Sport Golf

Sunday 11 December 2016

G-Mac hopes 'light switch moment' can leave dark days in past

McDowell confident technical work with caddie has turned misfiring season around

Published 15/07/2015 | 02:30

Graeme McDowell gestures on the 3rd green during a practice round on The Old Course at St Andrews yesterday
Graeme McDowell gestures on the 3rd green during a practice round on The Old Course at St Andrews yesterday

Graeme McDowell has shone the spotlight on the deceptive banality of the first hole on the Old Course.

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It looks easy and should be easy, but that first tee shot can still get the nerves jangling in an Open at St Andrews.

McDowell has played in 11 Open Championships since 2004, including two at St Andrews, and complacency is not an option.

The expanse of verdant and bunker-free fairway makes the opening shot at the Old Course in theory one of the easiest in world golf - except it isn't.

"The first tee shot at St Andrews, for being probably the easiest tee shot in golf Major championship history, it's still such a historic shot," said the Ulsterman.

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"You just feel 'I'm standing there in the shadow of the R&A clubhouse, and all it represents'.

"It does give you the special feeling and there's not many places will do that. Obviously Augusta, and the 18th tee at Pebble (Beach) are in that category.

"There's half a dozen little shots in the world that you kind of feel 'this is a bit special, this is what it's all about, this is historic and traditional'.

"So, the first tee at St Andrews, the Road Hole bunker, the 18th green and all that area is pretty special."

Alongside him on this, his 12th British Open, McDowell will have long-serving caddie Ken Conboy.

USA's Jordan Spieth during a practice day ahead of The Open Championship 2015 at St Andrews
USA's Jordan Spieth during a practice day ahead of The Open Championship 2015 at St Andrews

Conboy joined McDowell in 2006 and has been on the bag for eight of the Portrush native's ten Tour wins, including that historic US Open victory at Pebble Beach in 2010.

McDowell thus became the first Irishman to win the US Open in post-war years, and was the first European to claim the American title since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

Five years later, the Northern Irishman and the Englishman are still rolling along in search of further success.

And like all enduring partnerships, periods of stress are an occupational hazard.

This year has tested the patience of both men, but after last week's Scottish Open the McDowell/Conboy team have seen signs of better things to come.

There's nothing quite like a brace of 66s to put some pep in the step, and McDowell's opening scores on Thursday and Friday at Gullane brought out his purposeful swagger after too many days when the shoulders slumped.

Traditionally in golf, the player-caddie relationship at its most basic reverts to the time-honoured "we" got a birdie, but "he" made a treble-bogey.

US golfer Tiger Woods smiles during practice on The Old Course at St Andrews
US golfer Tiger Woods smiles during practice on The Old Course at St Andrews

Ultimately it's the player's responsibility to make the final decision on clubbing and execution of a shot, although every decision is carefully considered between bagman and player beforehand.

Off the course, the caddie's input can also be important.

Following his missed cut at the Alstom Open de France, McDowell and Conboy clarified some technical issues that helped the player do well at the Scottish Open.

"I made good use of my weekend off from missing the cut at the French," explained McDowell.

"I came up to Scotland with the family and it was out at St Andrews on the Saturday that Kenny and I worked a few things out as regards technique, and what we need to do about it. That was kind of a light switch moment.

"I hit it really well Saturday, hit it really well that Sunday. I had a day off back in Portrush with the family on the Monday and everything looked good in warm-up at Gullane.

"The golf ball was doing what I wanted it do for a change, which was nice, and hence I wanted to get to the next shot for a change rather than thinking 'here we go again'."

It was not the first time that he has profited from some observation by the caddie.

"There's countless times in my career when Kenny has mentioned technical things to me in my swing or my putting or my chipping which has come and been a big key for my week.," he explained.

"When I won the French Open last year he said something to me on my putting on the Thursday or the Friday and bang, I holed everything over the weekend.

"So he's a massive key to what I do. Obviously when you're not playing well it puts strains on relationships but we've hung tough this year and he knows it's a journey.

"It's been a great journey the last four or five years, but you've got to take the rough with the smooth as well."

This year has been more a bumpy journey. McDowell had to withdraw in the first round of the Valero Texas Open due to a tendon strain which affected his lower leg and ankle.

The problem had cleared up in time for the Masters but up to last week at Gullane, McDowell's form had not reached the level he expects of himself.

How much had his self-belief suffered?

"It's tough to quantify. We were talking about a cup of belief and confidence that I was spilling away all year," he said.

"I feel I put a bit back in there last week, but there's plenty of room for more.

"That only comes from getting out there and getting your hands dirty and getting down to it.

"It was good to get out there in the business end of things again, feel the juices flowing a little bit again, put my nerve to the test."

The nerves will certainly be tested, particularly tomorrow when the goal will be to avoid any disasters and lay the foundations for a decent challenge.

His coach, Pete Cowen, coached South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen when he won the 2010 Open at St Andrews, and McDowell hopes that could be an omen.

"It was pretty amazing that Pete was as fruitless in the Major championships as he had been up to then with the type of players he'd been working with over the years," he said.

"He's a high quality coach. If Pete's to be a lucky charm, then so be it."

Irish Independent

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