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McDowell Still Learning

The Reigning Champion speaks on the upcoming US Open

Posted Jun 15, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

Mcdowell

While Graeme McDowell has been practising for the US at Congressional this week, he found himself mentally comparing it with Pebble Beach.  And wondering at how quickly time has flown since he captured this coveted trophy 12 months ago.

“Can I ever top 2010?,” he asked here in the media centre on Tuesday. “I certainly can’t top the way it felt to win my first major championship; to hole the winning putt at the Ryder Cup and the way everything unfolded that day at Celtic Manor.”  He went on: “I suppose the big thing is that I know how much better I can get in this game.  I know how much improving I have to do in all aspects of it.  But I’m never going to top that feeling at Pebble, because the first time is the best time.  There’s no doubt about that.”

As he looked toward Thursday and the first round in defence of his crown, it has to be said that the Northerner has been an exemplary champion.  From the moment the winning putt found the bottom of the cup on the famous 18th at Pebble, McDowell has embraced everything that has gone with being the first European winner of the title since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

Golf scribes from different parts of the world asked him basically the same questions, over and over.  And he invariably answered them with good grace.  At times, there was even an attempt at varying his comments to fit the audience.  And always, there was a clear delight in what he had achieved; in his good fortune at having gone where precious few Europeans have gone before.

“I think all four major championships offer their own, special challenge,” he went on.  “The Masters, for instance, has its own feel as the first major of the season, played as it is on an amazing golf course.  For its part, the US Open excites us for the challenge it presents.  Historically, it is the toughest of the four and we wonder from venue to venue what each particular year will bring.”

He went on: “On a broader level, I believe it has influenced the other majors in certain respects.  Granted, being outside of the US and played on a links course, the British Open has its own special flavour.  But over the last few years, the PGA has been exceptionally difficult.  I mean the set-up at Oakland Hills a few years ago, when Padraig (Harrington) won, was borderline on a US Open set-up.  Yet all the while, this championship has retained its own character.”

Given the severity of the US Open challenge, did it make it especially difficult for a 54-hole leader to progress to the title? (Nobody remains more aware than McDowell of the fact that Dustin Johnson held a three stroke lead on Saturday evening at Pebble Beach last year)

“To sleep on a 54-hole lead is difficult; no doubt about it, with the golf-course set-ups being as demanding as they are,” he replied. “With so many players snapping at your heels, the pressures of leading are obvious.  We saw what happened to guys like Dustin and Nick Watney and to Rory (McIlroy) at Augusta this year.  I had the same problem at the Players Championship.

“The bottom line is that it’s difficult to win any golf tournament and it’s especially difficult to win a major.  You’re out there under the microscope and despite your best efforts, you make mistakes and start chasing.  To do what Tiger Woods was doing in the early 2000s; the way he was putting golf tournaments away, was super-human.

“Sometimes you’ve got to throw a few away to really learn how to do it.  I’m sure the young players I mentioned and myself included, have learned a lot from our bad beats.  I know I’ve learned a lot from last-day implosions.  I believe they make you a better player in the future.”

With a few days of his reign remaining, the champion concluded: “You’re really got to learn about yourself and understand the psyche of what it is to be nervous, carrying the lead into the last round.  How hard it is to stay patient and how really hard it is to know when to keep your foot on the accelerator.”

- Dermot Gilleece

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