Tuesday 23 January 2018

G-Mac learning how to thrive on home front

Graeme McDowell. Photo: Getty Images
Graeme McDowell. Photo: Getty Images
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The magnitude of Shane Lowry's achievement in winning the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009 cannot be understated, but if the experience of Graeme McDowell and Pádraig Harrington is any guide, Lowry struck gold before any scar tissue could build up in his psyche.

Such was not the case for Harrington or McDowell.

Harrington spoke of his early years playing in the national Open as being "incredibly stressful" and that it took him a long time to understand that "people want you to win, rather than expect you to win, and there is a subtle difference".

Taking that attitude helped Harrington enjoy the Irish Open experience more, a factor which helped him make the big breakthrough in 2007.

Portrush native McDowell, playing deep in his home territory this week, had to learn how to feed off the positive energy that comes with enjoying the support of big galleries in an Irish Open.

The G-Mac of ten years ago was, by his own admission, struggling with what he perceived as a weight of expectation that was difficult to shake off.

He, too, sought an answer to the Irish Open conundrum, and yesterday provided the latest test of technique and mental composure in round one of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

So far, so good. McDowell got around in 67, five-under par. Harrington and Lowry went to lunch, each with a 68, but it was noticeable that cautious optimism was a common theme in their post-round assessment.

The old golfing adage that you cannot win a tournament on Thursday, but you can certainly lose it, has been proven true way too often for any complacency about the challenges to come.

Posting rounds in the 60s is always a welcome start, but especially in this tournament on the Portstewart links.

G-Mac undoubtedly had an extra level of pressure on his shoulders because he was performing in his own bailiwick.

"I enjoyed it this morning. I enjoyed the energy. I enjoyed playing in front of people that are genuinely pulling hard for me. That's a nice feeling.

"The Ryder Cup gives you that feeling when you eventually let your guard down and understand that people are pulling really hard for you, and they want you to do well, and you can really use that energy and that vibe.

"It took me a long time to learn that here at the Irish Open, but I feel like I've got my head around that nowadays.

"It's great to look in the crowd and see my brother, and my friends and family, and friendly faces and people are just cheering me on," he said.

McDowell gave the galleries plenty to cheer with seven birdies, four of them on the front nine, which was his back nine, as he, Harrington and Lowry started on the 10th.

He only had two hiccups, taking bogey on 17 and 18, his eighth and ninth holes.

McDowell felt briefly upset, but looked at the leaderboards, realised birdies were there for the taking, and rallied for his second nine.

Harrington restricted the errors to one bogey on his card, and reckoned that his 68 represented an "average" display.

"It's a nice, decent score. I could have scored a little bit better for sure and returned a really nice score.

"But four-under is not a bad score and it keeps me in the tournament," he said.

Lowry was more pleased with his mental temperature control than his scoring, because he made plenty of birdie chances and converted just four of them.

He went bogey-free and drove the ball well.

"I was very patient today. Quite proud of myself for that, because I was getting a bit frustrated around the turn," he said.

Irish Independent

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