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August 10, 2010

Graeme McDowell


KELLY ELBIN: 2010 U.S. Open Champion, Graeme McDowell, joining us for The 92nd PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. This will be Graeme's sixth PGA Championship. He played here in 2004, unfortunately missed the cut, but your best finish in the PGA Championship was a tie for 10th at Hazeltine last year.
How has life changed for you since June at Pebble Beach?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, obviously life's been a little different the last six weeks. Yeah, things are changed. It's been great to be back in the States the last two weeks. You know, it was pretty busy back home, The Scottish Open, British Open and Irish Open were busy weeks as you can imagine.
It's been great to get back to the States. Obviously I'm a little more recognized than maybe the last time I was here and it's been an amazing response from people, you know, just lots of congratulations from people. But Pebble, seems like not too many people missed it out here, anyway. Lots of people tuned into that weekend at Pebble. And it feels good to be here at the US PGA as Major Champion, and I'm very excited about the week.

Q. I'm wondering if you can speak to your emotional state during the final round at Pebble, how calm you were and how you were able to manage your emotions and compare to a time when you didn't manage it well?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: One of the keys for me at Pebble was keeping my emotions in check, that's for sure. Comparing to weekends where I've been semi in the mix, say Birkdale on Saturday, I made a few bogeys and just panicked big time; and maybe at Winged Foot, I was in position there and played with Mickelson Saturday in the third-to-last group and again, I just panicked and started chasing things and turned a 72 into 76 or 77.
I think at Pebble, I learned from my mistakes and realized that a couple of bogeys at a U.S. Open is not the end of the world and you just have to stay patient and stay in control and stick to your game plan.
So I think I learned from some tough weekends and I definitely I realized that controlling things and not panicking when you get out of position is key, because I mean, you're only ever half a dozen pars from sort of being back in position from a decent day's work. It's definitely been a good learning experience in the majors.

Q. Do you work with a sports psychologist of any sort?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I do. I spent about six years working with a guy called Karl Morris, who is a Manchester-based sports psychologist and I did a bit of work with Rotella over the last year, as well. I read his books when I was very young. And sports psychology is something I've always been quite into. It's just basics, no doubt about it, simple stuff, just simple stuff that you can't ignore and techniques you can use when you're under pressure, breathing and imagery and basic things that we all use that we all take them for granted. The best players do them without thinking and the not-so-good players make mistakes. Something I've always been into.

Q. Are the majors a lot more wide open now than at any time in your career, do you think? And on a personal level, did the Open come too early and do you think you have a better chance coming in here this week?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I'll answer your second question first. Yeah, the Open did come too early for me, no doubt about it. I was still on an unbelievable high after Pebble. It was very difficult to come down because everybody was reminding me of it. The Open was the first time I had seen the stateside players, and everyone was there, spectators, reminding me of it. It was difficult to come down from that high and I didn't really want to come down from that high. Obviously I wasn't as focused a golfer as I needed to be for the British Open. I didn't have that dig deep and I putted badly from that six- to ten-foot region that you need to do at St. Andrews. There's no doubt. I wasn't ready. I was ready physically but I wasn't ready mentally and you can't really substitute that ever.
So these last couple of weeks, I felt more like myself. Last week at Firestone, I think maybe getting out of the British Isles has been a big help for me because it's taken the focus off me a little bit. My schedule probably really couldn't have been more tough, like I said, those three events, the Scottish, British, and Irish, probably three of the toughest events for me anyway in regards to stuff just to handle, media, people, spectators, everything; and you throw the U.S. Open into the mixture, it's been a busy three weeks.
I felt like a bit of a weight came off my shoulders a bit last week and felt like I was flying under the radar last week. I played great golf last week and had a good practice session here this week and I'm excited about playing golf again and that's the key.
As regards the majors being wide open, no doubt about it. You just have to look at the first-time winners winning lately, Hunter Mahan winning last week, there are more and more top players out there nowadays. The guys are more talented, they are fitter, they are physically in better condition and they have no fear. I think the days of no-names getting in contention on Sunday afternoon and backing up, it doesn't really happen anymore.
Guys only know -- they only have forward gears now, as opposed to anything else. I think guys are not scared anymore. Add into that sort of Tiger Woods' dip in form the last couple of years and all of that you have wide-open fields.
That's one of the great things about our sport, the Top-50 tennis player in the world takes on Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, they have absolutely no chance. In golf, the No. 1 player in the world could beat Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Steve Stricker or Lee Westwood any given day. That's one of the great things about our sports. There's no doubt our fields are much more wide open, and you get a relative no-name on the board on the weekends and they can go on and win nowadays. It definitely makes for interesting viewing.

Q. The benefits of getting out of British Isles aside for you, is there a sense of familiarity around here, does it remind you a little of Royal Portrush?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: You know, I played here in 2004, but my memories of it are -- very few memories. I think I was still a deer in the headlights in 2004, only my third major and I really remember very little about it.
I played 18 holes yesterday and I was really trying to label this place. It's very difficult to do it. It's some kind of links golf course. It's a jacked-up links golf course. It's got some length and got some teeth to it. It's got a bit of Kingsbarns in there, a bit of Ballybunion and Portrush, everything rolled into one. Amazing that this golf course is man-made because it just looks like it's been there since the beginning of time. It's a visually stunning golf course.
You've got a lot of blind tee shots out there, nearly like a Royal County Down or something like that. The fairways are not very inviting at all. You don't really see much of your target area, so you've really got to know your way around and pick your spots and learn the golf course in your practice rounds.
But it's a visually spectacular golf course. Difficult to know how they are going to set it up. There's a lot of rough out there, especially in the fairway areas. There's so many tee options around this golf course that practice rounds on this golf course are nearly irrelevant. The US PGA could set the place up so much different. There's so many tee box options depending on what the wind is going to do, but the golf course has got a lot of teeth.

Q. To follow up on your question about the fields being wide open in majors, you mentioned that younger guys don't have fear anymore. Why do you think that is? Is that because of playing younger ages in competition? Is there a specific reason for not having that kind of fear?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think it's got to do with the fact that the game has become so much more aggressive now. Now guys go for everything. You know, 20 years ago, it was really the Faldos, and guys like that, Faldo, when he was winning major championships was a real plodder. He just plodded his way around the golf course. JB Holmes and Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods and guys, who dominate golf courses; I think that's a 21st century golfer who dominates a golf course. You see in the late 90s what Tiger did to Augusta is just unheard of. I think guys are so much more aggressive now. Like I say, they only know how to go forward and the scoring just gets better and better every year.
The technology has got better, no doubt about it. But I think it's stopped getting really -- the big, massive jumps in technology have kind of stopped the last three or four years. Guys are longer and straighter, and like I say, I think they are just fitter and they are just better.
You know, they work harder and I just think there's so much more of a wealth of talent across the board now. Like I say, I think it's something to do with the aggressive nature of the sport now where guys are out there trying to go as low as they can. The no-fear thing is in there. I just don't think they are scared anymore.

Q. A Tiger-related question, you've had your own kind of little slump back in 2006. Can you explain what that feels like and how do you go about rebuilding your game from like the depths?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: You know, I've had my ups and downs in an eight-year career, eight-year-plus year, whatever I've had. In '06 I was a bit injured.
You know, when you're in a slump, you start questioning absolutely every aspect of what you're doing, from family level right up through your coach, your manager, your caddie. You question absolutely everything you're doing, your equipment. When you have five hours out there on a golf course, struggling, you've just so much time to think about what it is that's gone wrong and what it is you're doing wrong and what it is you need to do to fix it.
Sometimes, like I say, questioning the deep, dark, depths of your soul as to what you've done wrong and where you need to go from there, I think you make some big decisions and if there's changes that need to be made; I obviously made some massive decisions in '06, '07, some big changes. Went to Callaway Golf, switched my management company to Horizon Sports, new caddie, new coach. I made some changes to get people on board to help me get back in the right direction again.
Like I say, slumps come with a lot of soul searching, and I think that's probably the only way to describe it. And this sport, probably more so than any sport, when it feels easy, it feels unbelievably easy; and when it feels hard, there's no sport harder in the world, I don't think. It's definitely a very unique sport from that point of view.

Q. Relating to your comment about people playing aggressively now and not afraid to go low, I'm wondering how much precedence takes place; you mentioned the precedence of seeing other Europeans winning majors and now there are two 59s in one year, maybe there's a precedent. Can you talk about how that impacts golfers as your level?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Do you mean regards first-time major winners and guys shooting 59 and what that does as far as momentum and stuff?

Q. Right, if one 59 is shot, does seeing that happen make it easier; and seeing one European win a major, does that help you?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I think so, there's no doubt about it. Subconsciously you get a bit of belief. I look at Pádraig winning three out of five or six majors, whatever he did three or four years ago; we look at the guys we know and practice beside and play beside every week. You see a guy doing that, and you realize that maybe it's not as beyond you as you maybe once thought.
The 59 thing, I mean, that's definitely becoming a little bit more of a regular occurrence around the world. I mean, Ryo shooting 58, I think some amateur kid shot 57 in a tournament in Alabama a few weeks ago.
I think the conditioning of golf courses, they get better and better, and the greens get purer. And like I say, the guys hit it longer and longer to where you can decimate a golf course. So 59 is probably going to become a regular occurrence, no doubt about it, I believe that.
I think players can gain a lot of belief from seeing the likes of myself or first-time winners, there's no doubt a few names popped into my head Sunday at Pebble, Y.E. Yang's, Trevor Immelman's, Zach Johnson's, I was taking some belief from those guys doing it. There's no doubt, it has a knock-on effect.

Q. Pete Dye has maintained that the only way you can throw a scare into a pro is with wind or water and he's clearly done it with water at Sawgrass; to what extent is the wind a factor on this course in terms of throwing a scare into you guys?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I see the forecast this weekend is for about 20-miles-per-hour wind out of the south, southwest, something like that. Obviously we are not on the sea here, but you may as well be on the sea. It's pretty big, that lake out there. The breeze has a slightly sea effect to it, no doubt about it, and I think a wind like that -- I played yesterday, the ball was flying pretty well through the wind yesterday. It was probably blowing 10, 15 miles per hour.
There's no doubt a sea breeze is a heavy breeze. This golf course, you have to drive your ball extremely well around here or you're in big trouble, simple as that. I hit it really well in practice yesterday. So the golf course felt kind of playable at times, but you can see if you get out of position on this golf course, you're in a world of pain, no doubt about it. There's stuff, bunkers, that you never even imagined and some pretty heavy rough around.
You put a good crosswind across this golf course, I can imagine four groups being on 18 tee box waiting for their turn. There are some holes out there, which you ask a lot of question of, regarding the tee shots and second shots. There's some big trouble on that golf course.
Like I say, wind aside, there's plenty of protection. This golf course is not going to be decimated this week. There's a lot of protection and it's soft. And we have some more rain forecast, so it's playing it's maximum length. I'm not even sure what it is off the tips here; 7,500. So it's a long golf course with a lot of rough. It's a good track.

Q. Confidence is obviously an enormous part of what you gained since June, can you put that into words how you are more confident now? Do you find people giving you more respect around the place? How does it manifest itself?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: That's a good question. I don't know really. It's too early to tell I suppose. You know, you get recognition from the crowds; it's the U.S. Open Champion, I'm like, yeah, I guess I am. I don't think that's ever going to get old.
And I mean, do players look at me differently now? I don't think so. The confidence within myself that I gained from Pebble is probably just more the belief that I can do it down the stretch on a Sunday afternoon at a major. We all talk Sunday afternoon at a major, Sunday afternoon at a major, in contention, but until you actually get there, you don't know what it's all about.
I guess I have a lot of confidence and belief in myself that I can hit the shots under pressure and that my game can stand up to the ultimate pressure.
Regards of how people perceive me and how my peers perceive me and crowds and stuff, I don't know, it's very difficult to kind of quantify that I suppose. It feels good, though, no doubt about it.
The first five weeks, like I said, Scottish Open and British Open were very difficult for me to deal with. I wasn't ready to play golf. Didn't really feel like myself, and especially the first round of the Open, I didn't feel myself at all. There's no doubt my game feels good, though. I felt good last week and I feel ready to go this week. I certainly believe that I've got the game and the patience and the know-how to get around a golf course like this and the major setups. The confidence, it's difficult to put it into words I suppose. Ask me an easier one.

Q. You're talking about how wide open it is; how much do you expect this sort of trend of first-time major winners to continue, or do you see Phil and Tiger and some of the big names re-asserting themselves, and is it good for the game to have these new faces win majors or in your case, the big names were still in the mix on Sunday, so how important is that in terms of impact on popularity and crowds?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: You know, certainly what Tiger has done the last 15 years has not been bad for the sport. It's been phenomenal, you know. The guy is a phenomena and he will be back and he will win more majors.
I think Phil looks ready to win. I think Ernie looks ready to win. I think the world's best players are still the world's best players, simple as that. But when you have guys like Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Ryo Ishikawa, you have the young blood coming through now. I can't even classify myself as young blood anymore; I'm 31 now, I'm pushing on.
I think golf is as healthy as it's ever been. It's like Tiger Woods and everything that's gone on around him the last six months and everything around the equation; I think golf is healthy now and we have such a wealth of talent all over the world from Asia, from Europe, from the British Isles, from America; it's just strong right now, the sport, and I think long may it continue.
You know, I think people love an underdog, no doubt about it, but people, they love Tiger Woods and they love the big players to win, as well. So I think that we have enough of a mix going on right now to, like I say, I think our sport is extremely strong right now.
KELLY ELBIN: Reigning U.S. Open Champion, Graeme McDowell.

End of FastScripts

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