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March 2, 2011

Graeme McDowell


DAVE SENKO: Graeme, thanks for joining us. Maybe just get us started, talk about your year, you've played three times, three Top-10s, including last week, you were T-9, talk about where your game is now coming into this week.
GRAEME McDOWELL: It's been a bit of a stop/start to the year, Hawai'i and Abu Dhabi obviously and then I've had four weeks off before Match Play there.
So a Top-10 last week officially, but doesn't really feel like one. I didn't really play my best last week but I've been working hard on my game and worked very hard last week and had two or three days really good practice the last few days.
Just looking forward to the season starting proper I guess this week, stroke play, 72 holes, card back in the pocket this weekend and building up to Augusta really and beyond.
I feel like I'm back to business this week, and looking forward to it and just excited to try and continue hopefully where I left off in stroke play competitions.
DAVE SENKO: What was your off-season like? I know you played at the Shark Shootout. With the weather being what it was like at home, what was your practice schedule like in between there.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, it was pretty minimal. After I played the Shark Shootout, I pretty much had the best part of three weeks off and I was home for ten or 12 days. It was pretty snowy back there, so there wasn't a lot of golfing going on. I chilled out. I started the season in Hawai'i and like I say, played Abu Dhabi. At that point I felt like I needed some real time off.
So I had four weeks off just in Orlando and just been laying low and playing a bit of golf and doing a few things. Like I say, I feel like I'm refreshed and getting ready to go. My game was a little rusty last week but got a lot of work done and saw where it was at so ready to go proper this week now. I've got a busy schedule from now really until September. It's pretty flat-out so I'm looking forward to it.

Q. Last year I remember running into you in the elevator the day after you had called what to us was an imperceptible infraction on yourself in the water on 18, you said something about, well, it all comes around at some point. The start of your good karma pretty much last year the way you called that on yourself last year even though nobody saw it?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I never looked at it like that before but an interesting way to put it in perspective I guess. What happened to me last year was one of those things really. Like you say, it was imperceptible. It I felt it and obviously the camera footage picked up just a tiny, tiny little flick of the water.
It's one of those things; The Rules of Golf can be a little tough but they are there to protect us in the end. The weekend kind of spiraled out of control from then onwards unfortunately. It didn't really get much better. Saturday I struggled a little bit and Sunday I got trapped by the Bear Trap.
So it's funny how things go and two weeks later I was at Bay Hill with a chance to go within four of the lead on 17 and next hole I made quadruple and missed the cut. It was amazing how certain weeks can feel frustrating and you can feel a million miles away from it. If you just keep on the track, you never know what's around the corner in this game. I think the first six months of my season last year, I certainly looked back at those months as very much a learning experience in the game as to how frustrating the game can be, and all of the sudden how rewarding it can be, so you just have to stay patient and keep working hard really. There's definitely some things to learn from that going forward.

Q. A reverse of what other American journalists would ask; how many tournaments are going to play in Europe?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think the way my schedule works out this year, all considered, I'm going to play 18 times on The European Tour and I'm going to play 17 times on the PGA TOUR. Obviously there's some overlaps with the majors and WGCs. It works out to be about 27 to 28 events. So pretty 50/50 on both tours.
It's an amazingly similar schedule to last season actually. It's not like I'm going changing things up in any way, shape or form. Apart from the FedEx Playoffs, that will be kind of the only major change in my schedule this year. I'm excited, I know a lot of these courses, I played here last year and Doral and Bay Hill and Augusta. There's very little change to my schedule really and that makes me excited. Definitely looking forward to a lot of the great events this year and with a balance in Europe as well. The Volvo World Match Play down in Spain will be my first one, and then down in Wentworth and Wales.

Q. Irish Open?

Q. Do they have a sponsor yet?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think we have been told that the Irish Open is going to happen, and obviously I'm part of the Irish contingent right behind it; so I'll be there rain, hail or snow.

Q. What do you think about the changes in the Tavistock Cup?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Tavistock Cup, yeah, actually I just spoke to one of the guys in charge this morning. We are excited about it. The Tavistock Cup is a really fun deal, you know, having two other teams involved this year. Obviously the Albany Project down in the Bahamas which is part of the Tavistock Group, they are going to be pretty tough, and they stole a few players from our team which hurts us a little bit.
Obviously got a lot of different sides to it. Tavistock do a lot of work around Orlando and huge giver to charity and just good to be a part of. I love where I live there in Orlando. It's been a great place for me to further my career really as far as having a great place to base myself in the cold Irish winters.

Q. Up to No. 4 in the world now, and it's been a fairly fast rise for you. Just wondering what the view is like from the top, or near the top and whether you aspire to go all the way to the top with it being as volatile as it is now?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, it's a lot of fun, of course. I dreamed of being in the upper echelons of the World Rankings all my career and now that I'm here, it's got a slight surreal value to it. It always appears that it will be more exciting than it actually is. Obviously I'm very proud to be here. But you know, definitely that little bit of extra pressure of trying to maintain that, you know, I realize my World Ranking reflects my last ten months of golf, which has been pretty good.
Yeah I'm just excited as to where that's going to take me and of course the No. 1 spot is in touching distance more so than it's ever been, obviously with Tiger being so far in front there, after the turn of the century and the last seven or eight years, the No. 1 spot's seem very out of reach but I would be lying if I sat here and said that it wasn't a goal of mine.
Of course, I feel like I have the game. I can keep improving and I'm No. 4 in the world right now and I know how much better I can be, so of course, the No. 1 spot is something I'll be aiming for and it's exciting to be part of a strong European contingent right now as well. It makes for pretty good reading as a European golf right now in the World Rankings.

Q. I remember you talking last year at the U.S. Open that you and your dad walked around and had lunch and no one really recognized who you were and all. How is life different for you now that you've become like a superstar? I'm sure you don't walk around now with people not recognizing you.
GRAEME McDOWELL: There's no doubt, there's definitely a slight bit more of a notoriety value, shall we say, around the world. I get recognized in some places where I wouldn't have been recognized in the past before. Of course, that's kind of cool. You always dream of being, you know, at the peak of your game really and being someone that the people know around the world as one of the best players in the world.
So it's a lot of fun, of course. It has it's moments. Definitely enjoying it. Life changed a little bit the last eight months or so.

Q. Do you still have time to go to the pubs with the lads and have a Guinness or two?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I manage to get there from time to time. (Laughter) Life wouldn't be worth living if I couldn't do that.

Q. A lot of promising golfers through the years have sort of kicked the door in on a major and the expectation was, okay, now they are going to go even higher, and they don't. But you really seem to have found a new gear after Pebble Beach and then in The Ryder Cup and then Tiger's tournament again last year. What was it that just sort of propelled you forward, and do you feel like you're a different golfer now than 18 months ago?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, I think I was very aware of the pitfalls. I remember reading Michael Campbell's quote when he said that no one actually ever tells you how to get back down from the peak of Everest when you have climbed to the summit. A lot of people die on the way back down. I remember that kind of hitting home.
Obviously we have seen great players come and go as far as one-time wonders when it comes to the major championships. I certainly didn't want to be one of those guys. I've got a great team of people around me, my management company, my caddie, my coaches, people who keep me on the ground and who keep me motivated and who keep me definitely -- I've to try to maintain the values that have gotten me to where I am right now, my good work ethic and everything.
It's tough. Obviously there's expectation level that I create for myself and of course the world around me creates the expectation but it's the one inside me that can be the danger when I go out there every day trying to prove something to myself or prove something to everyone else around me. You have to keep the game in perspective and keep enjoying it really, and of course I'm trying to keep working hard. And now that I've got one major, I certainly want to taste some more of those.

Q. What did it do for your confidence? It just seems like you're a more confident golfer under pressure than maybe you were the first five or six years of your career?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I mean, I think that's all I can take from 2010 is a confidence and a belief level. Just because you've achieved great things doesn't mean you are automatically going to achieve more. We have seen guys struggle in the past and all I can take from 2010 is a lot of confidence and belief in my game and my ability and confidence that I'm on the right path as far as the people I'm working with and the stuff I'm doing with my golf swing and hopefully continue to get better.

Q. Can you talk about how much more focus and importance there is on the World Rankings compared to when you first came out? Guys talk about if they miss a putt, they lose World Ranking points, that kind of stuff?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I'm not a guy who gets sucked into points, 10ths and 100ths of points in the World Rankings. Of course you play well and you as send the World Rankings and there are some magic numbers in the World Rankings. 50 is probably the biggest number of them all really. Once you are well established inside the Top-50, I'm not going to say the World Rankings become irrelevant, but they do to a certain degree. It just becomes a prestige thing.
Of course I would love to become the best player in the world. To be the No. 1 player in the world is pretty special. But fourth, fifth, 12th, 14th, we are all great players. I'm under no illusions that the 25th player in the world can beat me on any given day.
But like I say, when it comes to sponsors and endorsement deals, they are very much triggered by World Rankings and it's very important be up there and to ascend the World Ranking because they are meaningless to a certain degree from a week-to-week point of view. It doesn't give you any God-given right to shoot 65 every day because you're the fourth-best player in the world, apparently.

Q. How does the season feel different that the No. 1 spot is up for grabs?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think it's just exciting for golf really. It's exciting that Tiger Woods, the saga that is; when is he going to win again, when is he going to back to his best. Of course I think that's great for golf. I think people are excited about that. I think it it's exciting that the world No. 1 is now up for grabs.
We are excited back in Europe that Lee Westwood has been the world No. 1 and now we have Martin Kaymer. It's very exciting and proves how healthy golf is and it's a great time to be playing the game.
Obviously I've said in the past that I feel very fortunate to be playing golf in the Tiger Woods era. He has definitely brought a lot of excitement and he's brought a lot of fans to the game and we should be thankful for that. I think we are in an exciting time right now. I think there are a lot of great story lines in the game and it's just fun to be part of that.

Q. As much as you love to go back, see your family and need to recharge your batteries, when you take three weeks off or four weeks off in a stretch, is there a part of that you says, I hope I don't lose anything in the process?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think as a golfer you're always a little scared of that. There's definitely that element of, every Thursday morning you tee it up, you are all trying to feel your way back into your game. Is it going to be there this weekend; am I going to have it. That's just the doubt that comes with anything. I think golf is one of those imperfectible sports that keeps us all on our toes.
So my four weeks off I spent them up in Orlando at Lake Nona there. I played a little bit of golf. I kept it ticking over. I felt like my game was in it good shape going into Tucson last week and I got to Tucson and felt like I left my golf swing in Orlando. But that's just golf. Like I say, it's just a constant sort of never-ending search for perfection in a game that's pretty tough to perfect.
Of course I'm like every other player in that range who goes out there and warms up for their round tomorrow. You know, you're definitely trying to -- you're hoping every day that it's going to be there and all you can do is kind of stay on a path. I've definitely got some good stuff I'm working on right now and I know that if I can keep working and keep improving I've got a good chance to do some good stuff hopefully.

Q. I read that you had a chance to go back to Birmingham for a college reunion.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I spent a couple of days up there, it was more UAB asking me to go up there and bring the U.S. Open trophy and go on the basketball court and do all of that kind of glitzy and glam stuff. But I was more it into hanging with the golf team for a couple of days and spend some time with them and practice with them and try to see if I can throw a bit of advice their way; great bars that I used to drink in in Birmingham, important things like that.
It was a lot of fun. I caught up with some of my ex-teammates. It was a couple of days well spent and I enjoyed getting back out there, some great golf courses in Birmingham as well. I remember why it was a big turning point in my career. I went out there as a pretty average amateur golfer and left there three years later ready for the pro ranks. It was good to catch up with people.

Q. How long had it been since you had been there?
GRAEME McDOWELL: From an official point of view, it had been seven or eight years really. I've been trying to make it up there for the last few years but things got pretty busy.

Q. A player of your age, how much have you actually seen Jack Nicklaus play, other than highlights and what are your thoughts about Jack?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, it's all disappointing that you get to miss these guys in their prime. I missed Seve, just when I turned pro, Seve was pretty much done as far as a top player went. Of course Jack, I never really got a chance to watch Jack even live really much. I saw so many replays of the '86 Masters, you do feel like -- I'm not a huge golf historian from the point of view of reading a lot of books. I was a pretty big Hogan fan, read a lot of stuff about him.
But Jack and Arnie and those guys and Gary Player obviously paved the way for the modern game really. I guess my only Jack Nicklaus story is my first Masters was '05, and I had a tee time on the Par 3 on Wednesday and practice was slow on the 15th fairway so I said I'm going to have to go for my Par 3 time and nipped across the 17th green, and it was Jack Gary Player, Charles Coody and Ryan Moore and who was the U.S. Amateur Champion at the time. Jackie Junior was caddying for Jack and he said, "Come on tee it up, play the last hole with us." I remember being petrified on the 178th tee with Jack standing there and obviously a couple legends. That was the only hole of golf I ever played with him.

Q. How did you do on that hole?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think I managed to keep it in play. I remember I got a bunker lesson there Gary Player out by the green and I remember him holing about a 30-yard bunker shot, first ball he hit. I felt awfully embarrassed; "So that's how it's done, Mr. Player." Excuse me.
Have not had much time to spend with him beautiful but he's a legend like I say, paved the way for the modern game.

Q. Just on Jack Nicklaus and Seve, what would you prefer to have, the long game of a Jack Nicklaus or a Rory McIlroy or the short game of a Seve or going back to last week, a Luke Donald?
GRAEME McDOWELL: That's sort of the eternal debate, isn't it. The game has changed so much now days to where you really need both. I guess Luke Donald would tell you otherwise. Although, we talk about him being a little weak off the tee but his long game is exceptionally underrated I would say. He's incredibly good with his long irons.
Which would I rather have? I think I would rather have the short game because I feel like a talent like Seve around the greens or what Luke has, you can always frame a long game in around that.
Look at Pádraig Harrington when he turned pro, allegedly he didn't have much of a long game but an incredible short game, and you can piece a long game around a short game. It's pretty tough to pick up the short game as you go along. I think that's just in your hands and head and in your brain. It's just a talent that's tough to find really. The long game, you can always find that somewhere.

Q. You mentioned Augusta, you have not had the best record there, you missed a couple of cuts and finished top 20?
GRAEME McDOWELL: 17th is my best effort there.

Q. But you have not shown up as reigning U.S. Open Champion before. Do you feel like you're going back as a different player and are you more ready to handle the Masters environment and that course more than you were the first few times you went?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I'm looking forward to going back to Augusta. It's one of those golf courses every time I go back, I feel like I see something new. It's just an amazing course. It's an amazing tournament. I love everything about it. It is a special, special place.
Yeah I'm looking forward to going back there. There are certain shots for Augusta that I need to learn how to play. I'm not a great right-to-left shaper of my driver. It's not my favorite shot. And it asks you to hit it three or four times in the round, and I mean, you've really got to move it or you're in big trouble.
My short game, I'm working very hard on my short game. That's one of my main areas of work right now. It's definitely something I've got to polish up on for Augusta. So, yeah, I'm excited to go back there. I think there's a few of us from Lake Nona are going to fly up there the week before and play 27 holes.
I'm going to fly in there pretty early, Sunday night and be ready to go on Monday and spend time on the golf course. I don't think there's any substitute around Augusta. Every time you play there's something must and little tricks and feel to the golf course that you just have to get your head around. But it's a great golf tournament.
I would have to say of all the four majors it's the one that I feel like I've the got least chance in at the minute, but I'm going back there this year but with an open mind to just keep learning that golf course. Definitely I would love to feel that green jacket on my back at some point.

Q. Have you played Congressional much?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I have never played. I'm going up the Monday after Zurich in New Orleans when the U.S. Open have their Media Day and play a practice round.

Q. What about Atlanta Athletic Club?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Many years ago, back when I was in college perhaps. Great golf course. Just four great golf courses again this year. Never played St. George's either. I guess I only know one of the three major tracks this year; it's not my favorite, so far, but like I say, open mind. I think I've put my chances into perspective and I'm going back there as a guy who needs to find his way around there big time.

Q. Are you going to play the Scottish?

Q. Have you played Castle Stuart?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Never been there. I think it's great for the Scottish Open. It's exciting.

Q. At the end of The Ryder Cup, when everybody converged on and you everything out there, was there any moment of fear because it looked wonderful, but it also looked like, my gosh, are you going to get out of there.
GRAEME McDOWELL: I looked across at one point and my caddie had blood coming down his face. It was amazing for the first five minutes, and then all of a sudden it's like, right, which direction am I going, where is the clubhouse. It was nuts. Fun, but a little crazy.
DAVE SENKO: Thank you, Graeme.

End of FastScripts

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