Thursday 14 November 2019

Pitbull McDowell has the bit between his teeth

Ryder Cup hero of 2010 will be a key figure in Medinah, writes Ewan Murray

Analysis of Graeme McDowell, even by the man himself, can appear slightly unfair. The Northern Irishman is routinely portrayed as a scrapping, workmanlike player with a core talent way below some of his peers.

This is Graeme McDowell, the Major champion and two-time Ryder Cup player who has claimed titles on both sides of the Atlantic. Not an eight-handicapper who nicks the odd club medal by holing a series of putts on a good day.

Self-deprecation seems to suit McDowell just fine. As he prepares for a third Ryder Cup appearance, McDowell reflects on the sentiment of Europe's captain. Jose Maria Olazabal is said to have pointed to McDowell's "pitbull" tendencies as a compliment; the 33-year-old is not the type to let go of an opponent's ankle should he get hold of it. "Pitbull? Rottweiler? That could just be about my face," McDowell says, smiling.

"I grew up playing a lot of matchplay in Ireland. To me, it is a criticism of the golfing union structure there that we don't play more strokeplay, but in many ways it was beneficial, as well, in my younger days because it helped to mould my personality into that pitbull-type player.

"I am not a top pedigree racehorse like a Rory McIlroy. Things come easy to a guy like that, he has talent coming out of his ears. A guy like myself has to dig it out a little more and maximise my game in other areas. I have always been a great putter, always been a very straight driver of the ball. I try to make the rest of the stuff work. Having a great short game, being a great putter, is always a massive weapon when it comes to matchplay."

As, of course, is mental strength. "I try to be dogged down a stretch," McDowell adds. "Hitting towering two-irons and other shots that these pedigree racehorses can hit is very difficult to do when the pressure is on. I'm not sure if it's the type of game that I have, if it's the matchplay thing, but it's not a bad way to be described. I could be described as worse.

"Do I wish I had the talent of some of the other guys? Absolutely I do, but I have got what I've got and I try to make it work as best I can. I feel like I have the tools to be a great match player and I have always enjoyed the matchplay element of the game."

What can be said without fear of contradiction is that McDowell genuinely relishes the Ryder Cup. He famously holed the putt that secured the trophy for Europe at Celtic Manor in 2010.

"The Ryder Cup has such a different dynamic. To see 40-50,000 on that hill, all pulling for the boys in blue... team-mates, caddies, wives and girlfriends, European Tour officials, you share that victory with everyone who calls themselves European and everyone who has an affinity with the European Tour. You share that emotion with your team. You go through every emotion that week: highs, lows, bad sessions, great sessions. It is just a special dynamic."

As a graduate of the University of Alabama -- McDowell was based in the state's largest city, Birmingham -- and a current resident of Orlando, an away fixture with the United States will hold no fears. It is with his fellow Northern Irishman, McIlroy, as a partner that McDowell is widely tipped to feature in foursomes at least this time around.

"It's too early to make that call," says McDowell. "Jose has not talked about pairings with me yet. Let's be honest, there's me and 10 other guys in that team room who would love to play with Rory McIlroy at some point on Friday or Saturday. He's a fairly handy partner. Our team has some very obvious pairings, which you don't need me to tell you: Poulter and Rose, Donald and Garcia, myself and Rory, perhaps Westwood and Lawrie. There are some stand-out and obvious pairings.

"But a lot of variables could come into that: we have three days of practice, how is the course going to be set up, how are guys playing and feeling? A lot of variables can come into play by Thursday evening."

McDowell seems slightly uneasy about being portrayed as one of Europe's more influential players. Yet only three members of the side -- Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood -- have participated in more Ryder Cups.

"My second Ryder Cup a couple of years ago was one where I garnered a lot of experience so I'm looking forward to seeing how that all breaks down. I'll be feeling a little bit more vocal within the team room, perhaps."

Anyone with a knowledge of McDowell's character understands he would value victory over enjoyment. Whether he chooses to acknowledge it or not, he will prove a crucial European figure.


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