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Consistently Inconsistent

How McDowell learns to thrive despite his jittery form

Posted Jul 10, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

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It’s the sort of record that would make students of form reach for the smelling salts.  In fact looking at Graeme McDowell’s recent tournament performances, starting at this year’s US Masters, the only thing constant is the well-loved, quirky swing, shaped by the Atlantic winds of Royal Portrush.

From a missed-cut at Augusta National, McDowell headed east to Harbour Town where he captured the RBC Heritage Tournament a week later. Then after a break, he returned to action in the Players Tournament at Sawgrass where he missed the cut.

But not to worry.  A week after Sawgrass he was to be found in the unlikely setting of the Thracian Cliffs Resort in Bulgaria, winning the Volvo World Matchplay Championship.  That was on May 19th.  Move forward another week and he was missing cuts once more, this time in the BMW/PGA Championship at Wentworth.

Who was panicking?  Not the bold Graeme.  While supporters were scratching their heads at missed-cuts in the US Open at Merion followed by the Irish Open at Carton House, he headed for France with a determination to turn things round in his customary fashion. We were told the level of expectation at Merion was, perhaps, too high, as was the hope that he would become the first Northern Irishman to win an Irish Open since Fred Daly captured the title back in 1946.  And so, we had a French Open triumph which followed a familiar pattern to happenings over the previous months.  

All of which has us thinking, momentarily, that such wildly fluctuations in form would have been easier to understand, if only they conformed to an established pattern.  Which, in fact, they did, for keen observers of the gifted Ulsterman. The signs were there from the time he struck his first ball as a professional on June 20th 2002 in the Great North Open in Northumberland.  Though he finished that year with tournament earnings of £296,755 which included a winner’s cheque in the Scandinavian Masters, worries were already being voiced about his inconsistency.

Even the player himself was forced to admit 10 years ago:   "I don't deny it. One day I can come out with all guns blazing and the next, my game's as flat as a pancake.”  Then he went on: "The thing is that the players I really admire are those who consistently make the cut.  I want to be there every week, just like Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington seem to be.  And when I happen to have an average week, I want to be able to finish in the top-20, like Darren Clarke does.  But I now accept that this is going to take time."        

Tournament performances in the early part of 2003 revealed that after finishing 30th in the South African Open, his opening event of the season, there were two missed cuts in the US, in the Bob Hope Classic and the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Then came a share of 44th place in Tucson, where he carded a stunning 64 on the Saturday, only to follow that event with two more missed cuts in Europe.

The truth is that little has changed for McDowell over the years, other than the frequency and importance of his successes.  If you were to look for a possible common denominator, as in the nature of the golf courses which have delivered his victories, there doesn’t appear to be one.  It’s been suggested that he tends to play difficult courses well, but where do Merion and Sawgrass fit into that particular theory?

Meanwhile, we remember the somewhat inauspicious start to McDowell’s European Tour career, when he missed the cut at Slaley Hall 11 years ago. Yet he arrived at Fota Island the following week, brimful of confidence for the Murphy's Irish Open in which he raised quite a few eyebrows by fighting back into a share of 27th place.  

And the breakthrough in Sweden came in only his fourth event as a professional when, after a sparkling, opening round of 64 on the course which, as it happened, he had just signed a contract to represent, he went on to card 73,66 and 67 for a 14-under-par winning total of 270.  

From that point onwards, even sceptics were forced to acknowledge a wonderful competitive spirit.  And his tournament record suggests a consummate professional who has the necessary temperament to live with inconsistency.

In which context, a steely determination happens to be an invaluable asset.

- Dermot Gilleece

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