Graeme McDowell: One to Root For…and Drink With?

Posted: May 11, 2011 in golf, Players Championship, sports
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

If I could pick any guy competing in The Players to have a beer with and shoot the breeze I’d give Graeme McDowell a call. He looks, acts and talks like most of the people I consider my closest friends – only a lot younger.

Understand I don’t know McDowell. I’ve only been around him on a couple of occasions and they were media interviews with lots of other media types firing questions. He just seems like what we in the media like to refer to as “good guys”. For all I know McDowell is a jerk who’d cheat his own mother in a friendly card game on Mother’s Day, but I doubt it.

There’s nothing pretentious about the 31-year-old Northern Irishman. He doesn’t strut. He speaks candidly. He smiles easily. He has a good sense of humor. He appears to truly appreciate the good hand he’s been dealt in life, that of a globe-trotting professional golfer who has a U.S. Open championship trophy on his shelf (actually, it’s probably in a closet), millions of dollars in the bank and a Ryder Cup record to die for. He even put down Tiger Woods, face to face, in Tiger’s own tournament last fall.

To get where he is he has certainly beaten the odds, and that’s another reason to cheer for the guy.

“It’s pretty cool,” he admits.

Growing up he loved sports and played all of them. He dreamed of being a soccer star. But he was best at golf and, as he says, “Golf won out.” But not because he was a natural at the game. “I worked my butt off to get here,” he lets you know.

That isn’t all that surprising considering Northern Ireland’s love affair with the sport. The country has produced more than its share of international golf stars. Darren Clarke topped the list until McDowell came along. He’s now challenged as his nation’s best player by Rory McIlroy. McDowell currently ranks No. 4 in the world. McIlroy’s No. 6. That in itself is a bit mind boggling.

“. . . when you’re inside looking out, it’s very tough to get your head around something like that,” he said this week while preparing for The Players. He adds, “. . . it’s pretty improbable, mathematically speaking.”

He points out Northern Ireland has a population of 1.5 million people. You can drive the entire country from north to south in 90 minutes; from east to west in a couple of hours.

“I don’t even think there’s a state in America that small, is there?” he asks. “Something like Hawaii.”

How about Rhode Island?

“Yeah, yeah,” he answers.

Becoming a star seems to have had little effect on the bachelor. For one thing he understands how the game has become a global sport and how tournaments worldwide compete against one another to attract the strongest fields. Having a U.S. Open champion and Ryder Cup star in your field adds prestige and attracts sponsors, ticket-buyers and TV viewers.

McDowell, naturally, got his start on the European Tour and he remains loyal, but he understands America provided him with his biggest opportunity, the U.S. Open he won last year at Pebble Beach. He is a member of both tours and plays them about as evenly as possible. He’ll make 18 starts this year on the Euro tour and 17 in America. He says it wasn’t by design “but just the way my schedule has worked out.” But you sense there’s more to it.

“I like to try and keep supporting the Tours that have given me my opportunity to play the game I love,” he says. “The European Tour will always be my home Tour. It’s the Tour I’ve grown up on.”

He started in Euro career in 2002 and did so with a bang. He won his fourth start ever and has a total of six Euro victories. He started this year with only his Open victory in 57 PGA Tour starts.

The subject of playing both Tours came up because the competition to attract the best players is intensifying. The Players field, for example, is missing No. 1 ranked Lee Westwood and McIlroy, both who simply chose not to play. Their absence has drawn a lot of attention.

“Are they not here?” McDowell jokes.

On a serious note, McDowell isn’t about to criticize their decision but he does say it is disappointing.

“Guys got to do what’s best for them,” he explains. “It’s a little bit of a selfish game sometimes.”

He doesn’t see the day he skips The Players, however.

“I love the course,” he says. He calls The Players “one of the very special golf tournaments here on the PGA Tour.”

His track record doesn’t reflect his love of the course, although he did shoot a second-round 65 last year before finishing tied for 26th. He tied for 40th in his first Players in ’05 and was 78th in ’09.

McDowell doesn’t dodge questions.

He thinks the dominance of international players vs. American golfers is, in part, because “talent seems to cycle.” He does think Euros have a slight advantage because they grow up playing a more global schedule. It toughens them.

“We learn to travel and play in all kinds of conditions,” he explains, “and I think that makes us very (well-)rounded individuals as golfers. The PGA Tour, you know, we’re pretty spoiled when we play this Tour.”

He admits the Tiger slump is “very difficult to fathom.” He adds, “It was tough to ever imagine that five years ago. He was making the game look incredibly easy there for many years.” But he thinks Tiger will win again, perhaps big. He played with Tiger at Doral and in the first two rounds of the Masters. He said he saw determination, hunger and patience in Tiger, all key ingredients in Tiger getting back to the top.

So now you know about McDowell and why I suggest you cheer for him this week. If you’re worried about pulling for a Euro against Americans let me point out he sounds more American – he was educated at the University of Alabama-Birmingham – than Irish.

The Irish definitely comes out, though, if you’re lucky enough to ever have a beer with him. He’ll, no doubt, order a Guinness…unless he’s got some whiskey to sell you.

  1. Clip Hopkins says:

    Very interesting insight. I probably would have pulled for him until you said he attended Alabama

  2. Wyman Stewart says:

    I’m going backwards through your posts and this is 3 straight golf stories. Looking like a Country Club Blog. Do you cover the Putt Putt World Championship. Surely there must be one. Get a sport, Crusty. Just kidding.

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