Sunday 11 December 2016

Graeme McDowell: Irish? Northern Irish? British? I tell people I'm Irish because everyone loves the Irish

Graeme McDowell's perspectives have changed but his fighting spirit and will to win more titles are as strong as ever

Published 26/04/2015 | 15:02

Graeme McDowell
Graeme McDowell
Graeme McDowell

Nine years ago, during the fourth round of the European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre in Switzerland, Graeme McDowell snapped his five wood against the root of a tree and issued a directive to his caddie, Ken Comboy: "Go find yourself a decent player. I am not the guy you're looking for."

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This is not how professional golfers normally behave.

A poor drive?

They blame the coach.

A missed putt?

They blame the caddie.

A missed cut?

They blame the manager.

A bad day?

They blame the wife.

It is never their fault.

McDowell is different. The second of three boys born to his parents, Kenny and Marian, he grew up in a three-bedroom terraced house in Portrush and charmed his early teachers. What a well-mannered boy. What a gift for learning and numbers. The kid was a shoo-in for Oxford or Cambridge.

He wanted to play golf.

The sages watched him play and couldn't make sense of it. His driving was fairly average. His ball striking was pretty ordinary. His putting was nothing to shout about. His peers were clearly more gifted.

How was he so good?

He travels to Birmingham, Alabama on a bog-standard scholarship and becomes the No 1-rated college player in America. He turns professional at the age of 23 and wins on his fourth time out. He becomes the first European in 40 years to win the US Open. He takes Tiger Woods down the stretch in his own tournament - the Chevron World Challenge in Sherwood, California - and beats him in a play-off. He pulls himself off the floor and takes out Jordan Spieth in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.

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Why don't we love him more?

It's a Sunday afternoon at Augusta during the final round of the Masters. He's standing in front of the clubhouse explaining his disappointment - he'll finish tied 52nd - to a coterie of journalists. "Augusta is my favourite golf course in the world," he says. "I love Augusta, I love the Masters, even though as Brian says (golfwriter Brian Keogh), it's an unrequited love, and that's kind of a good way to describe it.

"I enjoy it for what it is but I always walk away from here disappointed. I never get anything out of it. I always walk away from Augusta with my head down. I didn't let it beat me emotionally this year but it beat me, still."

But the thing that strikes most is his good humour and grace. He's not blaming his caddie for this and won't be sacking his manager or his coach. He's going home, he says, to put his feet up with a bottle of wine to watch the final round.

Two days later, that seemed a logical place to start when we sat down before the RBC Heritage tournament at Hilton Head.

Paul Kimmage: On Sunday, you were going home to open a bottle of wine and watch the leaders in the final round. Did you?

Graeme McDowell: I might have opened two! Yeah, I did. I went back and had the family up . . . Kristen (wife), my mum and dad.

PK: What was the wine?

GMcD: A Beringer cabernet - I'm a bit of a California-cabernet guy but I'm trying to expand my horizons. I was in the wine cellar at Augusta a couple of times last week - got one of the sommeliers to give me a guided tour. It's pretty cool.

PK: It's supposed to be one of the best cellars in America?

GMcD: Yeah, they have everything you could ever imagine in there from France to Italy to Spain to California, stacks of the stuff.

PK: You didn't get to taste any of it?

GMcD: (Smiles) No, I didn't do any tasting.

PK: Where did this love for wine come from?

GMcD: I don't know really, just bumping into people. Ray Taccolini has a phenomenal wine cellar. He was on the board of the Tiger Woods foundation and has become a very good friend. So it was just through having the odd dinner with him and getting an appreciation for it. I built a little wine cellar in the house with a couple of hundred bottles. What's this they say? They're worthless if you don't drink them and priceless if you do.

PK: (Laughs) Jordan Spieth is on the cover of Sports Illustrated today. Have you seen it?

GMcD: No.

PK: It's a photo of him driving off the 18th tee at Augusta with a headline: 'Jordan Rules: The Spieth era begins now.' Do you agree?

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GMcD: I don't think it's the Spieth era but I think we're in the era right now of the complete young player. I think we're looking at complete golfers arriving on Tour much more often now, guys like Jordan and Patrick Reed. Will Jordan rule? I don't know. Rory is going to be awfully hard to beat. Their golf games are very different. Rory is a bit like Tiger was, dynamic, a 21st-century golfer who hits it 330-340 (yards off the tee). Jordan gets it done the old-fashioned way. He's more of a Jack (Nicklaus) or a (Nick) Faldo. He's mentally very strong, very mature and very grounded.

PK: McIlroy drives like God; Spieth putts like God. What would you take?

GMcD: I think I'd like to putt like God. It used to be 'Drive for show, putt for dough' but you'll make plenty of dough if you can drive it in this day and age. But there's more if you can putt.

PK: So you'd take putting?

GMcD: Yeah, I think I would.

PK: You were drawn against Spieth on the final day of the Ryder Cup last year. Did you have any idea you were playing golf's next superstar?

GMcD: Well, it was an interesting day. For the first five or six holes, I felt like a guy who hadn't played enough golf. I'd played with Victor (Dubuisson) on Friday and Saturday afternoon and I literally hadn't hit any iron shots, it was really weird. And it's so late each evening when you get off the golf course you can't get any work done. So here comes Sunday and I feel under-prepped.

PK: You're one down after two, two down after three and three down after five.

GMcD: Yeah, and I hit my first decent shot to 6 but miss the putt. On 7, he hits two shots to ten feet and I'm 30 feet away and miss. So I'm watching this kid hit this ten-footer (to win the hole) thinking: 'If I go four down here I'm really in the shit.' He misses it and the next two holes are key. He hits a decent shot into 8 and I follow him. On 9, he hits a phenomenal chip shot up-close and I follow him in close and that kind of gets me going.

PK: You get one back on 10?

GMcD: Yeah, it's the first chink in his armour. He hits it to 50 feet and lags it up to three feet. I hit this putt that couldn't miss but it misses, and then he misses and I'm like: 'Oh! I'm almost four down two holes ago and now I'm back to two!' And I'm energised. He misses a 25-footer on the next and he gets really angry with himself because I'm 15 feet away and I think he knows, that I know, that I'm going to make it. And I make it. And he doesn't hit a shot for the next two holes. I'm thinking: 'This kid is gone!'

PK: And he was.

GMcD: I thought his temperament was a bit suspect: I'd played with him a few times and he had a tendency to be hot-headed and that came out when he missed on 11. But he hasn't shown much of that since.

PK: You created a monster.

GMcD: I don't know.

PK: He's going to look back years from now and write in his autobiography: 'Losing to Graeme McDowell was the turning point in my career.'

GMcD: (Laughs) Well, his eight months since that day have been fairly epic, and mine have been fairly ordinary. I'm craving (being in contention on) a Sunday afternoon again. I need it, I want it, and I'm frustrated. I'm not playing great at the minute; my life has changed a huge amount over the last couple of years and I feel like I'm turning a lot of corners.

PK: What sort of corners?

GMcD: I've gone from a guy who loved only one thing in his life; apart from my mum and dad, golf was all I had. Now I've got a wife and two kids that are more important than golf to me and I guess I'm wrestling with the priority changes. I just had a chat in the players' lounge with Scott Verplank about what I've been going through. He's been out here (on tour) for 29 years and has a wife and four kids.

PK: You told him what was on your mind?

GMcD: Yeah.

PK: Was he surprised?

GMcD: No, he just went, 'Phhhh, I've been there many times.'

PK: That's interesting.

GMcD: Something I've become better at in my life is asking questions: Is it a low? Am I going through a low? I don't know. I've got married and had a child but still made a Ryder Cup team, and performed well, and maintained a top-20 in the world position until the last four or five months. So I probably don't give myself enough credit.

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PK: Pádraig Harrington used to start every season terrified he had 'lost it' during the winter.

GMcD: I think as humans we're always terrified that we might be finished, or might never compete again. What I'm talking about, craving that Sunday afternoon, is a need for validation, to put that fear away again. My season hasn't given me that so far and I need that, and want that. But I don't want this piece to be all deep and dark and soul-searching.

PK: (laughs) I do.

GMcD: No, soul-searching is good but I don't want it to suggest that I'm in a dark place at the moment.

PK: No, that's understood. There was a sense of what you've been talking about in an interview you did recently with the Mail on Sunday: 'I feel like I've been at a crossroads lately. I am trying to get myself back to the player I was and the way I thought rather than being this guy who is trying to be perfect and has less patience and gets frustrated and angered quicker than he ever did. I am trying to take a step back and realise that you are supposed to be happy when you get to this point.'

GMcD: Yeah, I suppose I was sort of saying out loud some things that I've been working on mentally. I'm not sure what cycling is like and whether you guys went through the same thing.

PK: No, cycling is a sport where you don't have to think - you put your head down, your ass up and your brain in neutral.

GMcD: Really?

PK: Yeah.

GMcD: I'd have figured being on a bike gives you a lot of time to think.

PK: It does, but it's better if you don't engage your brain.

GMcD: Well, obviously there's a lot of pain. Do you . . . Is there a certain amount of meditation required to block that out?

PK: You mean medication.

GMcD: (laughs) I like that.

PK: Medication kills the pain.

GMcD: So the thinkers don't . . .

PK: The thinkers think: 'Fuck this! I need to change my career!'

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GMcD: There's a lot of that in golf. You either have to be really smart, or quite the opposite, to be good at this game. There's a lot of time to think and a lot of intangibles to wrestle with: the smart guys learn to deal with it, and organise their thoughts; the other guys don't notice the clutter and just get on with it. The guys in the middle are the ones that struggle.

PK: The other interesting element to that interview is the quest to win another Major. You said: 'I expected to be more satisfied after the US Open. Maybe when I achieve another Major championship I'll be happy. That comes with being a sportsman. Anybody that is good at something. It doesn't matter how much money you have, you want more.'

GMcD: Yeah.

PK: Have you seen The Sixth Sense?

GMcD: Yeah, a fantastic movie.

PK: It was directed by a guy called M Night Shyamalan but pretty much everything he has done since has been shite.

GMcD: Did he write that movie?

PK: Yeah, and it's a work of genius, but my point is this: Surely once should be enough? How many people in history have won the US Open?

GMcD: Yeah, there's no doubt.

PK: So the question is: What is enough?

GMcD: I don't know.

PK: Some say it's the secret to a happy life.

GMcD: I guess I don't know the secret, then. I'd like to win another three or four PGA Tour events and another Major championship. That would be enough.

PK: You're sure?

GMcD: (laughs) No, I'm not sure.

PK: Let me quote you some figures from the Golf Digest 'Top 50 Money List' for 2015. Number 25? Graeme McDowell. A very likeable business partner for some big name companies. Few interact with the public and the media as genuinely as he does. Off-course earnings: $4.1m. On-course earnings: $5.5m. Total: $9.3m. That's not bad?

GMcD: (laughs) Where's it all gone? It's funny, those are always the worst meetings: you sit down with your financial advisor and he throws numbers like that at you. 'You made X on the course. You made Y off the course. You've got Z in the bank.' And you're like, 'Jesus! Where's it all gone? The taxman is a beaut.'

PK: You've been phenomenally successful?

GMcD: Yeah.

PK: So the word 'unhappy' should not be in your vocabulary.

GMcD: No, and it's not. I am not an unhappy person. I've had the spikes on lately and been a bit frustrated on the golf course, but when I'm with my family, and I have a glass of wine in my hand, I am not unhappy at all.

1 Patriot Games

"When it comes to the Olympic discussions, that raises some questions as to who we play for. I was always trying to sit on the fence, again, because I really did not want to have to make that decision. It is an unfair decision to put in the players hands. You're always, unfortunately, going to end up upsetting someone whatever side you choose."

Interview with The Irish Times, November 2013

PK: You did an interview a couple of years ago, and gave a very good summary about the Olympics, and how difficult it was to choose, before the decision was taken out of your hands.

GMcD: Yeah, it's extremely sensitive. You can't really understand what it's like to live in Northern Ireland and have a Catholic mum and a Protestant dad. When I grew up as a junior golfer, I wanted to wear the green blazer. Golf was an all-Ireland sport; we wore the red hand of Ulster for the interprovincials and you stuck the green jacket on (playing for Ireland) and never gave it a second thought. But when the whole Olympics thing came up, it just felt like a banana skin where there was no right answer. I, typically, don't sit on the fence. I try to be honest and give an opinion but I didn't have an answer.

PK: Yeah, that can't have been easy.

GMcD: One of the things I love about living in the States is the patriotism. I love going to a football game or a baseball game when the national anthem comes on and people take their hats off. I get goosebumps. It's cool. I can only imagine what it must be like for athletes to stand on a field and do that because I realise that I don't have that. I'm not proud of Northern Ireland in many ways, because of what we've been through, and what we've fought over, and the things we've done to each other. Am I Irish? Am I Northern Irish? Am I British? I'll be honest and say that when I travel around the world I say I'm Irish, because people love the Irish.

PK: But is that how you feel?

GMcD: I don't feel anything and as I say, I hate my lack of patriotism. Do I want be an American? No. Are my kids going to be American? Well, they're going to be American citizens but I'm very passionate about them having a sense of where their dad's from. I'm very passionate about taking them home for the summer and for them to meet their cousins and to understand their history and culture. I love Ireland and I love the north coast where I'm from and I'm very proud of that and the beauty and the people but it's . . . (pauses)

PK: It's conflicted?

GMcD: Conflicted, that's the word, it's weird . . . I mean, I've got an MBE. I'm a Member of the British Empire.

PK: Yes, I was going to ask about that.

GMcD: I haven't been to the Palace - my dad wants me to go and get it, and it's a great honour but . . .

PK: You have to collect it?

GMcD: You have your title and have to go to the Palace for a ceremony, but I was kinda thinking I might wait until Kate and Wills are in.

PK: (Laughs)

GMcD: It's not something I'm massively in a rush to do.

PK: Have you seen the latest Nike ad with Rory?

GMcD: Yeah.

PK: The essence of it is the relationship between a boy and his dad and their love for the game. What if they did the same with you? What would the essence of a commercial about Graeme McDowell be?

GMcD: I guess someone who was always looking at the guy who was one or two steps ahead of him. I wasn't the guy who looked at Nick Faldo and said, 'I want to be Nick Faldo'. I was the guy who looked at Garth McGimpsey and said, 'I want to be Gareth McGimpsey.'

PK: I was thinking something along the lines of David taking on Goliath - this gutsy little fighter who won't back down.

GMcD: Yeah, I guess I've always had that in me. I remember Paddy Gribben beat me in the North of Ireland one year. I had Bells palsy, sudden paralysis on one side of my face, and had to wear Oakley glasses because my eye wouldn't blink and was streaming. I was four down with four to play against Paddy Gribben and I took him down the last. The fighting instinct was always inside me. People ask: 'Where did you get it from?' And I never really knew until my mum was diagnosed with MS.

PK: That's interesting, but you'll have to explain it.

GMcD: The way she's fought. I always assumed my dad was the strength of the family but in the last 10/15 years I've come to understand: dad is the soft, emotional one; mum is as tough as nails and just seeing her dealing with her illness and everything that goes with it . . . she's amazing.

PK: Are they both born-and-bred Portrush?

GMcD: They are. My dad grew up in a little farming community just outside the town called Islandmore. My mum grew up in a little council estate called Glenmanus. Mum was Marian June Murphy, dad was William Kenneth McDowell, and that certainly presented challenges when they started to date. Dad was a member of the Orange Order club and got a letter saying he would not be welcome back because he was seen walking into a Catholic Mass with mum.

PK: How did their families feel about it?

GMcD: Embarrassingly, I don't know. I can't imagine it went down well. It was a very sensitive time. We're talking late '60s/early '70s, the height of the Troubles, so it couldn't have been cool.

PK: How many siblings did they have?

GMcD: Dad has three sisters and two brothers. Mum has three sisters and a brother, decent-sized families both of them.

PK: Did you connect with both sides?

GMcD: Absolutely. Christmas day would be mum's side of the family; Boxing Day would be dad's. We were close to both sides, especially our grandparents.

PK: Where was home?

GMcD: A three-bedroom terrace house in Dhu Varren, not one of the classier estates in the town but a great place to grow up. You were aware that there were some wealthy kids in school but you never felt like you didn't have much. Portrush never struck me as a particularly wealthy town, even the wealthy people weren't mega-rich, but you were always aware of the class divide at the golf club. The 'haves' played at Royal Portrush, the 'have-nots' played at Rathmore. But the golf ball didn't know that.

PK: What about school?

GMcD: Carnalridge Primary School in Portrush and then Coleraine Inst. Luckily, I was fairly academic and the career advisors wanted me to apply to Oxford and Cambridge. I wanted to play golf and follow my friend, Ricky Elliott, to the University of Toledo but I didn't have the money, and couldn't get a scholarship, so I ended up doing mechanical engineering at Queen's.

PK: Did you like Queen's?

GMcD: No, I didn't. It was probably one of the few times in my life where I felt like I was wasting my time. I passed all my exams but I felt like I was treading water. It wasn't what I wanted to do. And then the stars aligned for me. A guy called Chris Devlin from Ballymena gave the coach at UAB (University of Alabama) my number and I got a call one day. 'Would you like to play golf for us?' I went to the Dean of Engineering and explained what I wanted to do and he gave me temporary withdrawal from the course for the year. And away I went.

PK: What year was this?

GMcD: I left in August 1999 and felt like a fish out of water. I didn't have a car or a mobile phone. I was renting a room and sleeping on an airbed and didn't have a lot of kit or a lot of money. But there was plenty of golf to be played.

PK: And that was enough?

GMcD: I remember standing there one day in January or February, hitting bunker shots in my shorts. The sun was shining and I was really happy. I thought, 'I am so far ahead of the lads freezing their asses off back home.' I won my last college event in May or June before I flew home in the summer. I didn't realise the change that had occurred in me but I was a different person. I was about 15lbs heavier because I'd been eating nothing but chicken fingers and beer but I had changed mentally. I had much more confidence. I always felt confidence was frowned upon in Ireland; wanting something or being motivated by something was like, 'Would you have a word with yourself! Don't forget who you are.' And then you go to America and (meet) these lads who are brash and are winners and . . . something flipped inside of me. I had much more confidence. I also had a really bad Alabama accent.

PK: That was my next question.

GMcD: Yeah, that had changed. I came home that summer and got abused for being fat, and abused for having a really bad accent, but I put them in their place pretty quickly. I won the 'South' and the 'Close' and the Leinster Youths and the Irish Youths and finished second in the European am. It was a huge turning point in my career and I can't put my finger on whether it was standing in the bunker that day, or winning that tournament at the end of the season, but I went home and put myself on the map.

PK: Stick with the accent for a second.

GMcD: (Smiles) Okay.

PK: Did you play golf as a kid with a commentators' voice in your head?

GMcD: No.

PK: Because the impression sometimes when I hear you talk is that you're in 'broadcast' mode?

GMcD: In the beginning, when I first went to the States, I remember trying to order a sandwich one day in a Subway shop. There was an old black girl behind the counter. She says (mimics a southern drawl): 'Honey I love your accent but I've just no idea what you're saying.' Or I'd call the college to register for a class and I'd have to repeat myself 10 times. So I'm not sure if I felt I had to project my voice differently, or if I made a conscious decision to do it to make my life easier. Whatever happened it stuck, and now I have this mid-Atlantic thing that people love to abuse.

PK: (laughs)

GMcD: But if that's the only thing they have on me I'm happy with that.

PK: You spent three years at Alabama?

GMcD: Yeah, in my second year I won twice and played in the Walker Cup. And when I went back after the Walker Cup, I started winning nearly every time I teed it up.

PK: How did it feel being the No 1 college player in America?

GMcD: There was a sense walking into tournaments that everyone was looking at you, and that you were the one to beat but it's funny, I don't remember much about my mindset or what I was like. I was definitely a fairly rotund little fella with a really bad hairdo, I was bleaching my hair with peroxide and looked a right state. But I was good on the golf course. I just had so much belief and so much confidence in what I was doing; I had learned how to win and it had become a habit and it was a habit that rolled into my start on the European tour.

PK: You turned pro in June 2002?

GMcD: Yeah, made my debut at Slaley Hall (Northumberland) and remember being really nervous. I snap-hooked it off the first tee and missed the cut. It was a big step in my life.

PK: But not quite the start you wanted?

GMcD: No, but I think I played at Fota Island in the Irish Open a couple of weeks later . . .

PK: It was a week later. You finished tied-27th.

GMcD: Yeah, I made the cut on the number and my dad drove through the night and slept in the car park when he got to Fota. I shot 66 on Saturday to thrust myself into the middle (of the field) and played with Big Darren (Clarke) on Sunday.

PK: What was that like?

GMcD: It was intimidating. We had a decent-sized crowd and I didn't play very well and I think I won . . .

PK: Fourteen grand.

GMcD: I was going to say thirteen.

PK: A month later you win the Scandinavian Masters in your fourth start as a pro.

GMcD: I was a late invite. Chubby (Chandler, his then manager) did a deal with Denis O'Brien, who owned the course at Kungsangen in Stockholm and they managed to wangle me an invite. It was my 23rd birthday, the Tuesday, and I was sitting in Gatwick airport delayed. I got there in time to play nine holes and I hit it all over the place. I wasn't in the pro-am the following day, and walked the back nine, and shot 64 in the first round. Then the old (winning) habit kicked in and I managed to hang on. What was it? Two hundred thousand sterling?

PK: Three hundred thousand euro.

GMcD: Yeah, it was a door-opener, a life-changer.

PK: Where was home at that stage?

GMcD: I was still living in Dhu Varren with my parents.

PK: Really?

GMcD: Yeah, it was mad. I bought my parents a new house. I said, 'Right, we're getting out of here.' And taking my mum house-shopping was probably one of the coolest things I've ever done.

2 Man in the middle

'I had texts from Greg Norman. Arnold Palmer sent me a message. Ruud Gullit and James Nesbitt have been all telling me I'm a legend. The website has gone mad. The world has gone mad. And I'm stuck in the middle of it.'

His diary in the Sunday Telegraph, October 2010

PK: The first time we ever met was at the Tavistock Cup a few years ago. We were standing on the range at Isleworth (near Orlando) and you were hitting balls towards a fire hydrant that, bizarrely, would play a small but significant role in your US Open win. Where were you the night Tiger crashed his car in November, 2009?

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GMcD: I was in China, playing in the World Cup with Rory and remember reading the news on Saturday night. Conor Ridge (former manager) had met with the guys at Chevron (the sponsors of the World Challenge, an event hosted by Woods in December) about getting into his event but it wasn't looking good. Then Tiger obviously did his thing, and they asked Conor on the Sunday we were in China, if I'd fly to LA as a reserve. I said 'sure', because it was on our way home, and the next day we got a call saying Tiger was out. I finished second that week. It got me back into the world top 50, which meant I was going to Doral and the Masters in 2010. Five months later, on the morning after Wentworth, I click on the world rankings and I'm still there, right on the bubble at 49, but in the US Open. And if you extrapolate that back, it all began with Tiger.

PK: That's amazing.

GMcD: It's bizarre. Would I have found my way in anyway? Was it my destiny? You don't know. I won in Wales two weeks later and I'm not sure I've ever played better.

PK: And then you're off to Pebble Beach.

GMcD: It was an interesting week. I played with Rocco Mediate and Sean O'Hair for the first two rounds and came off the course at 12.30 on Friday with a three-shot lead. I didn't play again until 3.30 the next day, so I had a full 27 hours leading the US Open.

PK: It's a big deal to lead a Major.

GMcD: It was at the time. It still is. I'd never played with Dustin Johnson before and didn't know much about him. He shot 66 that day, the best round of golf I've ever seen. I remember walking off and thinking: 'Holy Hell! How good is this guy? We're playing for second. If I can stay within two I'll be doing well.' We finished late. I did a bit of media afterwards and had a late dinner with dad and Conor.

PK: Was your mother there?

GMcD: That's another story. Mum was in Spain with her sister and afterwards, in her naivety and innocence, she stayed down there and missed the homecoming. She thought I'd just won a tournament. She didn't realise it was a Major!

PK: (laughs)

GMcD: But Sunday was interesting. I had a good moment with dad on the first tee and put my arm around him: 'Happy Father's Day. I've been a bit tied up this week, so I didn't get you anything.' He says, 'I'm sure that silver trophy will do the job.' And he's welling up, and I'm welling up and I'm thinking 'Jaysus! I've got 18 holes to play.' But obviously Dustin gets off to the (bad) start (triple bogey on 2, double bogey on 3) and I'm standing on the third green as Dustin is walking back to the tee thinking 'I'm leading the US Open again.'

PK: How does that make you feel?

GMcD: I played great the first eight holes and was really under control emotionally but made a bad swing on nine and didn't get up and down, and made bogey from the middle of the fairway on the next. That was the first time I felt rattled. I thought: 'I'm throwing this away.' But I looked at the leaderboard. Tiger - over! Els - over! Mickelson - over! And I was still ahead. I thought 'Wow! This is hard,' and just knuckled down. I parred 11, got it up and down from the front bunker on 12 and parred 13. On 14, the par five, I flared my drive into the trap, hacked it out from under the lip and hit a seven iron right down the flag. It was as good a seven iron as I can hit and I thought: 'Okay, maybe you are good enough.'

PK: And that's interesting, because you've been a pro for eight years, and won several big tournaments and said many times in interviews, 'I think I can win a Major.' But you don't really believe it until it happens? Or do you?

GMcD: I don't know, there's so much self-talk that goes on in this game: 'How do I feel today? Where's the swing at? How am I hitting it? How am I rolling it? Do I like this course? Are the greens okay?'

PK: That's the 'little voice' is it?

GMcD: Yeah. 'Am I going to give it a run this week? Am I not? Am I going home on Friday night?' You spend five-and-a-half hours talking absolute rubbish to yourself. It's mad.

PK: Is everybody the same?

GMcD: I would hope so, because if they're not . . .

PK: You're at a serious disadvantage.

GMcD: I'm bananas.

PK: What happens when you get to the 18th?

GMcD: I'm one ahead. I stand on the tee box and again, the self-talk begins: 'Maybe I'll snap-hook this into the piss.' It's just instinct, you learn to laugh it off; I get back into my routine and hit a great drive into the right semi (rough) with a good enough lie. Kenny (his caddie, Ken Comboy) wants me to go for it but all I can see is negativity . . . the left trap . . . the water . . . so I say, 'Kenny, wise up, we're laying this up.' So laid up and I think I had 97 yards for my third shot. I was a bit nervous and hit it past the flag but I've two putts now from 30 feet to win the US Open. And I wiggled it down and knocked it in and . . . (pauses)

PK: And what? What's the feeling?

GMcD: It's . . . disbelief. And well into the following week I felt disbelief. I had a good cry to myself on the Wednesday night or Thursday. We were sitting having a late night drink in Portrush and the enormity of it all just wiped me out. I've only been that emotional a few times in my life.

PK: What times?

GMcD: The day I was engaged, the day I was married and the day Vale (his daughter) was born.

PK: Okay, I have to ask about Rory. When was the first time you became aware of him? I've heard you tell a story about his 61 (as a 16-year-old) at Portrush?

GMcD: I think I'd heard of him before that but only fleetingly, and was like: 'Yeah, yeah, these kids come and go.' And then in July (2005), around the Open, someone said, 'Rory McIlroy just shot 61 at Portrush' and I said 'Whaaat?' Because it was in the 'North' and the course would have been set up reasonably tough, so it was a proper 61. But my first memory of meeting him would have been at the Dunhill Links the year he turned pro. What year was that?

PK: 2007

GMcD: Yeah, we played St Andrews on the Monday or Tuesday and had a little money game - I shot 68 and lost! We went to Carnoustie the next day and I had to lend him a pair of golf shoes, he forgot his shoes, and he took the money again. So I remember being instantly impressed by him, and you can't help but be impressed by the way he hits the golf ball. And he has such a good way about him and attitude to the game. We spent a lot of time together I suppose, early on, and used to play practice rounds all the time. I'd be on the range and JP (Fitzgerald, McIlroy's caddie) would walk on and stick his bag next to mine, when golf was all we had on our minds and there wasn't the A-list commitments, and women running around. But it's inevitable that life explodes.

PK: I get a sense of . . . regret is probably too strong a word . . . sadness that things are not the same now?

GMcD: There's not sadness. I think its just reality.

PK: Does he still plant his bag next to yours on the range?

GMcD: No, there's not that humorous inseparability any more, things have changed. He's his own man, the No 1 player in the world. The dynamic in our relationship has changed. It was actually McGinley who helped define it for me, when he compared it to him and Harrington. When they played in the World Cup, McGinley was the big brother guiding the young pretender. And then Harrington turned into a superstar and the chemistry wasn't the same.

PK: And it's the same with you and Rory?

GMcD: I felt it for the first time at (the Ryder Cup in) Medinah in 2012. It wasn't the same as it was in 2010 when I'd let him hit first in the better-ball to free him up, knowing I was coming behind. In Medinah, he didn't need that, I felt I was hanging on to his coattails, and I guess that was one of the (reasons) we didn't play together in '14. It wasn't anything to do with being friends or not friends or the perceived 'trouble' in the media.

PK: Was it a perception?

GMcD: Mostly. It was uncomfortable. I was stuck in the middle of something I didn't want to be stuck in the middle of. On one side I had Rory, who I respect a huge amount as a player and a person, suing the management company that I had effectively introduced him to. And on the other side I had Conor and Colin (Morrissey), two guys who had done so much for me, and were my friends. So it was a no-win situation. I said a few things which were construed the wrong way by both parties, when I was trying myself to be neutral. So it was very, very difficult.

PK: A bit like the 'nationality' issue?

GMcD: (Smiles) Yeah, and I'm not good at sitting on the fence. The problem with trying to walk a balance beam when you're a waffler like me is that you can often fall off.

PK: You're not a waffler.

GMcD: Well, I have a tendency to expand on my answers a little too much, and during that expansion I can find myself drifting into one camp or the other, and I didn't want to be in any camp.

PK: Does it irritate you that you're asked about Rory so much?

GMcD: No, but it got tedious at times. I'd go into a press conference and there'd be two 'me' questions and eight Rory questions.

PK: Okay, well I'm not going to compound that. You're coming home in a couple of weeks for the Irish Open. How do you feel about that?

GMcD: My relationship with the Irish Open hasn't been great. I've a terrible record. I think it goes back to a flaw in my personality that hates letting people down. I'm always trying to give them something and show their support is appreciated, and that's not very positive from a competitive point of view. So I've played badly in the Irish Open, and haven't enjoyed it because I've played badly.

PK: But you feel a duty to play, do you? You wouldn't consider not playing?

GMcD: I've considered it, fleetingly, but I would never not play the Irish Open. We're self-employed and can play wherever the hell we want but it's not about owing, it's about giving. People have given me a huge amount of support over the years, and I owe a lot of where I am today to those people. But it's not even about that. It's duty and giving and wanting and loving to win one. It's . . . Ireland.

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