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July 3, 2019

Graeme McDowell

County Clare, Republic of Ireland

Q. I'm glad to welcome Graeme McDowell back to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. We're here in Lahinch and you've just walked off the course. Your thoughts on the spectacular weather and how the course might be slightly different to when you won back here in 2000?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, correct. First time back here, I think, in 18 years. Certainly don't remember the golf course very well. I've got to be honest. My memories are pretty minimal. Match play back in those days, and some days you'd play 12 holes and other days you played a few more holes than that. Some years you came down and lost in the first round, other years you played better. But I always have great memories of the south of Ireland.

But I don't remember the golf course being to good to be honest with you. I really enjoyed it this morning. The golf course is very mixed. The front nine is quite short and tricky and you can make a score, and the back nine is quite long and a little bit more there in front of you.

Obviously the weather is perfect, great fans out there. The atmosphere should be a lot of fun this weekend.

Great venue, very happy for Paul and all he's done here. Looks spectacular, great field, and hopefully we're going to have a nice weekend.

Q. You've had a string of really good results over in the States and in Canada in particular and winning, as well, on the PGA Tour this year. You must be pleased with where your game is.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, very much so. It's been a pretty solid few months. Nice run at Pebble, played pretty consistently most of the week. Didn't play great on Sunday. Obviously the week before in Canada took care of business for The Open in a couple weeks' time, which was really important to me.

It would have been very difficult coming into this week having to have gone to St. Anne's yesterday to try and qualify for The Open and then trying to come in here and get ready for the Irish Open. So it was nice to have that one taken care of so that I could really come in here this weekend and focus primarily on trying to play well this weekend.

It's been a great solid year. I've achieved a lot of things I wanted to achieve this year, and looking forward to these next three weeks. It's going to be some great golf, some great golf courses and a lot to play for. Very much trying to keep my eye on this week and trying to play as well as I possibly can.

I spent a couple of days at Portrush the last few days and I feel like I've done my prep up there now and I can really focus on trying to play well the next few weeks and leading into The Open Championship, and we'll see what happens.

Q. How was Portrush playing? What do you think of the condition it's in with a few weeks to go?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, very good. Very good. A little less rough than I was expecting, perhaps. Obviously year one I'm sure they're a little hesitant to set it up ridiculous. Obviously with another two and a half weeks to go they can do a lot with things. I'm sure they can get the rough to sprout pretty quickly. But general conditioning was very, very good tee to green. Greens were great. Some subtle changes they've made over the last 10 years really since we played the Irish Open there in '12, the tee boxes, some new bunkering, two new holes, of course, and two of the other holes' greens are reshaped.

But generally, 85 per cent of the bones are what I grew up playing. But some of the tee shots I remember playing a lot shorter nowadays with the new equipment and some of the holes with some back tees are playing a lot longer than I remember. But I still believe that it's an accuracy golf course tee to green. Even with the slight lack of rough, it's still penal if you miss it in the wrong places off the tee, and it still rewards great accuracy off the tee and really solid iron play.

So yeah, I was impressed. I got two great days up there, really had a decent look at it and, like I say, really feel like I can focus now on these next two weeks. I don't have to try to get back up there to play practice rounds.

I was trying to approach my practice rounds up there without too much complacency. I was like, growing up on the golf course, should I be out here grinding. Yeah, I should be out there grinding. I don't remember it very well. It's like coming here. I haven't played competitively here in 18 years, and aside from the Irish Open I haven't played competitively at Portrush in 18 years, as well. Trying not to be complacent with my preparation. Did my usual kind of reccy when it comes to playing a golf course. Obviously nice to be at home.

Like I say, very much trying to be in the present the next two weeks. There's a lot to achieve, a lot for these three weeks. If I can compete twice, I don't really care which two weeks they are, it's just about being competitive. You can't be choosey about when you compete, and I'm just trying to compete as much as I can at the minute.

Q. Having taken care of qualification, has that been a freeing experience for you, lifted the pressure?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think it's freed me up. I think going to Pebble, for example, with more spots up for grabs there, I think just having -- there's enough of a story line trying to compete every week without having the story line all the time. Qualifying for The Open, I felt the story snowballing. I felt like every tournament that I went to, people were reminding me that I wasn't in Portrush, hope to see you at the Open at Portrush, hope you get in. I'm like, yeah, I know, I hope I do, too. I just want to focus on what I'm doing.

I think it was definitely freeing. I felt more relaxed over at Pebble, and coming into these two weeks, like I say, if I had had to be at St. Anne's yesterday, that would have been tough prep for me coming into Lahinch, a golf course I don't know very well, and it certainly doesn't do much for your preparation. So it was great to be able to fly in to Portrush on Sunday, spend a couple of days and come down here yesterday and get ready for this tournament and have The Open taken care of.

It would have been incredibly bittersweet not to have been at the Open Championship, and I certainly didn't want to come to the Irish and Scottish Opens with a gun to my head trying to get into The Open Championship, as well. It would have been a lot of pressure. The story line would have been getting a little silly by the time we got to next week if I left it that long. Thankfully I backed myself five or six week ago; I said, we're playing well enough here. We have four or five opportunities, we're playing well, let it take care of itself. Thankfully it took care of itself very early on in that run.

Q. Recent Irish Opens, how do you think it's affected the appeal of Irish links golf? Are you conscious of that when you go abroad, of the broadening appeal?
GRAEME McDOWELL: For sure. I think especially with Portrush and The Open this year and having the best players in the world coming to Portrush, I think obviously I'm very passionate about golf in Ireland and especially when I play golf all over the world, especially in the States, and people that come over and visit us and very often stay down in the southwest corner and maybe don't experience further up the west coast and up into the northwest coast. I think golf courses like Lahinch that maybe don't get the recognition that maybe they deserve, like you say, Portstewart, and even Portrush to a certain extent. Of the big ones, it's nearly sort of the forgotten brother.

But obviously The Open will do huge things for that this year, and I think Irish golf in general will get a massive boost from this year. I think this is such a special start to these three weeks. To have the sun shining at Lahinch Golf Club looking as well as it's going to look this weekend will lend a really nice feel to here, as well.

It's just a great start to this stretch of links -- the links swing or links series, whatever we want to call it.

I'm proud for what the Open Championship is going to do for the whole island, in regards to economically bringing more people over here and coming to see this beautiful country. It always looks amazing when the sun shines like today, and like I said, I forgot how beautiful this golf course was. It's really stunning, and it's going to look great on the box this weekend hopefully.

Q. You said you haven't been at Lahinch for a while. Have you been taken back in relation to the organisation that has gone into this in a small amount of time to be able to host such a big event such as the Irish Open and seen it transformed? Are you impressed with what you see?
GRAEME McDOWELL: For sure. I haven't had a chance to really have a look around the town. I only got in yesterday afternoon, but they've done a fantastic job.

I think hats off to Paul McGinley and really the marketing he's done the last six months on social media and really building this event up. Obviously it includes Phil with Rory and the done he's done the last three years in this event and really put it back on sort of the main stage of European Tour events. So happy for Paul. It's a fantastic venue. Certainly no complaints from a golf course setup point of view. It's really, really good.

Lots of people out there this morning even in the pro-am. So expecting a really great atmosphere. I always have great memories of the town here. The Guinness tastes good down in this part of the world, and great hospitality and great people. I always have amazing memories. I think my memories are better off the course than they are from on the course to be honest with you.

But like I say, really happy for Paul and just the European Tour in general. It's going to be a great, great week and hopefully everyone comes out and supports.

Q. What kind of a score do you think will be required to win?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, good question. Sort of tough to get my head around what the scoring is going to be. It's a bit like that at Portrush, as well. If it doesn't blow, how do you protect -- Portrush I think the R&A obviously have the ability to really tuck pins. Will they do that this week? You might not see Open Championship level pins this week, so perhaps the protection level might not be there.

The greens are well protected, though, with lots of run-up areas. The turf is perfect. They're as good a style of links greens as I've seen in a long time to be honest with you. They're really perfect, pure. And it's not really tricky off the greens this week. The bunkers are quite benign. The main trouble on this golf course is if you have shorter greens, typically they run back off the fronts and you leave yourself difficult up-and-downs, but in and around the greens it's not mega difficult.

So four days like this, certainly 15-under, I think, plus -- 15- to 20-under I'd guess. What's the par of the golf course?

Q. 70.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Oh, yeah, we're playing those two par-4s. So a few shots off that then. Par-70, four 67s, 10- or 12-under, something like that I think would be a very good score. I'll take that now if I'm able to.

Q. You mentioned trying to practise without complacency. Is there a danger that you go in thinking (indiscernible)?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, there's a danger of that for sure. But I feel like I deal with that better in my old age than I used to do. I appreciate these moments because I know they're not always going to be here. I don't have too many of these moments left. It's less enjoy ourselves and more of the, let's prepare properly and really try and do our best. Pebble was a great dry run for me I felt like for Portrush a few weeks ago because I went in there with that little expectation of being the last guy to win the U.S. Open at Pebble and dealing with that little bit of extra pressure with the big draw on Thursday and Friday and felt like I handled myself pretty well.

Nothing prepares you for The Open Championship in your hometown and something you've always dreamed of for the last 20, 30 years, but I feel like that will stand me in good stead the week of Pebble. You know, the warmup week this week, and next week, like I say, I'm really trying to play hard these next two weeks so that I can take some form with me to Portrush and be able to take it easy with my prep Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and really just rest up and get ready for the tournament.

It's going to be good. Like I say, certainly not going up there for a glory walk. I'm not going up there to look around and smell the roses, I'm going up there to compete and be prepared and really take it as seriously as I take any other week. But I'm not sure how many opportunities I'm going to get to do this anymore, so I feel like I take them more seriously nowadays.

Q. You said earlier that you set out this year to achieve a lot of things and you've achieved them up to this point. What are you looking to achieve the second half of the season?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Being top 50 by the end of the year is kind of a big goal for me, get myself in all the big events next year. Certainly top 50 felt very unachievable three, four months ago, and as I said here, I feel like it's very achievable between now and the end of the season. Really the focus goes back on the World Ranking, the focus goes back on trying to be as ready to play every week as I can and try and compete every week.

It's nice to kind of have the old mindset of, like I said earlier, the story line being that week I'm playing rather than having all these other things going on in my head about keeping my card and getting in this event and getting in the Open Championship.

It's been -- I figured out about myself that I'm at my best when I'm relaxed and focused on one thing, and just trying to be competitive, it's very difficult to play when you've got kind of a bunch of things going on in your head about ifs and buts and maybes. Just nice to be looser and freer.

I've got a pretty busy schedule between now and the FedExCup Playoffs and then I'm going to play quite a decent little bit sort of September, October, as well. Got a lot of golf to play, and like I say, just about being fresh and ready to go every week and trying to compete, it's a nice feeling to have. It's been a few years of kind of having a lot of stuff flying around in my head, so it's nice to be a little bit more --

Q. Did you doubt yourself in that period?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Of course I've doubted myself many times, absolutely. I certainly asked myself many times am I good enough anymore. It's a fairly stock question that we ask ourselves from time to time, especially if you're late 30s out here and the standard is getting awfully, awfully good, and you think to yourself, if I continue to play the way I'm playing for another 12 to 18 months I'm not going to have very much left. Going back to Europe and spending 200 more hours on a plane during the year with young kids at home was something not very appealing to me, but it was becoming my only option at one point there.

But like I say, it's nice to have that singular focus back again where I can focus on being competitive every week, and that's when I was at my most (indiscernible).

Q. You had a pretty magical summer in 2000. I don't know if you can remember about 2000 but you had a win at Lahinch and you had at win at Portrush. What would you give for another summer like that again?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Wow, that would be pretty special. I like that --

Q. How have you changed since then?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think he's certainly a bit smarter these days than he was maybe 19 years ago. But speaking of singular focus, I was just back from my first year of college in the States, and I definitely was starting to develop this accent a little bit. (Laughter.)

But I was very confident. I was very focused on my golf. I had my best eight months of preparation that I've ever had in my golfing career to that point. I'd been in some nice weather and shorts in February and practising really hard and I literally came home to Ireland that summer feeling like I was one-upping most of the guys just from a preparation point of view, and obviously had an amazing summer. I think I won the Western Irish Links and I had won in the south down here, and then won the Close up in Portrush which was pretty special. But like I say, to win at Lahinch and Portrush again this summer, that would be special. That would be a pretty cool way to get myself back to where I want to be in this sport.

I certainly feel like I'm playing well enough to do it. Like I keep saying, I'm focused on the present here. Would love to try and compete and win this weekend. My record in the Irish Open wasn't great in my younger days, kind of back to what I said earlier. Sometimes you show up at these events and you think just being there, that is the show, whereas focusing and competing, having a chance to win here would be very, very special. Definitely working hard these next few weeks, and we'll see what happens.

Q. Obviously the two courses really suit your game. Do you feel that, that the two golf courses really suit the way you play?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I think so. I think they're both accuracy golf courses. I mean, they're not particularly long. Links golf when it's firm, you don't have to bomb. You've got to drive it well at Lahinch, especially on that front nine. There's a few quirky little holes there, and if you're out of position it can really bite you.

No, I like the way this course sets up. Like I said, my memories of it are minimal at best, but I feel like I've had a pretty good look at it last night and this morning, and looking forward to getting out there tomorrow. The winds look very calm for this part of the world, so certainly not going to be as tricky as it could be, but I feel like the golf course is strong enough to keep guys honest, so you're going to have to play some pretty good golf, and like you say, I think it fits my game.

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