Wednesday 17 January 2018

'I can handle being one of world's best'

It could take more than 20 years for him to come to terms fully with the enormity of his achievement in winning the US Open at Pebble Beach last June. Here G-Mac tells Karl MacGinty just what his first major victory meant to him

K Mcginty

Q: When that winning putt actually dropped on the Sunday, was it all you expected or was there an anti-climax involved?

McDowell: I certainly wouldn't describe it as an anti-climax. Yeah, it's very surreal and it doesn't feel like you think it's going to. It feels a lot more normal, though everything that goes with it certainly isn't normal. Rationalising what you've just achieved is very difficult. If I'd witnessed one of my very good friends doing what I'd just done, I'd be blown away by it. But when you're on the inside looking out, it's different.

"There's definitely a period of trying to accept what you've just done. It really didn't hit me for weeks after. Even at the British Open, four weeks later, I was still very emotional. I was walking down the fourth fairway at St Andrews and I started to well-up. I was emotionally drained and it all just got to me."

Q: Can you conceive the enormity of what you achieved?

McDowell : "I don't really. When I read statements like 'the first European in 40 years to win the US Open' or 'the first Irishman ever to win the US Open' it hits me hard. It helps bring home the reality of what I did, but when you're on the inside looking out, it doesn't feel quite as enormous. Perhaps it will when I look back in 25 years time."

Q: Was there any moment of terror on Sunday afternoon where you suddenly thought, 'My God, this is going to change my whole life' or 'this is all very hard to handle'?

McDowell : "I never really looked that far ahead. My mind only went as far as picking up the trophy. Thankfully, it didn't wander any further. Sports psychologists always talk about the fear of winning and the fear of losing and both are equally dangerous. Yeah, I thought about throwing it away and, yeah, I thought about winning it too.

"You know, it's amazing, you're out there for four and a half hours and so many thoughts go through your head. With all the time to think, you've really got to try and interact with your caddie, interact with people and try to get your mind off some of the stuff.

"That afternoon I thought about guys who'd won their first Major in recent years. Guys who'd needed a bit of belief as well -- Harrington, Immelman, Zach Johnson, Lucas Glover. Guys I knew. I told myself if they did it, so can I.

"Out there it's a battle with a golf course; it's a battle with your swing and it's a battle with your mind. Sunday afternoon at Pebble was a battle with my mind for sure, as well as a battle with the golf course.

Q: What's the biggest thing you've learned about yourself in the last year?

McDowell : "That I can handle being one of the world's top players. The past year has been a great learning experience. It's great to go through what I've just gone through. This will always be my first Major, so it will always be my rookie year as a top player. I guess I've learned I can handle it. Yeah, there's been some up-and-downs and there's been some mistakes made, but generally I feel I can do it."

Q: Any mishaps with the trophy?

McDowell : "Actually, the little lady on top of the trophy has been a touch skew-whiff ever since I got it. As it's been in a few bars and restaurants where there's been a beverages involved, we thought maybe we'd damaged it.

"Then the two 90pc replicas I ordered turned up and, sure enough, the little lady is skew-whiff on those as well. Yet when I was at Congressional six weeks ago, she's perfect on their replica.

"At the minute we're trying to work out why my little lady is on there a little bit to the side. It's a strange one."

Q: Tiger Woods has withdrawn from next week's US Open at Congressional, but how much would you like to go down the stretch with him at a Major some day?

McDowell : "I'd love to. One of the proudest things about Pebble Beach is that Woods was on the leaderboard, so was Mickelson and so was Els, three top players. I certainly wouldn't begrudge anyone a title if Tiger's not playing, because you still beat the world's best ... but it's extra special to have won a Major with him on the leaderboard."

Q: Would you say you played pretty well against Tiger in California last December?

McDowell : "Yeah, it wasn't quite a Major, but it certainly was competitive and it was nice to do it in his own tournament. It's amazing how much attention I gained in the States because of that.

"I remember the NBC TV people telling me how good the ratings were that afternoon because Tiger was leading. I gained a huge amount of kudos over there for that one. As many people who come up to me mention The Chevron as the US Open, if not more."

Irish Independent

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