was when you remember about Rory's 61 as a 16-year-old?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I do remember when someone first told me that, because you hear about -- you hear about the next great thing. We've got this kid he's playing at +7, and blah, blah, blah, whatever, you know. Then he shot 61 in the first round of the qualifying for the North of Ireland, and I'm like, really? Okay. Hold on. Now I've got to pay a little more attention to this.

That was probably the first time that I realized that we had something pretty special on our hands from the point of view of Irish golf and Northern Irish golf. He's a special talent. Great to see him back playing the way he's playing this year. He looks like he's mentally in a very good place, and a runaway win at the weekend shouldn't have done his confidence any harm. I'm sure he comes in this week looking to add his name to the U.S. Open trophy again. He's a special player. I'm really happy for him.

Q. You've talked over the past few months about the 300-pound gorilla in the room. When was the moment that you thought you were least likely to achieve what you have achieved to get into The Open?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: To qualify for Portrush, you mean? I think coming into this run of events. I was planning on going to St. Anselm Links for the 36-hole qualifier Tuesday of the Irish, starting to make those plans a little bit, which was like, really, am I really doing this? Okay. I guess we are.

So that was kind of the -- that was last week, just chatting with Kenny about our logistics about how we were going to get to the Irish, fly to Manchester for a few days, get ready for the qualifier and go to the qualifier from there.

As these weeks started to crunch on and I hadn't got the job done, the pressure was going to build. I certainly didn't wanted to be in Scotland, Last Chance Saloon, going: This is it.

But that was a real possibility. It was difficult. Bay Hill this year was kind of the beginning of the conversation because it was the first event this year that had spots for The Open. I got off to a nice start, and then all of a sudden the story started to kind of grow a set of legs, and it was amazing. It's amazing how many people have said to me the last few months, just random spectators outside of the ropes saying, hey, really hope you get to Portrush. Really hope you qualify for your home Open. I'm like, really? Is this story getting this big that random people -- it was weird last week in Canada. The last round, every hole I played, every tee box I walked on to, people were shouting at me: Hope you make it to The Open. Hope you make it to Portrush.

Listen, the biggest weight I had on my back was my career and my future. And to have won this year and bought myself some more time and a couple more years out here to keep working hard was obviously huge for me. But going into this run of events, especially to be able to have The Open ticket punched now, I can be here and focus a hundred percent on the U.S. Open, go home to the Irish and Scottish and focus a hundred percent on those. It gives me that little bit of breathing room to hopefully focus on my game and be competitive, because I feel like I'm playing well.

Q. On the par-putt on Sunday, were you standing over that thinking you had to make it to qualify? Did you have any idea where you stood? How did that whole last nine play out for you in terms of is it like trying to win a tournament almost, even though you know you're not winning the tournament?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: It was a really difficult day from the fact that you didn't know what number you were chasing. 65 might not have been good enough. But 68 actually took care of it in the end. It was a really weird day. I got off to a nice start and couldn't make a putt. I missed a few fairways and scrambled. I think I parred the first 11 holes and then made an unexpected birdie out of the left rough on 12. Hit a great 5-iron on 13, made the putt for birdie from there. So here we go.

17 was a par 5, playing really short. And I felt to myself if I got it in fairway, make birdie on 17 that I was in really, really great shape. But I missed the fairway and only made a par. So 18 at Hamilton last week was a very difficult hole. I didn't hit a very good drive at all. I missed it in the left rough and couldn't get to the green in two. I laid it up and shortsighted myself to the front right pin. Kenny has got his phone out looking at the PGA Tour app, trying to work out who is on the leaderboard. Looking at the leaderboard trying to work out what is going on, who is exempt and who isn't. I think five might be enough, we're not sure. He said to me, I think five might be good enough, so don't get too cute with this pitch shot. Let's not make six is what he was trying to say to me.

But I played the chip very safely. I left myself a pretty nasty little putt. Was I trying to make it? First of all, I was trying not to three-putt, that was my first thought. And then I had a good look over the putt, I liked what I saw. When it went in, it was a huge relief. But if I make 5 there and -- if I'd have made 5 there and missed, that would have hurt. That would hurt really badly.

Q. (No microphone.)
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think we had to finish T9 with about three or four other guys, some of the guys who weren't exempt would have been in that tie. And then I think it goes to the highest world ranked player, I'm not sure. Thankfully we didn't have to go down that route in the end. That would have hurt. But it was obviously a huge putt to make.

Q. You mentioned playing with Dustin this week. I just wonder if you guys ever talked about what happened that day, 2010, or if you reached out to him after that or anything like that?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: We never really talked about it much, no. I'm probably a lot closer to Dustin now than I was in 2010. I didn't know him very well. I think Saturday was the first time I'd ever played with him. But we spend a lot of time together now in a RBC relationship and some things -- some mutual stuff that we do.

But, no, he seemed to have kicked on okay after that. It certainly didn't affect him, from a long-term point of view. It was just one of those kind of weird things. I look at the setup this week and the way the bunkers are set up with the fescue around the lips of the bunkers, and I always think it's a beautiful looking feature, but it's an incredibly unfair feature. I remember in 2010 thinking that it could be pivotal at some point during the week. And sure enough on Sunday, Dustin's second shot on 2 goes pretty much unplayable special he makes a 7 there and losses a ball at the next. And threw the U.S. Open back in my lap again.

It's amazing, I look at those bunkers and think -- I think they're still unfair. But in a way, you know, I should be pretty thankful for that little setup quirk as well, because it won me the U.S. Open potentially.

Like I say, I have say huge respect with Dustin. It's one of those things in golf, Harold Varner a few weeks ago at Bethpage, like I said in Canada, sometimes you have to go through to understand what you're going to do differently next time. I've had days like that. We've all had days like that. Like I say, Dustin has done okay. He's a hell of a player.

Q. 8, 9, 10 here, the so-called Cliffs of Doom. Can you take us through that?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I like that, the Cliffs of Doom. Yeah, 8's kind of -- is the most boring tee shot followed by greatest second shot in golf. To me, if I had one shot to hit for the rest of my life that would be the one. The tee shot they forced the fairway to the right. So you can obviously try to pick some spots out in the background to find that fairway. Trying to advance it as far down as you can, 240 or 250 off the tee if you can, leaves you 4-, 5-, 6-iron perhaps into -- it looks like a bare mountain down there, it's a tiny little green. Just trying to sneak it on the front half of the green, and take your two putts to go. It's a dangerous second shot. It's bad like it is most greens at Pebble. But it's an amazing second shot. One of my favorite in the world.

So 9 and 10, I didn't realize that both of them have new tees. The one on 10 is 50 yards back. I think the one on 9 is 40 yards back. 9 is 525 yards. I thought it was a hard hole when it played 40 yards shorter than that. 9 and 10 are unusual because they're both similar tee shots. The fairway slopes hard left, right. You're sort of trying to take the left edge on and trying to get the ball in play off the tee.

And 9 is an extremely steeply pitched green from back to front with a deep bunker front left. And, again, you're just trying to get it on the front half of the green on 9, don't hit it over the back or you'll wish you hadn't bothered.

10, tough tee shot. Played really long today. I hit drive, 5-iron no the front pin. Flat calm. So 10 -- I think 9 and 10 are certainly two of the toughest par-4s on the golf course now. Sort of 8, 9 and 10. It's a key stretch of the golf course. You came out of a benign enough opening to this golf course with the exception of 2. You've got some chances early on, but then 8, 9, 10, you batten down the hatches a little bit. It's certainly the beginning of a pretty tough stretch ahead of you. But 10 is a flatter green. But trouble, big trouble front right of 10 if you happen to come out of your second shot and miss that green right, you're dead, lost ball. But amazing stretch of golf. And I'm definitely -- and definitely going to play a pivotal role this week.

BETH MAJOR: Graeme McDowell, 2010 U.S. Open champion, always a pleasure. Looking forward to you playing Pebble Beach Golf Links again this week.

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