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June 14, 2011

Graeme McDowell


BETH MURRISON: Good morning. Welcome again from Congressional Country Club for the 2011 U.S. Open. We're very pleased this morning to have with us our defending champion, Graeme McDowell who won in a terrific victory last year at Pebble Beach. That was one of several memorable moments for you during the year last season. Could you talk a little bit about what your year was like?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, it's obviously nice to be back here this week as the defending champion. It's been an amazing 12 months as the U.S. Open champion. It's been a lot of fun. I mean, obviously 2010 was a great season for me, a lot of defining moments, the win at Pebble being the highlight for sure, and the Ryder Cup and winning a couple more times again in 2010. It was just an amazing year and one I'll always look back on as definitely one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Like I say, the 12 months as the U.S. Open champion has been a lot of fun, and it's been busy. It's just flown by. I can't believe I'm sitting in here again at the USGA Media Center. 12 months, it's crazy that it's gone by as quickly as it has. I certainly tried to savor it as enjoy it as much as I could. I'm looking forward obviously to defending this week and doing my best to win it back.
BETH MURRISON: You came to Congressional, you came here for a Media Day about a month ago and then you played yesterday. Could you talk a little about the course?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I guess it was probably seven or eight weeks ago when I came here for the Media Day and the golf course has obviously changed substantially since then. There's always a bit of a danger coming to a major championship venue weeks in advance. The golf course can change so significantly.
You know, when I was here seven or eight weeks it was a lot softer, a lot colder. The golf course was playing substantially longer, and I really enjoyed the golf course yesterday. I thought that with the firmer and faster fairways that the golf course was very playable. It was very fair, great setup from Mike Davis, as usual, some nice graduated rough. If you just miss the fairways you've got half a chance of pulling a lie and advancing the ball maybe up and around the greens.
The greens are very firm, but I thought the golf course was very playable. The shapes of the greens here at Congressional, you must leave the ball below the hole. You cannot go long on pretty much 90 percent of the greens here. That's pretty much the rule of thumb. Keep it short of the pin if in trouble. If you hit it over the back of these greens you're making bogey at best.
The bunkers are interesting. They're probably the most interesting part of the setup this week. There's a lot of sand in the traps. The balls are plugging quite a lot. I saw in the three-ball we played yesterday, the 18 holes we played, I saw at least four or five plugged balls, and that is something interesting that you don't often see.
But apart from that I think the golf course is very fair and very well set up, and I obviously want -- when I came here a eight weeks ago I said level par would win. It's not going to be very far away from level par, I don't see anybody going crazy around here. But guys will shoot some 3-, 4-, 5-under par rounds if they get it going.
Like I say, the golf course does offer up some chances.

Q. You've had a chance to play all the majors a few times now. What stands out to you about the U.S. Open? What makes it different from the others?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think all four majors have very different atmospheres and very different fields, no doubt about it. I mean, the Masters has that special first of the season, traditional, historic kind of a feel to it; just an amazing golf course. There's something about this U.S. Open setup that we all come here excited to see what lies in front of us. It typically -- obviously historically has been the toughest test of the four. I think the rest of the major championships have upped their -- obviously Augusta really kind of upped their game and made the golf course a lot harder. The PGAs in the last few years have been exceptionally difficult. I mean, I think about Oakland Hills a few years back, I mean, the setup there was borderline a U.S. Open setup. But there's something about this week.
The golf course tends to be really intimidating, really tough, and especially when it's up here in the northeast, New Yorks and the New Jerseys and up in here, my first time in Washington. Big crowds, and everybody gets pretty excited about it. Of course the British Open has its own special flavor to it, the only one that's out of the U.S., of course, and the golf course is entirely different being a links style.
But there's something special about the U.S. Open, and it really kind of kicks off an amazing summer of golf, so everyone is excited to be here.

Q. With Luke Donald being the new No. 1, how have you seen him sort of reinvent himself on the course, and could you ever have thought that with all the big hitters in the game in this day that he would be the kind of guy that would move himself all the way up to the top like that?
GRAEME McDOWELL: For sure. I think it's refreshing to see that the game is not being out-powered. I played with Luke in a practice round at the Ryder Cup last year in October, and he really impressed me. I knew he was a good player, I didn't realize he was that good; just the way he was controlling his irons. I think he's definitely driving the ball better this season than he ever has, a little longer and a little more under control. His iron play has always been unbelievable, and I think that's one of the keys. I've played with him a few times this season, and he's been really, really impressive. I always knew he had a great wedge game and a great short game and a putting stroke to die for, so he's really got his game polished up and driving it a lot better and he's really got the whole package now.
It is great to see like I said that the game is not all about par. You can still have a finesse player like Luke but you've still got to be able to move it at least 280, 290 nowadays to have a chance to compete. He's got the all around game and I think he's very deserving of his No. 1 spot right now. Certainly exciting for golf that these things are jumping around. We watched Martin Kaymer and Donald and there's a lot of guys waiting to have their chance at the No. 1 spot. I think it's very exciting for golf right now to have that story line.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about there's been a little bit the last year or so a trend of some guys holding the 54-hole lead in the majors and you were the beneficiary of that. Even though you didn't have to do that, talk about the dynamic there and how you saw things unfold last year?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, for sure, it's difficult to win golf tournaments, there's no doubt about it. To sleep on a lead, to come into the last round of a major championship in the lead, the pressures that go with that, the golf course setups being as difficult as they are, having so many top players snapping at your heels, there's no doubt the pressures of leading are difficult. You know, obviously alluding to guys like Dustin and Nick Watney and Rory at Augusta this year, and THE PLAYERS Championship I had the same problem. It is difficult to win golf tournaments, and when you're out there under the microscope and you make mistakes and you start chasing, it is difficult. To do what Tiger Woods was doing early in this -- in the early 2000s, the way he was putting golf tournaments away was kind of super human. It is difficult to win.
Sometimes you've got to throw a few away to really learn how to do it. I'm sure the young players we mentioned, and maybe myself included, I've learned a lot from my bad beats. I've learned a lot from last-day sort of implosions, if you like, and I'm sure it makes us tougher players in the future.
Like I say, you've really got to learn about yourself and understand the psyche of what it is to be nervous and to go into the last round with the lead, and hard to do that and hard to stay patient, and really hard to keep your foot on the accelerator sometimes. It's very difficult sometimes to go onto the golf course and try to keep doing good stuff as opposed to trying not to mess up. I think that's the difference. I mean, you've really got to go out there and try and hit the good shots as opposed to trying not to hit the bad shots. It's difficult. Winning is tough. The Tiger Woodses of the world don't come along every day, and winning is difficult, and it takes a little bit of learning.

Q. You're close with Rory. I was wondering what you made of -- what does it say about Rory making that trip to Haiti recently, and can you imagine when you were that young taking on that kind of responsibility?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I've spent a lot of time with Rory the last few years. Even Matteo Manassero, it's amazing how much this game matures players from a very young age. It really teaches them a lot about how to handle themselves. This game, it really -- you're out there, the game of golf teaches people, and especially kids, teaches them a lot about the great qualities about life and sportsmanship and how to -- like I say, how to handle themselves, humility, and all of the above, really. Fair play to Rory. I saw some of his pictures on his Twitter feed from his trip down there with UNICEF to Haiti, and there's no doubt about it, the maturity level of some of these young players in the game right now, it's something we should be very proud of within the game.
There's no doubt that the game of golf definitely teaches us something that maybe perhaps some other sports don't. I think it's something that we should be pretty proud of.

Q. Does that surprise you that Rory made that kind of gesture to go down there?
GRAEME McDOWELL: No, it doesn't surprise me. Nothing about Rory surprises me. He's a great guy and does his best in everything he does. I mean, I know he's a pretty big sort of Lionel Massey fan. I think Massey is involved with UNICEF and a few of his sporting heros are, and that's the kind of guy he is. He loves to do that type of stuff, and I think it's pretty impressive.

Q. Wondering over the last -- you alluded to the 12 months and how fast it's blown by. You've been incredibly busy, sort of alluded to the fact that maybe in some ways you spread yourself a little too thin at times, equipment changes, lots of golf, lots of different places, continents and countries and the whole deal. Would you do anything differently? Your game right now, you've had some ups and downs that have been pretty well chronicled.
GRAEME McDOWELL: It's a good question, would I have done anything differently. Probably not. You live and learn. I mean, I've tried to be a player who has no regrets about things, really. Perhaps I would have came into the 2011 season and tried to do a little less off the golf course and really tried to focus back in my golf game. But it's such a busy end to 2010 that 2011 seemed to just be there all of a sudden on my doorstep and I was in Hawai'i and in the Middle East, and those four weeks that came right after the Middle East, there's no doubt I came back after those four weeks and I wasn't the same guy. I wasn't swinging it the same way, I wasn't feeling the same way.
Sometimes a run of momentum and adrenaline sort of has to hit a brick wall, as I guess I hit my brick wall. I've been trying to get over that wall ever since.
At some point, those kind of runs, I guess, inevitably have to come to an end, especially if you're playing as much golf as I was. I don't think -- I have no regrets about the last 12 months. I've enjoyed every second of it. Yeah, I've hit a rough patch here the last three months but I've really felt my game coming around the last four or five weeks. That four week spell from THE PLAYERS Championship through the Volvo World Match Play to Wentworth and Wales, those four weeks, I know in my heart how well I played. I got nothing out of those four weeks. I blew it at the THE PLAYERS. The World Match Play is the Match Play, it's pretty tough. Wentworth I missed the cut by one having struck it as well as I have all year, maybe, for two rounds, and Wales I blew it in the third round. I know in my heart how well I am actually playing again, and I took a lot of positives from those four weeks even though they don't really make for a huge amount of rating when you look at the results. I've turned a corner and I'm really excited about my summer, but it's difficult to maintain that type of form for 12 months and that's why I take my hat off to a guy like Luke Donald doing what he's doing. It's pretty impressive. He's playing a lot golf. He just played a similar schedule to me the last three or four months and did a lot of traveling. That's impressive to see a guy keep it going.

Q. I just wondered if you have any thoughts on the current state of American golf, if it's in the doldrums or whatever. The American collegiate system, you're a product of it. Is it a good system for producing world-class golfers?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think American golf is probably as healthy as I've ever seen it in my career. I mean, I think there's a lot of quality young players coming through. Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan -- if I had the World Rankings sitting in front of me I could list you more. But I think these guys are quality players who are winning golf tournaments now. For a while there you had Tiger, you had Phil, obviously Steve Stricker. You really didn't have a lot of stand-outs outside of the big two or three.
I think they have a lot of talent spread across the age brackets now, and I think they're sort of on the verge of being very strong again and winning major championships and winning globally. So I don't think American golf is in bad shape.
In regards to the collegiate system, I'm a big fan of the collegiate system here in the States, especially for kids back in the UK and Ireland who are making that transition from high school when all they want to do is play golf and they want to really hit the pro ranks and they're maybe not quite ready. I generally try and point them in the direction of American College systems to try and keep their eye on the academic side and come here and play two, three, four years of quality competitive golf.
I really felt -- there's no doubt it was a turning point in my career, the three years I spent here in the States that college was a turning point. I came here as a decent amateur player and I left here ready for the pro ranks, there's no doubt about that. I think it's the best system in the world as far as getting guys ready from that 18 through that 22 year old bracket where they're in no-man's land where they leave junior golf and they're not quite ready for the senior levels and they're certainly not ready for the pro ranks. I certainly think it's the best place to come and get your game ready.

Q. 2010 was such a dream year for you. Do you accept that you could never top that? And if so, how difficult does that make it looking forward to the rest of your career?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Can I ever top 2010? I probably can't top the way it felt to win my first major championship, to hole the winning putt at the Ryder Cup and be that 12th match and just the way that unfolded that day, to win two or three other times outside of that. I probably can't top that feeling but I can have a similar competitive year. I mean, I'd have believed that the first four or five months of 2010 were pretty slow and sluggish. They weren't too glitzy at all. I can really up my level of consistency. Between my U.S. Open and my win again in Valderrama, which was the end of October, I didn't really do a huge amount. They were really sort of little concentrated bursts of great playing in 2010 and I really think I can have a year where I can be more consistent than that. I want to win more major championships of course and I want to win more events all over the world.
I guess the big thing is I know how much better I can get in this game, I know how much improving I have to do in all aspects of my game and all departments of my game and if I can have a year like I had in 2010 I can certainly have as good a year again and if not better. Like I say, I'm not ever going to top that feeling because your first time is the best time, there's no doubt about it. But I want to experience that again. It was a lot of fun. Hopefully I can come close to it competitively.

Q. Obviously you'll be under the glare as the defending champion this week. Is there a danger that you'll try and justify the standard?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, it's bizarre because if anything I feel like the glare is off me this week. I feel like I've done it. The last three or four months has been difficult. I've spent the last just under 12 months looking back at Pebble. I spent the last six months reflecting on 2010. And I mean, somehow having arrived here this week, I feel like I've done it now. I'm back -- yeah, my U.S. Open trophy is back here with the USGA. I've handed it back and I'm ready to sort of get on with the rest of my career now. I feel like -- defending titles is a strange psyche because, I mean, I've got nothing to defend this week. I'm level par Thursday morning the same as everyone else. I'm just one of the guys trying to win it back. I'm here at a U.S. Open for the first time believing in myself that I can win on a U.S. Open setup because I did it last year. I really have a strange feeling this week. I feel like I've did all my pre U.S. Open media, I did all my talk, and I did everything, this is my last bit of talking before I tee off on Thursday. I'm really happy that it's all done because I really want to look forward to the rest of my career and what I want to achieve for the rest of my career.
It's tough to look forward when all everyone wants to talk about is the past. I'm excited that -- I felt different yesterday on the golf course. I really felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders already, and I'm excited about the week. I've got a great draw Thursday and Friday. Pretty relaxed with Louis, the British Open champion and Peter Uihlein, the U.S. Amateur champion and I couldn't ask for a better group than that. I'm excited. I feel less pressure already this week. I'm hoping it continues to Thursday. I really feel like I'm in a good frame of mind this week.

Q. Obviously winning the Open anywhere would be meaningful, but how significant was it looking back as you won it at Pebble given the history there and who's won the Open there before, and any moment or two in the past 12 months that maybe illustrates how different your life became after winning the Open?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I mean, there's no doubt, I've said it before, I would have taken a major championship anywhere any time, don't care. Don't care how it happens, what golf course it's on, I would have taken it.
But Pebble is a special, special place, and the U.S. Open at Pebble, I mean, I've joined a very short list of very prestigious names. I still pinch myself, I still don't feel my name belongs there, but it's there now, so whatever. Amazing. The script was perfect with my dad there on Father's Day on a beautiful day at Pebble Beach. It doesn't get any better.
And I've got some great stuff, some great pictures and images in my head of that day, and I'll never forget them.
I guess sort of the enormity of what I achieved hits home when I read things like the first Irishman to win a U.S. Open, only the third Irishman to win a major championship the first European in 40 years to win a U.S. Open. Stuff like that that really kind of hit it home to me last season when I read those little quotes like that. When you achieve something that big, that's sort of -- from the inside looking out, it doesn't really feel as massive as you think it might feel. But when you read little things like that, it really hits it home a little bit.
It's been special. Like I say, I've enjoyed my 12 months as the U.S. Open champion. It's been extremely special to go around the world, to be here in the States and be called the champion. It's cool, you know, to be announced on the first tee as the U.S. Open champion at tournaments around the world.
It's been a special 12 months. I'm here now, happy to give the trophy back and excited to move on with the rest of my career.

Q. I want to ask about the 6th hole. They play it a little bit more forward as a par-4 the last three Opens here. As a 5 how much does that change things?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I think it's kind of out of character with the rest of the golf course, No. 6, I feel. It doesn't feel like it fits the golf course. It's kind of like a little outing green par-5 and kind of some sleepers and some water there. I can't imagine it as a par-4. It's a pretty good 5. It's an exciting 5. Kind of a blind tee shot. You've really got to make sure you pick your spot off the tee. I missed the fairway left there. The fairway is a lot further to the right than you feel off the tee box. I missed it left, some thick rough there left and I kind of chopped it out and left myself about an 8-iron to the middle of the green.
It's a great hole, a real risk-reward par-5 and good to see that in a U.S. Open. We're used to seeing 650 yard par-5s if you miss the fairway off the tee, they're not three shotters they're generally four shotters. Very refreshing. As I say I think this golf course has got a great balance, some brutal par-4s, no doubt about it, holes like 11 and 18 and a couple on the front nine, it's a brutal -- it's got a great balance, though, some birdie chances, some shorter holes, and then obviously some longer holes.
But 6 is a good hole. It's definitely going to be dramatic, there's going to be birdies and eagles there and obviously some other scores.

Q. Going back to Padraig at Oakland Hills, we've had a different major winner every time. Do you have any theories as to why that is, why it's been bouncing around to ten different guys over the course of the last few years?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, it's an interesting stat. Certainly you've got to look at Tiger not being as dominant, obviously injury problems and just general problems off the course, so he has not been -- there was a while there where he was popping up once, twice a season. It was getting pretty tough to win major championships when he was playing the way he was. He's been a major factor, of course.
And just guys stepping up and believing they can do it. There's no doubt that Padraig has given European golfers a belief that we can win major championships. You know, as European Tour players, we've had the opportunity to play so much golf over here and really get comfortable with the top players in the world and comfortable in these conditions, and we've sort of acclimatized and sort of got the belief in ourselves that we can do it.
I think the 21st Century golfer is -- they're a lot more ready for the Tour, the younger players are so much more ready for the Tour when they come out. They play professional events, they know how to win, and they're not scared anymore. I think golfers are tougher and better and the standard is so much better across the board and technology has maybe leveled the playing field a little bit, as well. There's no doubt there's just so many first time winners popping up all over the world nowadays and the same for major championships. It's exciting, no doubt about it. Exciting that the fields are so wide open these days. But the world rankings still don't lie. The top players are the top players for a reason, because they do it on a regular basis. It's great for golf, though, it's very healthy.

Q. I wonder if you could talk us through your last week as champion, whether you had any farewell drinks or dinners at Portrush and that sort of thing and your coaching sessions with Pete over the weekend, how they went?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, to be honest with you I had a pretty unexciting week as the U.S. Open champion. I think the trophy got mailed back to the USGA the week of Wales. Wentworth was pretty much its last outing. It was on the first tee there and in the BMW tent and Tour dinner and stuff. That was pretty much its last official outing, if you like. It came to Wales with us and then got sent back.
Last week -- I had a busy four weeks there, it was a pretty long stretch of golf and then I went back to Portrush and chilled out for a few days and had a couple nice dinners with some friends, my favorite restaurant back home and the British Ladies Amateur was on at Portrush, so I took in a little bit of that and just relaxed, really. I flew to Orlando on Thursday and spent the weekend with Pete on the range so we had a pretty intense weekend, something similar to what we had the week before THE PLAYERS, really went through all aspects of the game. Like I said, I'm feeling good about my game. It was pretty warm down there the week in Orlando, so I felt it was a very good acclimatization period for what's probably going to be a hot weekend here.
Generally it was a pretty uneventful week. I really needed sort of that kind of week to relax and put the feet up for three or for days and then getting the game beat into shape for this coming week, so I'm feeling good. I have to say I felt really good on the golf course yesterday and I feel mentally very fresh and ready to go this week. Like I say, I think that weight I talked about will hopefully be lifted off my shoulders this week. I already feel like part of it's been lifted off, so that's great. Like I say, hopefully I can continue to feel the way I'm feeling into the weekend.

Q. You said at the Media Day here that being a big hitter was a massive advantage. Has that changed radically seeing how the course has playing?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I think it has. I think it's changed radically for sure. The golf course doesn't feel long anymore. Yeah, there's some long holes on it, but I'm trying to think, the longest club I hit to a par-4 yesterday. 11 played downwind, I hit 8-iron in there. When I came here in the Media Day eight weeks ago I played it off the very back tee and I hit driver, 3-wood short. It's amazing how a golf course can change. I'm starting to realize that I've made a few visits the last few years the week before Augusta, it's amazing how slow that golf course and how wet it plays the week before and how much faster the golf course is the week when you come back. For sure the round I had here eight weeks ago was not even close to how it was set up yesterday.
I don't think length is a massive issue at all. I think accuracy off the tee is a key because these greens are so firm you're going to have to be able to control your flight coming into the greens. So I think fairway is key as opposed to distance. I don't really see a lot of opportunities for guys biting off too much of these corners, the way the holes shape around trees. You've got to shape the ball around and you've got to find fairways. I like the way it sets up. Someone asked me yesterday what type of player does this favor, I'm still trying to work that out, but it's certainly not a bomber.

Q. You mentioned the last four weeks you've played some of your best golf starting at THE PLAYERS probably where you had that turnaround from New Orleans. But in that period you've also had the last round at THE PLAYERS and the Saturday at Celtic Manor. I wonder if you have been able to connect anything with those two rounds and if you're confronted with that kind of attack this week, how you arrest it.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I think pretty much the only thing I've come up with is that my focus has been way too much on winning. My expectation level, I mean, I'm going out there with the only goal of winning the golf tournament. That's probably a little bit unrealistic because you can't be setting -- you can't really be setting your goals that high. So the last round of THE PLAYERS when it started to get away from me, it wasn't like I threw the towel in but subconsciously I felt the win getting away from me and I really lost that drive. I've lost that drive to grind the top 10s and the top 5s out, the things that drive consistency. The reason why Luke Donald has not been a prolific winner but he's just a phenomenal golfer and he's one of the best players in the world because of that, because he can grind out those top 5s, he can grind out the top 10s when he's maybe not in a position to win the golf tournament.
So I feel like THE PLAYERS when it got away from me I went chasing it because all I wanted to do was win it. At Wales when it got away from me, it was a tough day that Saturday and I had a freaky first seven or eight holes where I paid maximum penalty for some not terrible golf shots and that got away from me. Again, I went chasing it and the second that I couldn't win the golf tournament subconsciously I lost that drive to dig in.
So that's pretty much the only thing I've came up with. I've really got to reset my goals and realize that consistent golf is what it's all about, and you don't have to win every week to be a top player. I've just really got to look at my focus and make sure that I'm being driven in the right places, and you can't expect to win every week, and the second that the win gets away from you, you can't really just go throwing it around everywhere. Just need to get that little bit of focus back.
BETH MURRISON: Graeme, thank you so much for visiting with us today. You've been a wonderful Open Champion and we wish you well this week.

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