McDowell - Still Fighting And Grinding
Five years ago, Graeme McDowell experienced the season of his dreams. Securing his place among the greats of Pebble Beach by becoming the first Northern Irishman to win the U.S. Open, before holing the winning putt for Europe at the conclusion of a tense and hard-fought Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.
2010 was a year that surpassed all expectations for the popular Ulsterman, being capped off with the stunning defeat of Tiger Woods in a head-to-head battle at the Chevron World Challenge.
Half a decade on from that monumental year, however, things have changed dramatically for McDowell, both on and off the course. In terms of the latter, life has never been better for the likeable 35-year-old. Marrying his partner Kirsten in 2013 was an important milestone, before the birth of their first daughter last August.
On the course, though, it has been a very different story. In 2015, McDowell has competed in 15 events around the world, it has been a real struggle for form and any kind of tangible success.
Since beginning his season in Dubai, where he finished ninth, there hasn’t been a result better than 26th, with five missed cuts in that time, including three consecutively ahead of this week’s Scottish Open.
As a consequence, he has fallen out of the top 50 of the world rankings for the first time since his greatest season, putting his once secure position on next year’s Irish Olympic team in jeopardy.
Though clearly relishing the transition into life as a husband and father, the Ryder Cup star has confessed that his work ethic and enthusiasm for the game had taken a hit during that whirlwind adjustment period.
Typically candid and honest, McDowell spoke in June ahead of the FedEx St. Jude Classic, admitting that motivation had been an issue in recent times. “I've had some sort of issues regards motivation, and that's led to some technical issues. I think getting married and having babies and kind of enjoying the fun things in life off the golf course have distracted me a little bit on the course, and my game has suffered a little bit.”
He is certainly not alone in losing competitive focus during a period of positive change away from the game. It is only a natural, human characteristic. As a consequence, however, less time was spent on the range and practicing, leading to a decrease in sharpness that has proven damaging at the highest level of the game, where even the slightest imperfections are magnified by the depth of competition around these days.
It is something that he has clearly acknowledged and attempted to rectify. During the recent Irish Open at Royal County Down, McDowell spoke of the process of getting back to his best. “I have to start working hard again. And I've been working hard the last few months and I really feel like my game is turning around. It's been a problem but it's been a great problem.”
Getting back to basics and starting from scratch have been the buzzwords for the 10-time European Tour winner. Though, despite his renewed enthusiasm, it has understandably been a trying and frustrating period.
Ahead of last month’s U.S. Open, McDowell admitted that amidst his struggles, he had questioned his future in the game: "I haven't enjoyed the season, not scoring well, losing a little of confidence and belief, thinking am I done, finished, washed up? Should I think about getting a new job?"
His greatest attributes on the course have always been his competitiveness and determination. Those characteristics have allowed him to bridge any gap in talent that may exist between himself and more technically gifted practitioners of the game. He has arguably maximised the potential of his capabilities, and there is perhaps no finer compliment for a player.
That strength of mind will prove to be an asset during this period. It has done so in previous seasons, when results and form weren’t at the desired level, such as in 2006 when he only enjoyed two top ten finishes all year, falling out of the top 100 in the world as a result.
"Something I've done well in my career to this point is reacting well to the tough years and coming out the other side better and stronger and smarter,” added McDowell at Chambers Bay.
"That's what I'm kind of in right now, I'm in that learning curve and looking forward to being back on the leaderboard very soon."
Soon after those comments, he found himself back on the leaderboard in the Scottish Open at Gullane. With two consecutive rounds of 66 opening his tournament, McDowell was certainly encouraged by his play, though he confessed to reporters that work was still required.
“This is what I have been grinding towards the last few months, getting myself on the leaderboard in the weekend, I've missed this. Fun to be hitting it as solidly as I am.
“I think if I can get a few tournaments under my belt feeling as good as I am with my game, get that belief level up. It's still a work in progress. I'm liking what I'm seeing, a lot of quality shots, just got to keep doing it.”
Though he fell back with a disappointing round on a tricky Saturday in East Lothian, McDowell will be aiming to finish the event strongly ahead of the 144th Open Championship at St. Andrews. He has the platform to potentially build some further confidence going forward, as he looks to realise some newly forged dreams.
In June, McDowell had suggested that the opportunity to relish a tournament victory with his young daughter, Vale, was a motivator to get back to his best form. ”I want to be able to have that great visual that other guys do of having their kids running on to the 18th green on a Sunday afternoon, that's what I want.
“When I do get back there, I think I'll appreciate it more than I ever did. The last few years, leaderboards have come a little easier and I may be haven't appreciated them as much. Tough times, you learn more from your tough times, and I always have, and I'm enjoying the process of getting back there and it's going to be fun.”
Graeme McDowell is still grinding, as he always did. Expect contentment on the course to soon match that of his life away from the game, and perhaps that celebratory picture perfect family moment will become reality.
Image Credit - Graeme McDowell Facebook Page
Look back to 2010: Interview - US Open Champion Graeme McDowell
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