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May 8, 2013

Graeme McDowell


LAURA NEAL:テつ Good morning.テつ We'd like to welcome Graeme McDowell to the interview room, kicking things off this morning.テつ Maybe just give us some general comments on coming back here to TPC Sawgrass, and how you've found the course so far and your expectations for the week.
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, always great to be here at THE PLAYERS Championship.テつ Got in here yesterday afternoon, and I knew there was a lot of rain on the golf course last weekend, I was very anxious to see the golf course, and I couldn't believe how firm and fast it was already.テつ The course is in great shape.テつ This is always a great test of golf this week.テつ I think the firmer, the faster, the better for me, and just kind of mid‑distance guys in the field.テつ This is always a golf course where I feel like I can get it round.テつ Obviously, led briefly a couple years ago, and I know it's a golf course I can get around.
So excited to be back.テつ Off the back of a win a few weeks ago, and some nice rest time the last couple of weeks and raring to go, looking forward to it.

Q.テつ Graeme, coming off a win at another Pete Dye golf course and your strategic point of view, are there any similarities in what you think might be the key to winning on a golf course like this?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, Hilton Head's obviously an unbelievable positional golf course.テつ You really have to position it really well off the tee box, left, right side of the fairway, certain distances.テつ Sawgrass is not so obvious of a positional golf course as Hilton Head is, but at the same time, there is premium off the tee.テつ You must be on the correct sides of the fairways to attack some of these greens.テつ They do get very firm and fast, and like I say, you've got to stay out of the rough and on the fairway here.テつ You can't really compare this golf course with anything, really.テつ I think the drama of the last three holes, I always think you can stand on the 16th tee here on Sunday with a one‑shot lead and walk off winning by four or you could walk off losing by four.テつ It's kind of that dramatic and that volatile a finish here, and it's intimidating.
But if you can pick your targets and hit the shots, they're really, as a whole, not that tough a set of three holes.テつ But just the intimidation factor and it's the maximum penalty that you do pay for hitting bad shots.
It's an exciting golf course.テつ Very difficult to compare it to Harbour Town, but I think Pete Dye designed a certain type of golf course.テつ He likes to penalize the player in his own kind of unique way, and this golf course certainly has its dangers.テつ But it's certainly very scorable at the same time.

Q.テつ I wonder if you could speak to your competitive cycle as a player over the last 24 months going from the heights of, if you will, the end of 2010 into 2011, and where you are now off the heels of the recent victory?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, sort of there was a period of about six months there in 2011 where it was certainly a lull.テつ I certainly learned a lot from that period.テつ Just kind of went through a sequence kind of sort of lack of patience and a huge amount of frustration, and a little bit of some technical issues and just a little bit of acclimatization, really, to kind of a new‑found status in the game and just dealing with everything that went with that.テつ I think around September of 2011, I flipped a switch and kind of really started to realize what I needed to do to be more consistent and to get better and to get back on the horse, if you like. テつIt's been really a constant improvement ever since then.
Really, I look back to a conversation that I had with my caddie and my team after I missed the cut Atlanta Athletic Club in 2011, and I realized something had to change.テつ And I've done a great job with that in the last 18 months or something like that, more than that, maybe getting on to two years.テつ To win Tiger's event in December was nice, but to win the RBC there at Harbour Town was extremely special.テつ Like I say, I called it my first authentic PGA TOUR win because that's kind of how it felt.テつ I never was conscious of the fact that I hadn't won an official event since 2010, but it was nice to pick a trophy up and have that realization.テつ Because, to be honest with you, I hadn't put much pressure on myself.テつ I felt like I was doing the right things, and I felt like good stuff was around the corner.テつ Like I say, some nice rewards.テつ The event in December gave me a lot of confidence.テつ Even though it's an unofficial event, it's always nice to win, pick a trophy up and you get a lot of confidence from that, and I've came into the season playing some nice stuff, so it was nice to get that first win of the year.

Q.テつ What were some of those areas you felt you needed to work on?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ There were some technical issues in my game, for sure.テつ There was definitely some mental stuff in there, like I say, lack of patience, and elevated frustration and expectation levels, so I had to adjust those.テつ I worked very hard on my short game from the middle of last year, which has been kind of a big thing for me.テつ I'll be the first to admit my short game was very much off the ball last year.テつ Some bad bunker play at the U.S. Open probably was the difference.テつ If I‑‑ it probably cost me four or five shots around the greens last year at Olympic from the bunkers.テつ You know, that was highlighted right away.テつ I could have won the U.S. Open if my bunker play had been cleaned up a little bit.
I worked hard on that area of my game, and the rest has fallen into place.テつ So generally a little short game, little mental stuff, and a little technique.

Q.テつ You had mentioned a couple years ago about being in contention here.テつ How hard is it for any golfer here to avoid that stretch of holes that just bites you and takes you out of the tournament, takes you out of contention?テつ As a follow‑up, does Rory not making a cut here yet speak to a young player needing to learn the nuances of getting around this course?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, I think over 72 holes it's very difficult to avoid water or excitement level like that right there.テつ Wow.テつ What radio show is that?テつ I've got to tune in.
LAURA NEAL:テつ They're expecting you as a guest right after this.
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Feeling energetic this morning.テつ It's very difficult to avoid disaster at some point this week, hitting in the water somewhere.テつ You've got to play ‑‑ I listened to John Cook on the Golf Channel a couple of mornings ago, and he said he played this event for 22 years and never hit it in the water at 17, which I thought was an incredible stat and one that you only say after you're done playing here because you don't want to go bragging about anything around here because it's very quickly going to pop up and bite you.
But very difficult to stay out of trouble for 72 holes, and I think you've just got to accept the fact that you can play disciplined golf all day long but you're going to hit a bad shot, and you very often can pay the ultimate price around here, so you've just got to shake that off and realize that if you do play smart around this golf course, there are a lot of chances.
The par‑5s are very accessible here.テつ Yes, they're dangerous, but they're accessible at the same time if you can play to the correct sides of the greens and play to the areas where you can get balls up‑and‑down.テつ Obviously, there are eagle chances if you hit long drives as well.テつ So you have to take the rough with the smooth on this golf course.
Interesting that a lot of good players, all the top players have bad records around here.テつ I think there is an acceptance level of mistakes and disasters, really, on this golf course.テつ And like I say, you can pay the ultimate price.テつ You've just got to shake it off, I suppose, and get back to scoring.テつ I'm sure guys like Rory and top players that perhaps don't love this golf course, they're only a couple rounds away from getting back in love with it.
It is a course you can go low on, and once you see that, I think you're away.

Q.テつ As a follow‑up, is it easier for a player to love it once he's had success here?テつ If he wins here, all of a sudden it's‑‑
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, obviously I think we're fairly fickle as golfers in that we tend to love golf courses we play well on.テつ I think it's pretty unusual that guy loves a golf course that he doesn't play well on.テつ I think probably for me, Augusta's probably the only example of a golf course that I love that just doesn't love me back, but we'll continue that relationship, and we'll see where we go from here.
But typically, guys stay away from golf courses they don't like and don't play well on apart from maybe ones like this where it's such a huge purse, such a prestigious event, the unofficial fifth major event and stuff, and guys want to be here and they want to add their name to a phenomenal list of champions.

Q.テつ You went to Nona Blue after the win at Harbour Town; can you maybe walk us through what else you did after the victory and what you maybe took out of it as you've had time to reflect back on it?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, like you say, after I did all my formalities with RBC after the event, I flew back to Orlando and had a couple of late night beers at Nona Blue, which was kind of fun to celebrate my first victory that I kind of visualized doing in my own place.テつ But to be honest with you, I just kind of switched off for about ten days after.テつ I went to the Bahamas with my fiancee and just relaxed, really, and took the golf clubs down and played a little fun golf and really relaxed and was using the win as a motivating factor and something that really felt like it charged me up inside.テつ I was very acutely aware of kind of the amount of golf I've got to play the next four or five months.テつ The last few weeks were spent getting rested and ready to go.テつ But it wasn't like the excitement and elation of some of the wins that I had gone by.テつ This one felt right and felt good, and it felt like I was ready and it didn't require a huge kind of party afterwards.

Q.テつ Does the motivation you mentioned there, is that maybe different than the last time you had won?テつ Was there more motivation as opposed to maybe more celebration?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, I think sometimes wins are springboards for something hopefully greater and beyond.テつ And sometimes they feel like the finish line.テつ When I won the U.S. Open in 2010, there was certainly a checkered flag feel about that.テつ I had wins in my career which felt like springboards to something bigger and better.テつ When I won in 2008 chasing my first Ryder Cup team, it felt like a springboard to a big season.テつ And hopefully this one‑‑ this one certainly feels the same way.
Of course I've got to follow it up and hopefully have a great summer from here, but I'm off to a nice start this season.テつ I'm very happy what I'm doing.テつ I feel comfortable with my game and what I've got going on, and I'm excited to play some more golf and picking a trophy up, and winning just kind of takes the edge off a little bit pressure‑wise and sort of trying to force the issue too much.テつ I can just play my game and hopefully continue to play well.

Q.テつ It's fairly rare to see someone like Derek Ernst last week who had a share of the first‑round lead and then he won on Sunday.テつ Knowing that you can't win a tournament on Thursday but you can lose it, what is your philosophy going into a first round?テつ How do you attack it or look at it?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, it's great to see Derek winning his first event last week at 22 years old.テつ I think it speaks volumes about the type of young player that is turning pro these days.テつ Very ready for the TOUR here.テつ I think it speaks volumes about how good amateur stuff is, how good college golf is here, how good amateur golf is globally just preparing these kids for the big show, if you like.
The opening couple of rounds are literally trying to climatize to the golf course, trying to gauge what a good score is, trying to sort of adjust your mindset to what you're going to need to be in position going into the weekend.テつ Sometimes you go out and shoot 64, 65 on one of those Thursdays or Fridays, and throw yourself right on to the leaderboard.テつ Some days, a couple days it might be more of a grind just trying to position yourself.テつ But any time you can put yourself on the leaderboard or thereabouts going into a Saturday, I think Thursday and Friday are just key, key days to, like I say, set the mindset and work out what the scoring is going to be like and adjust your game accordingly as to how much you defend and how much you attack.テつ It really, you're just playing your way into the field for the week.テつ The more you can get yourself contending going into the weekend over the course of the season, the better.

Q.テつ Why don't we see more first‑round leaders win?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Because it's hard to win.テつ I think you see it week‑in, week‑out how many times we go to playoffs, how many good players there are here, how many guys shoot 66 on Sundays making runs from the back of the pack.テつ It's just difficult to win.テつ There is an incredible amount of talent on this TOUR and all over the world.テつ Guys are incredibly good at what they do, and winning is difficult when you've got that many guys within two or three shots of the lead going into Sunday afternoon.テつ It's just tough to win.テつ Tough to lead from a Thursday.テつ You deal with the pressure the whole week.テつ Sometimes guys can go into a Saturday with no pressure on them, free‑wheel, shoot a low number, and all of a sudden, bang, throw themselves into contention on Sunday.テつ So much can happen over the period of 72 holes.テつ It's tough to win.

Q.テつ Have you played Merion?テつ If so, what do you make of it?テつ If you haven't, what do you know?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, I played Merion a couple weeks before the U.S. Open last year, which was fun.テつ Played Pine Valley and Merion back‑to‑back days, which was a fun couple of days.テつ I spoke to the superintendent who was out there that day I played Merion, and I said to him, you could literally throw the stands up right now and get after it.テつ It was in great shape, and he really did some great things with the golf course.テつ I mean, it's an old‑fashioned layout, small piece of real estate, obviously not very long.テつ They've managed to sneak some length in there in places.テつ The first three or four holes kind of have some length.テつ I mean, and the last four or five holes are brutal.
But the middle of the golf course is very scorable, sort of thin slivers of fairways, sort of a few blind tee shots and the fairways have been moved around and repositioned a little bit, and they've done a great job.テつ It's going to be a really fun U.S. Open.テつ Obviously, if they can get it nice and firm and fast, and Mother Nature allows the USGA to set it up the way they want to set it up, it's going to be a great U.S. Open.テつ Beautiful part of the world in Philadelphia, love their sport, and it should be a great U.S. Open.

Q.テつ You were talking about courses you like and reciprocate.テつ Is it a course you like, and do you feel comfortable there?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, I think so.テつ The U.S. Open‑style setup is kind of like a Hilton Head, like an Olympic, like a Pebble where it's positional, where you don't have to bang driver all day long and hitting it 350 is a huge advantage.テつ I think golf courses like that suit me well.
We've talked about sort of adjusting the mindset to what is a good score.テつ I've always seemed to be quite good when par is a good score and I have to adjust my mindset to par being a great score, typically I play quite well.
I think Merion is the type of golf course‑‑ it's always difficult to know until you get there and see how firm it is and how soft it is and the way the rough is.テつ It's going to be interesting, but that style of golf certainly appeals to me and appeals to my type of game, and hopefully it can continue this year.

Q.テつ After Wentworth and the Match Play, what are you going to play in Europe if you get on to the team?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Irish Open, French Open, and then I'm going to play the two tournaments the end of the year in Dubai.テつ So this is the first year I'm going to play my minimum 13 in Europe.テつ I'm taking four weeks off to get married after the FedEx, which was kind of a little unusual one, but yeah.テつ I'm not proud of the fact that I'm only playing 13, but it's just kind of the way my schedule has worked out this year, and I'm looking forward to the next couple weeks, actually, getting home.テつ Bulgaria's kind of an unknown quantity next week.テつ Decent field there for the World Match Play, but obviously looking forward to Wentworth.テつ Talking about golf courses that don't love me and I'm trying to love, so I'm looking forward to getting there and see if I can get in contention that weekend.テつ That will be fun.

Q.テつ Was there an extended break you had over the winter?テつ Obviously the way you started and everything, is that something you might do again?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Potentially.テつ I'm going to play through Dubai and the week after.テつ I'm not sure where I'm going to play that week, but I'm going to play somewhere.テつ You know, Hawaii, obviously, the Tournament of Champions is kind of on the radar.テつ Will I play there?テつ I'm not sure.テつ But the break did me good.テつ I'm not sure if I'm quite ready for the Steve Stricker schedule just yet, but I think your game has to be extremely manageable.
I've always been a guy who needs to sort of play his way into form a little bit.テつ I need that run of events to get my feel and play my way into my swing and the way ‑‑ just feeling comfortable on the golf course.テつ But I think I'm learning as the years go on.テつ My golf swing is becoming more manageable.テつ My general game is becoming more predictable, and I'm starting to play well after breaks, which is a big key for me.
I might not do the ten weeks sort of Christmas break, but I'll certainly get a nice break.テつ And my schedule, like I say, I'm playing fewer events than I ever have this year.テつ It's successful so far, but we'll see.テつ The main sort of meat and bones of the season is about to begin, so we'll see.テつ Three major championships coming up and some big stuff, so we'll see how I'm taking over come the end of the summer.

Q.テつ Just curious, going back to Merion for one second because the famous opening tee shot is reportedly the tightest tee box.テつ What did you think of that there?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, you've literally got like a bar and the restaurant like four feet from you, the patrons there with a cold beer in their hands as you're trying to sort of open your first round at the U.S. Open.テつ So, yeah, it's quite a unique place.テつ It's going to be interesting.テつ Obviously, there is not a lot of room out there.テつ Spectators are going to be very much kind of seated.テつ There is not going to be a lot of movement around the golf course.テつ I think it's going to be a very unique and very cool U.S. Open from the point of view of atmosphere.テつ It's a great little golf course.
And 18, they've kind of got that new tee box.テつ When I played 18, I hit a pretty good drive.テつ Obviously, I'm not the longest in the field, but a little helping breeze, and I was right beside the Hogan plate off a good tee shot, which was cool.

Q.テつ You didn't hit a 1‑iron, did you?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ No, I didn't hit a 1‑iron, I hit a 3 hybrid.テつ I think Hogan probably rolled in his grave to be honest with you.

Q.テつ You've obviously spent a lot of time around Rory.テつ He had a tumultuous first few months of the year this year.テつ Do you see things starting to settle down for him a little bit?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, I do.テつ I mean, he was thereabouts last week at Quail Hollow.テつ Obviously, a golf course he feels very comfortable on.テつ Yeah, he's starting to show signs of the old Rory coming back, no doubt.テつ I haven't played with him since Augusta, so...テつ But there wasn't much wrong.テつ That golf swing doesn't change.テつ It doesn't need a lot of oiling.テつ It's pretty impressive.テつ Just kind of settling down to the new pressures on him that he's put on himself with all these kind of amazing deals and new equipment and trying to prove new things to new sponsors and new people, and trying to prove things to himself.テつ It seems they've all settled down now and he's ready to play golf.
Let's be honest, like I say, we're into the real meat and bones of the season now, and it's going to be interesting to see how he does this week and going forward.テつ But I expect big things out of him this summer.

Q.テつ How about off the course?テつ Does he seem more relaxed now than he was the first few months of the year?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, I guess so.テつ To be honest with you I've spent so little time with him this year.テつ Our schedules sort of haven't really matched up.テつ I know he's got a great environment off the golf course now with his place in West Palm, spending a lot of time with Caroline, and she's been a very positive influence on him from his focus and his kind of workout schedules and stuff.テつ No, he seems‑‑ Rory always seems pretty happy to me.テつ He bounces around the golf course.テつ He's got a great attitude for the game of golf and always has and hopefully always will.テつ He's certainly a great ambassador for the sport.

Q.テつ Off topic, but announced today that there's going to be the end of an era in Manchester.テつ Just wondering your thoughts on Ferguson's tenure and a possible successor?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, I heard that kind of last night for the first time.テつ Obviously a huge Manchester United fan, and as you say, end of an era.テつ I had a chance to meet him a couple of times.テつ He's an amazing person and obviously unbelievable sort of man and manager in regards to managing each individual player unbelievably well.
It's going to be a lot of fun to see where we go from here.テつ I guess it was inevitable.テつ It had to happen eventually, so interesting to see who is going to come.テつ We've got Moreno and Ronaldo coming.テつ That would be okay for me.テつ I'll take that.

Q.テつ Looking forward to, as you say, the meat and bones of the major championships coming up, what do the majors mean to you, and then looking to Muirfield specifically, how are you going to prepare for Muirfield?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ The majors mean everything to the players, I believe.テつ I think we schedule ourselves around the big four every year.テつ We set ourselves up.テつ We want to be peaking forward to major championships, and they're the ones we want to win.テつ Yeah, of course there are so many magnificent events around the world, like this one, for example, and Wentworth in a couple weeks' time that we want to win.
But the major championships are up there on the pedestal.テつ When we get to those weeks, we try not to put them up there.テつ We try to play them for what they are, just another event.テつ But they're very important to us.テつ Certainly we want to win them.
Muirfield, never played Muirfield before, so I'm going to be there the week before.テつ I'm going to be there the Wednesday of the week before the tournament.テつ I'm not going to play Scottish Open this year and I'll be there and kind of get my prep done kind of away from the crowds.テつ I did that last year at Lytham, and it worked pretty well.テつ I'll go in there the week before and get my prep down.
I'll do the same thing for Oak Hill, as well.テつ I'll go in the Monday before Firestone and have a good look at the golf course.テつ I've found that's pretty effective for me.テつ I sort of have certain things I like to do on a new golf course, in regards to plotting and mapping my way around.テつ And I find I do that better when I'm away from crowds and other players and stuff.テつ That's what I'll do for Muirfield and Oak Hill.

Q.テつ Sebastian Coe was in Dublin and he said Rory ought to be able to choose whoever he wants to represent in the Olympics.テつ How much have you thought about that dilemma and how conflicted are you?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ I haven't thought about it very much to be honest with you.テつ It's 2016, and I don't think‑‑ I think you can ask any golfers this week, they probably haven't quantified in their head what the Olympics are going to mean to them. テつIt's a very special thing to be part of.テつ Where's it going to fit into the golfing ethos, golfing hierarchy of events.テつ We've talked about the big four; the Olympics should theoretically slip in and make it the big five.テつ But I don't think anyone's got their head around it yet.
So the dilemma that myself and Rory kind of have is a very unique dilemma, and it's a very interesting one.テつ There's been a huge amount of speculation about it.テつ In regards to the World Cup golf this year, for example, with the rule in there that says that if Rory and I have represented Ireland, which we would represent Ireland if we both played this year, then we'd be compelled to play for Ireland in the Olympic Games.テつ Is that rule going to stand?テつ Is it not going to stand?
I kind of had an informal conversation with Rory in regards to are we going to play the World Cup together, because I'd love to do that.テつ And now I think they've announced it's going to be at Royal Melbourne, which is a cool and amazing golf course.テつ I'd love to play for Ireland in the World Cup.
And the Olympics will not enter my head making a decision whether I'm going to play for Ireland in the World Cup this year, because it's an event I'd love to play.
So like I say, if it compels me to‑‑ if it forces me into playing for Ireland in the Olympics in 2016, so be it.

Q.テつ He said last week he wasn't going to play.
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ I know, that's what I said to him, what are you doing?テつ I need my partner in crime with me in Melbourne.テつ So we'll see.テつ It's an interesting thing.テつ I literally only found out about the World Cup a couple days ago.テつ They haven't put the parameters around it, and it's an event I've always had fun playing in.テつ Regardless whether Rory wants to play or not, I want to play this year.テつ If it works, I'd like him to be there as well, but we'll see.
Like I say, if it compels me to play for Ireland in the Olympics, so be it.テつ It's one of those very unique parts of the world where we kind of have access to both the U.K. and Ireland.テつ And I feel bad, especially for Rory, that he's come under so much fire and speculation for having to make that decision.テつ But like I say, I'm not giving it much thought.テつ It's tough to quantify just yet what it's going to mean and who is going to play.

Q.テつ Will you play Merion again?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Yeah, I think I'm going to go there the Wednesday before the tournament.テつ I've got a couple weeks off and a couple commitments in New York on Monday and Tuesday, and then I'm going to play Merion on the way home back to Orlando.

Q.テつ You've got such an eclectic list of champions here with Tim Clark and Henrik Stenson.テつ Is there one part of a player's game that needs to stand out to win here?
GRAEME McDOWELL:テつ Just precision.テつ I think ball‑striking, precision.テつ I think the golf course is not a long golf course.テつ When there is some go on the fairways, it's not a long golf course.テつ Even the short guys can kind of access most of the par‑5s.テつ You've got wedges in your hand quite often, short irons in your hand. テつIt's really a precision golf course.テつ You've got to hit it on the right parts of the fairway, and you've certainly got to find the right parts of the greens.テつ They're pretty firm and fast, and some big undulations and stuff, and you've got to keep it out of the water.テつ So it's a precision golf course.テつ You've got to sort of play aggressive to conservative targets, especially when you're attacking the par‑5s, and just position the ball well and just plot your way around well.

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