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February 4, 2020

Graeme McDowell

Pebble Beach, California

THE MODERATOR: We would like to welcome Graeme McDowell to the interview room here at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Graeme, great win last week. How satisfying was it to travel over here coming off a win and then going to a place like Pebble Beach where you've had so much success in the past?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, absolutely. Long journey coming here but when the sun shines there's no better place in the golfing planet to be. I love this event, this and the Dunhill Links, any time the weather's half decent, they're some of my favorite weeks of the year. I play with a buddy here this week and we rent a nice house. And it's a fun week, but at the same time, obviously, here to try and continue to play well. Feel like the game is certainly trending in the right direction, and obviously, would love to have a nice week this week. But the win last week was important at a lot of levels, just to get me back up the rankings, get me back in a couple of the WGC events, which is really important, the major championships, and get me back in the right direction again. So very pleasing. Ticked a lot of boxes and hopefully I can use it as a springboard to kick on for a big year, big season ahead.

THE MODERATOR: Of course, this is the 10-year anniversary of your win at the 2010 U.S. Open. What is your favorite memory looking back at that victory.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, it will be 10 years in June. Lots of great memories that week, of course, but probably coming up the last and just having that two putts from 25 feet to win a U.S. Open. You visualize that as a kid standing on the putting green and then all of a sudden you're like, Well, yeah, I've got two to win a major championship here. So just special memories. And obviously, kick started a pretty amazing five or six years of my career and can't believe it's going to be 10 years in June, but a lot of good stuff's happened. Excited to be kicking back up into the top-50 in the world. And one of my big goals is get myself back up in the top-20 and have a chance to experience that back nine at a major championship again with a chance to win. So that's really the goals for the next three or four years. And like I say, last week has really given me that little bit of a boost, given me an opportunity to get in back of some of the big fields, which is where I want to be.

THE MODERATOR: Open it up for questions.

Q. I want to clarify something first. I've never heard of anyone standing on a green as a kid in twilight saying, I've got two putts for the win. You're supposed to, like, make this for the U.S. Open, aren't you?

Q. Did you ever say, Look, I just got to lag this down there to 2 feet?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: You're really getting hung up on the details there. Yeah, that's true. It's a valid point, this one, yeah.

Q. Let's move on.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Put it this way, I'm glad I had two (laughing). And I think my last thought before I hit the first putt was, Well, at least if I 3-putt, I'm in a playoff. So that took the pressure off me.

Q. You mentioned top-50 and the importance of that a minute ago. I'm curious from, let's say, a couple years ago when you're in the 120 range, how far does 50 look when you're there?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: It feels unbelievably far away. It really does. I think I was in the top-50 in the world for, I don't know, five, six years. And when you're on the outside looking in -- when you're not in those WGCs and the major, the WGCs especially, they nearly have a self-perpetuating World Ranking cycle, making money for both tours, when you're on the outside looking in, yeah, it feels an awfully long way away. So top-50 was a big goal coming into this year. I don't want to say -- I achieved it faster than I expected, but 47, we need to establish ourselves inside of that, you know, you could be one week away from falling back outside of that. So obviously establishing myself back inside of that top-50, which is getting up into the top-30, top-20, that's what I really want. But I think this will pretty much get me in Mexico in a couple weeks time, pretty much guaranteed World Match Play, which is really important to me, and I think Memphis as well. So just to be back in those, I think I'll appreciate them a lot more this time around. I think all those years where you just, it's expected, maybe you don't appreciate what it is and what they are and how important they are at the time. So I always felt like if I ever got the opportunity again I was really going to appreciate it and not, never take it for granted and prepare well and make sure I continue to work hard, because you just don't know when this is going to go away. I think that's probably the biggest thing the last three or four years was just realizing that you're not invincible and that this sport is very fickle and it will go away some day. I think I tasted that little bit of mortality probably this time last year and I realized that I needed to, if I ever got the chance again, that I was going to work hard and do the best that I possibly could with that opportunity.

Q. Could you explain why you think players don't come here when they have the opportunity to spend, like you're going to spend three days, I think it's with Brown, isn't that the guy?

Q. Why would you not come to this when you have those opportunities?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I really feel like a lot of players look at this event as a little bit of, you know, it's an unnecessary distraction having to play with another amateur, or another pro and another amateur. I feel like I have always looked at this as an opportunity -- I've always enjoyed the format, going back to my early days in the Dunhill links, I played, I think one of my first AT&T's I played with Ray Romano, speaking about distractions. I played with him and Kevin James. I think he was shooting a HBO documentary that week on trying to make the cut and we ended up getting beat in a card playoff for him to make the cut. I've always enjoyed the distraction. I like the idea of that it's not just about my golf ball, that I'm reading my partner's putts and worried about where his shots are, and I'm nearly getting, not totally immersed in yourself in a team event, but it just takes the pressure off the individual. And if you can relax and enjoy it, your own ball nearly takes care of itself and you do better than you expect.

But when you look at the list of people that are here this week, I mean, it's some of the most high-profile CEOs in America. You get a chance to meet potential sponsors, great friendships with people that I stay in contact with a lot. Just really important people. I mean, it's weird to come into an event when you're potentially not the most important person there, you're certainly not the wealthiest person in your group by a long stretch, you know. So you're surrounded by successful people and it's a great opportunity to meet other successful people in other spaces. And listen, I get why guys don't like this event from the point of view it's six-hour rounds, the weather can be a little dodgy here, for sure, and like I say, there's a lot of distractions here. So you look at a guy like Phil who has won here what, five times? He gets it, and has certainly hasn't struggled corporately in his career, and I think a lot of that is down to the way he's able to embrace a week like this and take it for what it is. It's an important opportunity to connect with people, some of the most important people in business. So thankfully I've always enjoyed it. I enjoy that side of the game, I enjoy the relaxed atmosphere this week. And obviously, my kind of relationship with this part of the world is fun and I love the walk. There's no better walk in golf than the 4th tee at Pebble out to that 10th green. It doesn't get much better, especially when the sun shines like today.

Q. Getting back to Fergie a little bit on that. Now you're at 47, how far away does 20 and 30 look?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Feels a little closer. But making those big leaps, when you start getting up to the business end, requires big finishes in big events. But the fact you start getting into the WGCs, you start creating opportunities for a lot of big chunky World Ranking points, wins in Punta Cana, don't really have those chunky World Ranking points that you're looking for as opposed to, like, a top-5 in a WGC or that. So it becomes doable. It becomes achievable again. And I'm certainly, last week didn't have that emotional feel that maybe my win in the Dominican last year had. The win in the Dominican last year was, it was about my employment status, you know? It was about having a job to go to here in the States for the next couple years. The win last week was more about this is the journey that I'm on to get back to where I want to be and it just felt like a rung in the ladder. It was, obviously it was an important victory, but it felt kind of like I was ready for it and certainly ready to take those next steps, hopefully back up into the, onto the big stage again and give myself a chance to get in the back nine at an important event again soon.

Q. You spoke in Hawaii about getting away from a little higher launch for a wee bit of distance to getting back to G-Mac kind of golf. When did the light come on?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: You know, we talked about it. I started working with Kevin Kirk back in August last year. I think the event in Medinah was my first week with him. And there's no doubt, I started to hit the ball very high, for me. I've always been a guy who never struggled to hit it low and I always struggled to kind of flight it from 200, 250 yards. In the search for a little bit of distance, my attack angle with my driver went from about 2 degrees down to about 2 or 3 degrees up, so I changed my attack angle by nearly 5 degrees, which is a lot, and I drove the ball really well for a period but then it really started to affect the way I was hitting my irons. I was hitting my irons so high and I really could not keep the ball down very well at all. So my good wind game had kind of disappeared a little bit. I was struggling to flight those balls back down into the breeze. So one of the first remits I had for Kevin when I started working with him was I wanted to get my the ball flight back, I wanted to start flighting the ball down again. And that's probably one of the most significant changes that he's made with me is really getting my flight back down. He's got me teeing my driver back down a lot lower than I was. I always teed the driver very low. I would go for fitting sessions with these equipment companies with drivers and they would be like, Have you ever tried teeing it up a little higher? And I'm like, You're about the 85th person that has said that to me. But, no, I like teeing it low. But everything's high launch, low spin, so let's tee it up and hit it four on the up and spin it low. So I tried that for a while and, like I say, I drove it okay, but it affected everything. So I've got that ball teed low again, I'm squeezing it back out there. Like, Honolulu, for example, I really flighted my irons fantastically. And last week in some windy conditions that really stood me in good stead again and I'm back driving the ball a little bit more like me. It's not particularly long, but it's in the middle of the fairway and it's pretty playable and it's nice to be kind of cheering back into the way I used to play a little bit more, rather than trying to play a game with which I'm really not that familiar. So I've got the flight under control which is very pleasing.

Q. When we talked in January at Kapalua, you talked about attitude a lot, about how a quote from Drew Brees had an impact on you and how Kevin's changed your attitude a little bit. But you talk about these technical things, I'm curious, that certainly helps your attitude when you see the ball going where you want it to and whatever, but it's the chicken-and-egg thing. What was first? Was your attitude altered first or was the golf swing producing shots that changed your attitude?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think that's a fair question, for sure. No, it has to be golf ball first, attitude second. You can't think your way out of a really bad swing. If you're just not swinging it good, it doesn't matter how good your head is. You're just not going to be able to think your way around a golf course when you're not hitting it good, simple as that. So, yeah, golf ball back under control first, and then sort of plug a really, really good attitude on top of that and put it all together a little bit. So, yeah, it's easy to think good and have a great attitude when the ball's going in the general direction you're aiming it. When it's not, that's when the toys come out of the pram a little bit.

Q. Have you had time to think about how your schedule now could change or will change?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: There's a few question marks still. Augusta is still a big question mark for me. I had a little look at it, certainly changes up a little bit. I think if I play Mexico, I think Honda is going to have to suffer, which is an event I haven't missed in 10 years. But you just can't play every week, unfortunately. And Dominican, I can't go and defend down there. So World Match Play problems, which is a great problem to have, but one part of me is disappointed that I can't go down there and do the right thing and defend my title, even though part of me was hoping I was going to have a problem. But, so, yeah, it's certainly a little bit of a change. Augusta I think is the Monday after Match Play, so I'll have to be top-50 by then. So we'll see what happens there, but very, very excited with some of the new additions to the schedule for the next six months. We'll see what happens.

Q. Given that you had kind of turned the corner with the victory in March, what was it between then and August that led you to just feel like you needed to try something new with a different coach and what was it that made you choose Kevin?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: It was probably a little bit of the inconsistency in my play from about just pre-Pebble, a couple weeks before Pebble I was just having some good rounds and was having some average rounds and just wasn't really happy with the general consistency of the way I was hitting the ball, down to the ball flight stuff I was talking about. Even at Pebble, at the U.S. Open, I remember hitting a few shots and in my mind I'm just like, man I just cannot keep the ball down here, this is not good. I had this left shot going on around The Open Championship time at Portrush, I just had this left and I could not get it fixed at all. So it was, yeah, it was general inconsistencies. At the end of 2017 I toyed with the idea of getting an American-based coach. It really boils down to the fact that Pete Cowan has been by my side for the last 14, 15 years and he still is part of the team, but since I fell outside of the top-50 I just really wasn't getting a chance to see Pete enough. Pete does most of the WGC's, all the majors, all the big stuff and I really just wasn't having enough time to see him. And then I wasn't really able to get it fixed over the summer what was going on and I was like, right, now's the time. I just asked around and I got some ideas from people who they thought the smart guys are out there, coaching guys were. And I interviewed a couple of guys and I just settled on Kevin. I just liked his attitude, I liked the sort of energy that he brings to what he does. I liked the way his guys swing it. Patrick Reed, Johnny Vegas, both got great technique, great golf swings. He's been a breath of fresh air, he really has. Like I say, Pete's still a huge part of what I'm doing and Kevin's actually worked under Pete quite a lot, studied under Pete so he speaks the same language. So I really didn't feel like it was a massive deviation from what I had been doing, which was important to me. Like I say, he's brought a lot of simple stuff into my practice, just better practice, more organized practice and I really, he's just brought some really good stuff to the team, which has been I really feel like it's been massively important for me for the last five months.

Q. Length isn't everything, but how much harder is it to win in this era for a player like yourself for a player like Webb Simpson, who also won in the same weekend as you, would you say?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: How much harder is it to win? It really depends. Golf-course related of course. Thankfully, there's still Hilton Head's and Hilton Head's and --

Q. Pebbles?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Pebble, there you go. Thanks. Yeah, I mean, you know, it's funny, I look at a golf course like Phoenix last week, I haven't been to Phoenix since 2006 because JB Holmes won back-to-back there and I thought, well that's the end of this place for me. And I spoke to Adam Long today and I played a bit of golf with Adam the last few months and he's a good kid and I just said, he finished 8th I think in Phoenix last week and I said, Can we, as in the mere mortals, can we get around Phoenix. And he said, yeah, it was firm and fast and he felt like you could still play around there. I looked at the leaderboard and I feel like all I saw was Tony Finau and J.B. Holmes and Wyndham Clark guys that I know all hammer the ball. Thankfully, there still is more to golf than hitting it 350, but there's certain golf courses that you feel like you are two shots behind per round standing on the first tee because guys are going to be getting on 5's that you can't get on and you just you've got to do it a different way. But I don't know, I mean, I think a guy like Webb -- Webb's long, I mean, he's not a short hitter, he's just short relatively speaking to the -- it used to be there was only three or four uber long guys, now there's like 34 of them. So it's just, there's just more guys hitting it a long way. But for me I feel like I'm long enough to compete 90 percent of the time. And that's okay. I'm okay with that. There's going to be 10 percent of the time where you're just like, well, this is not really kind of my kind of a joint this week, I'm going to have to either putt the eyes out of it or I'm probably not going to have a chance to compete this week.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much and good luck this week.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Thanks a lot, guys.

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