Friday 19 January 2018

The good life: Why McDowell is one of sport's 'brightest' stars

Portrush star has 'new priorities' but still wants more Major glory

Graeme McDowell has endured a difficult season and believes he will improve his schedule for the coming seasons.
Graeme McDowell has endured a difficult season and believes he will improve his schedule for the coming seasons.
McDowell and his wife Kristen Stape who now live in Orlando

Graeme McDowell needs a calculator to count his blessings. They go far beyond the dozen tournament victories and €23m prizemoney amassed in 12 years pursuing his favourite pastime as a professional.

With a beautiful new bride on his arm; that Major title in his trophy cabinet; a swathe of blue-chip companies in his sponsorship portfolio; a flourishing charity foundation to his name and fresh business ventures to excite him, especially the Nona Blue Bistro in Orlando, McDowell's living the good life.

The greatest gift, however, is that he knows it.

The 34-year-old Portrush native's determination to put his fame and fortune to best use, while still engaged in the pursuit of sporting excellence, is an example to rising stars in any arena.

"I pinch myself sometimes," admits McDowell, who this week brings his competitive season to a close with the defence of his title at Tiger's World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Southern California.

Looking back at 12 months of incredible incident and achievement on and off the golf course, he says: "There have been a lot of fun distractions in my life this year.

"Along with getting married, moving into our new home and finding balance in my world, there's been the restaurant, other business ventures and, of course, the foundation stuff," he explains.

McDowell smiles at the mention of an emotional switchback last summer, when he soared to victory three times and slumped to five missed cuts in an astonishing eight-tournament spell.

"That's golf, you take the rough with the smooth," he shrugs. "There's been some nice smooth this year and a bit of rough. You take it, you learn from it and you move on.

"I learned a lot this year. I learned a lot about scheduling," McDowell explains. "You always learn a lot about scheduling. It's an art form, an ever-changing landscape.

"My life has changed a lot over the last few years, so my schedule has to change. I'm married, based in Orlando, I have new priorities in life."

Interesting to see a Tweet last week from McDowell looking forward to 'Movie night' with Kristin in the Lake Nona home he built and, as an interior designer of high repute in her native Florida, she fitted out.

"Of course, I've new priorities," McDowell says. "Spending time with my wife and hopefully building our own family is a priority. Golf is still a massive priority, but I don't want to be away from home for five weeks anymore, travelling around the world.

"Do I want to play in the best events in the world as often as I can?" he asks. "Of course I do. And I want to be in the best condition playing them. Balancing both the European and US Tours and getting it right is vital."

* * * * *

FAMILY has always been a cornerstone in McDowell's life. The values he inherited from mother Marian and father Kenny still shine through, according to Eamonn Coghlan, the former superstar athlete, now a senator, who works closely with GMac and his Foundation on fundraising efforts for Crumlin Children's Hospital.

"He's very level-headed," Coghlan explains. "I think he remembers exactly where he's come from himself.

"I think he's aware of the lucky breaks he's had in life; appreciates the talent he has and the success he's gained. He realises that any little contribution he can make in the way of time, and also money, can make a huge difference to the lives of others."

McDowell takes particular satisfaction from being able to express his gratitude to his parents. "My mum and dad are very good at kind of putting things in perspective for me ... I just think back to growing up and the sacrifices they made and how hard they worked to give me the opportunity to be standing here."

For example, inviting his mother to spend three or four months each year in Orlando assists in her fight with MS. "It helps her relax and is good at limiting her stress levels," he explains.

"She feels like she's living the dream and that makes me incredibly happy. She pinches herself on a regular basis which reminds me I should be pinching myself too."

It must be wonderful to be able to do that for your parents?

"Yes, it's a lot of fun," McDowell replies. "I love my mum and dad very much and it's a lot of fun to be able to spoil them on a regular basis. I'm very fortunate to be playing this great game and to be making a phenomenal living at it."

* * * * *

THE movie McDowell and wife Kirstin watched at home the other night was 'Man of Steel,' a moniker which wouldn't look out of place on his golf locker.

European captain Paul McGinley recalls his Monday afternoon encounter with the barrel-chested Ulsterman at the 2010 Ryder Cup.

Having won the Welsh Open at Celtic Manor three months earlier and famously followed-up with victory at the US Open in Pebble Beach, McDowell was sent out against Hunter Mahan in the final singles match.

Following the game as one of Colin Montgomerie's assistants, McGinley was interested to observe McDowell taking a hard look at the scoreboard as he waited for his American opponent to putt out on the 10th green.

"As he turned and headed for the next tee, Graeme smiled at me and said: 'I've got a feeling this is going to come down to me, Mac. What do you think?' I said 'maybe' and left it at that," McGinley explains.

"The smile said it all. It wasn't an 'I'm going to win,' Poulter-type smile. It was just the look of a player who was fully clued-in and ready for any eventuality the occasion might bring."

Of course, after an astonishing fightback by the American team, Europe's 'Man of Steel' would break their hearts. First McDowell holed a sensational serpentine putt on 16 to extend his lead before Mahan duffed a chip at 17 to hand back the Ryder Cup."

McGinley has the highest regard for McDowell as a man to have by one's side in a tight corner and "a consummate professional".

The Ulsterman may not be the longest hitter and, like the great Lee Trevino, has a slightly idiosyncratic swing, but McGinley admires, above all else, McDowell's ability to maximise his strengths.

"The word I use to describe Graeme is 'smart.' He's figured himself out very well as a golfer and his thinking is clear when it comes to what he needs to do," the Dubliner says.

"Knowing yourself well, recognising your strengths and playing to them is hugely important. In that regard, he's very reminiscent of Padraig Harrington when he was playing at his best."

McGinley then paid McDowell the ultimate compliment: "Looking back, I'd love to have been more like Graeme and to have known myself better as a golfer.

"Not to have been so concerned with trying to figure out the game or what everyone else was doing, but simply playing to my own strengths. That's a great way to be."

The European captain also saluted McDowell for surrounding himself with a first class team from his long-standing caddie Ken Comboy, through his coach Pete Cowen all the way across the spectrum to his clothing range at GMac Kartel.

Can he win again at the Majors? "Put it this way," McGinley concludes. "Only a fool would bet against Graeme McDowell winning another Major."

* * * * *

IT'S a measure of McDowell's corporate image and the work of his back-room team at Horizon Sports Management that, in his six years since joining the Dublin firm, he's built-up a phenomenal portfolio of sponsors.

The Irishman's long-standing relationship with blue chip brands like Mastercard, BMW, RBC, Verizon, Ecco, Audermars Piguet, Teneo and, of course, Srixon, place him in the upper echelons of golf's corporate pecking order, behind only the big three of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy.

"Once they get to know Graeme, every sponsor wants to stick with him," says his agent Conor Ridge, adding: "Put him in front of a corporate audience and he's absolute dynamite, while it's humbling to see how well he relates to people on a one-to-one basis.

"He might meet someone for the first time in months, but will remember where their kids are going to college or ask if they've managed to cure that hook or slice they were struggling with," added Ridge. "Graeme's very intelligent, smart and quite a good businessman himself."

Among his own off-course business projects, McDowell opened the Nona Blue Bistro with partners Joe Davi and Bill Bona this year and he says: "We've had a lot of fun with it. At the minute, it's just a hobby for me. We have a great team of guys running the place, so I don't have to get all that involved.

"I'm not a good cook, but myself and Krisitin are passionate about food and I'd have aspirations to get more involved in the future," he added.

While McDowell got caught in the crossfire when McIlroy quit Horizon and launched into a legal battle with the Dublin firm, he recently insisted his friendship with the Holywood native remained intact.

"I'm very close to both parties, but it hasn't affected any personal relationships," he explains. "The fact I'm stuck in the middle of a legal matter is a tough scenario – it's tough for everyone. But as far as I am concerned, Rory and I will always remain competitors, colleagues, peers and friends. I care a lot about what he does; I care a lot about how good he is and that'll never change."

* * * * *

COGHLAN reacted as quickly as he once did to the starter's pistol. Asked if any specific moment or incident stood out from the 30 months he'd known Graeme McDowell, the former World champion answered in a flash.

"When GMac first came to Crumlin (Hospital) and went into the brand new intensive care unit, he was so touched emotionally by these children, who were hanging onto life by a thread, and what their families were dealing with, that the tears flowed," Coghlan recalls.

"That's when the real Graeme McDowell shone through. He said: 'wow, look what I've got and look what these people are dealing with. I absolutely want to help out here'."

The GMac Foundation, run for McDowell by his good friend and Horizon co-founder Colin Morrissey, has been working closely with Coghlan, head of the American arm of the 'Children's Medical Research Fund' for Crumlin Children's Hospital, since the two sports stars first met at The Players Championship in Sawgrass in 2011.

McDowell has played a hands-on role in helping Coghlan organise the annual 'Best of Ireland' Gala Dinner at New York Athletic Club, which in two years has raised $1m for the Intensive Care and Recovery Units at the Dublin hospital.

Next year's banquet takes place on January 30 with Paul McGinley, David Feherty, Robbie Keane and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan among the guests of honour. McDowell was especially attracted to Crumlin because it is the children's coronary care unit for the entire island of Ireland.

The GMac Foundation also brings, with sterling support from Aer Lingus, eight sick children and their families to Orlando each year for a lifetime trip to the Disney World Resort, a splendid effort for which McDowell hands much credit to Morrissey.

"A lot of organisation goes on behind the scenes and I get to take the credit for it," he says. "It's gratifying and puts things in perspective – that's not why I do it but it's just great. The families I've met in two years, having dinner with them and hanging out with them, it's just amazing to see the strength and bravery in kids.

"As players, athletes and celebrities, we have an opportunity to tap into resources around the world and to do good. To put a name to something and to have great people help you be able to impart your influence, that's what it's all about."

As far as McDowell's concerned, it's one of the greatest privileges of This Sweet Life.

Graeme McDowell Factfile

Age: 34

Height: 5' 11"

Weight: 12st

Turned pro: 2002

2013 Race to Dubai: 4th €2,420,306 (two wins: Volvo World Match Play and French Open)

Total European Tour victories: 9

2013 FedEx Cup: 28th $2,174,595 (one win: RBC Heritage at Harbour Town)

Total PGA Tour victories: 1

Other victories: Tiger Woods World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club 2010 and 2012

Worldwide career prize money: €22,937,666

2013 Playing stats 2012

277.5 yards (161st) Driving distance 285 yards (136th)

68.51pc (15th) Fairways hit 70.11pc (8th)

62.70pc (144th) Greens in reg 66.26pc (67th)

0.135 (71st) *Putting average -0.299 (160th)

61.09pc (30th) Scrambling 51.83pc (177th)

*Strokes gained in putting against the field average at each US event

Irish Independent

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