Sport Golf

Tuesday 16 January 2018

McDowell eager to prove Major credentials again

Ryder Cup hero desperate to avoid dreaded one-hit wonder tag, writes Lawrence Donegan

The worst thing about winning one of golf's Major championships is the fear of never winning another. It is not failure that haunts a golfer in his moment of triumph; it is dread of the company he might one day keep in that purgatory reserved for golf's one-hit wonders, the likes of Orville Moody (1969 US Open champion), Larry Mize (1987 Masters) and Todd Hamilton (2004 Open).

Graeme McDowell, who begins the defence of his US Open title on Thursday, would never be unkind enough to cast aspersions on those gentlemen and their achievements, but it can safely be assumed he considers himself a better player than they ever were.

Most judges of the game would agree. Yet the Northern Irishman, like that triumvirate of garlanded journeymen, is just another one-time Major champion. For now, at least.

"Of course, when you win a Major, you hope you can back it up,'' he says. "You always say you have nothing more to prove, but I think, deep down, we all feel like we need to prove ourselves and continue to prove ourselves in this game."

He certainly did that in the second half of 2010, securing Europe's winning point at the Ryder Cup. He also won a European tour event, in Spain. Most impressively, he overcame a four-shot deficit on the final day at the Chevron World Challenge to beat the tournament host, Tiger Woods, in a play-off.

That victory in southern California put an exclamation mark on McDowell's annus mirabilis, while the manner of it -- holing two 30-foot putts, one to tie Woods on the 72nd green and another to beat him on the 73rd -- cemented his reputation as a world-class golfer and, just as importantly, a prime candidate for a second Major victory.

People drew comparisons with the great American Ray Floyd, another fierce competitor with a fairly unique golf swing and four Major victories to his name. Yet, by these standards, McDowell has come up short in 2011. His season started well enough in Hawaii, where he contended in the opening event of the PGA Tour, and he had a top-10 finish at the Honda Classic in Florida.

On the European Tour, his best finish was a third place in Abu Dhabi. But there have been too many weekends at home in recent months, which has caused a fair amount of soul searching.

Winning a Major brings opportunities and responsibilities off the course, and McDowell embraced them. To his credit, and that of his manager, Conor Ridge, he has avoided doing what many first-time Major winners do and chase appearance fees around the world.

He is rich already and is smart enough to realise his time is more productively spent on the golf course rather than in the air.

Yet there have been mistakes. His decision to take up membership of both the European and PGA Tours runs counter to the unassailable truth that no one plays their best golf while commuting across the Atlantic. For better or worse, you have to choose, as Rory McIlroy did at the end of 2010, abandoning the PGA Tour.

McDowell is a gregarious, sociable soul. It is hard to imagine him complaining of loneliness.

Yet being popular has its problems, not least when it comes to dealing with the press. Not since perhaps Arnold Palmer has a top-flight golfer been so approachable or media-savvy.

McDowell gets brilliant coverage and clearly enjoys the attention, but it has taken him a while to appreciate the energy-sapping downside of a higher profile. Tiger Woods was a sensational player at his peak, but he was an equally adroit time manager, reducing his public duties during tournament week to a minimum and breezing through them in cruise control.

Not McDowell, who tackles the endless interviews with enthusiasm. Whether he shoots 64 or 81, as he did in Wales last week, he is always the same: quotable. "I've been off the boil for a couple months.

"I haven't been very happy with my game, my long game especially, and I'm certainly experiencing a bit of the rougher side of the game at the minute.

"Golf can beat you up sometimes and I'm starting to appreciate the good times now. You've got to enjoy them and I'm glad I did last year,'' he says.

"But I am looking forward to the challenge of digging my way out of this, getting back to playing well and getting back to contending in golf tournaments. Every now and again you need a bit of a kick in the butt in this game, but I'm excited and I'm ready to go again."

No doubt he is, and no doubt many would be delighted to see McDowell in the winner's circle at Congressional Country Club. But being ready to go is one thing, being ready to win is quite another.


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