KAEC, Saudi Arabia, Feb 3: The win in Saudi was emotional coming as it did after five years on the European Tour, though Graeme McDowell did win on PGA last year. Yet, McDowell did not cry at the TV interview, like Lee Westwood did two weeks ago, for he says he could see it (the win) coming.
Here he talks to the media on the tough battle, the final round, getting back to Top-50 and big events, maybe even the Masters, the trouble he got into with a rule official, making the Ryder Cup team and what the future holds for him.
Initial thoughts on the tough battle?
GRAEME McDowell: Yeah, today was always going to be a battle. Golf course was set up very difficult save yesterday. I got off to a shaky start. It’s just one of those golf courses, if you start missing fairways, you start getting out of position, it’s tough to not make bogeys, and I bogeyed 1 (first). Hung through the rest of the front nine which was really big.
I got a really bad break on 9 when my second shot kind of scooted through the green and ended newspaper the back bunker and had a bad lie and came out sideways and I made bogey there.
I guess the real turning point was 14, I suppose. It was the first time I had a really good look at the leaderboard and kind of did some calculations and felt like I was 10-under at the time and I thought 10-under had an outside chance to win.
I saw Pieters was in the clubhouse at nine, so you know, I realised I only had kind of one shot at hand, if that, and it kind of refocused me for a second and after a really good second shot into 14, I buried that putt, which you know, obviously was one of the big strengths of the weekend was the putter. That putt was massive. I hit a great shot to 15.
On how massive was the putt (on 14th)?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Pretty massive, yeah (laughter) hard to quantify, literally quantify — sorry, I thought you were trying to be philosophical. 20 feet, 25 feet, something like that. A foot longer.
It was actually a bit of a break on 15, I hit it in the right semi, and was able to take the spin off the second shot. Couldn’t really see, the sun was off the ocean and is it was tough to see, beautiful picture, but the birdie on 14 and 15 was just massive.
I thought to myself at breakfast if I could somehow get on to 17th tee with a three shot lead, that’s what I want. And I stood on 17 tee with a three-shot lead. It was nice to have that cushion coming down the stretch because literally 16 was a lay-up par 3. 17 was a pin you just couldn’t get at from the fairway. It was a lay-up again, and it was appealing to my U.S. Open side.
And you know, on 18, it was weird, just trying to get out with five and your brain is trying to work out how to make eight. It was tough. I didn’t love — my bunker play hasn’t been great this week and the bunker was the easy leave. I got down there and I was like, man, I wish I could have left it somewhere else. But it wasn’t a really fancy, it wasn’t a fancy five to win, but hey, I’d have taken six, so it would have been absolutely fine.
The text message from Lee Westwood.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, we spoke about it last week in Dubai. He’s the kind of guy I look towards. Talking about a guy that it’s never gone away from him. The guy is a winner, won 45 times around the world, if that number’s correct — it’s big. It’s inspiring to see these guys win in their 40s, guys that have been through it, done it, kind of looked like they have maybe were kind of coming into the sunset of their career, and then you win a big event.
So when he texted me last night, I was on the way back to the hotel leading by one, it was nice. It was a nice reinforcement. I kind of felt like he was in brackets saying, you know, I can do it, you can do it too, Mate, so go and win that thing. It’s nice for guys like that. Tommy Fleetwood, lots of great people texted me. Nice to be back up there.
My goal is to get back in the Top-20 in the world and to be competing. I want another chance at a major championship on the back nine on a Sunday. This is all the steps. It’s a lofty goal. There’s going to be a lot of steps between here and now, but this really gives me the kick-on that I needed. It’s going to change my schedule the next few months I hope. I’m not sure if I get in México or Augusta at this point. I’m going to be close to it. But hopefully it will change my schedule a little bit and these are great problems.
On his first European Tour victory in six years?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I didn’t realise it had been quite that long here in Europe. I’m very excited. I’m very relieved. This is a difficult golf course this week. It’s unusual to win feeling as uncomfortable as I did on a lot of these holes because it was a tough golf course these last two days, especially with tough conditions. The birdies on 14 and 15 were just huge at the time, and it was nice to have a that little cushion coming down the last couple.
My big goal this year was to be back in the Top-50 in the world, back competing in the big tournaments. I’m very excited that it’s happened a little faster than I expected but hopefully it’s laying some foundations down for having a big year.
I really feel like I’m moving in the right direction, and it’s weeks like this that really give that you which I can eye on effect and hopefully I can use it.
On what happened (rules officials giving him a bad time) on Friday (Round 2) what was hanging over him under the circumstances?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, you know, The European Tour rules officials handled it very well in the end. Of course I felt hard done by in the moment. It was just kind of one of those, especially when I found out how important that bad time was; that it was a real bad time. Was going to haunt me as the weekend went on. Played with Paratore yesterday. He was a fast player. We never really kind of lost touch.
But it’s always an interesting dynamics when you’re in the final group on the Sunday. You can detach yourself easily from the pack. Sunday, guys play fast on Sundays. I wish we could play that fast every day. There’s this subconscious plane in front of you and they fly around the joint. The pace of play was faster today.
Victor and I got off to a scrappy start and found ourselves a little out of position. So Mark Litten, he’s around there. I’m running around that front nine, and I spoke to him walking off 11, I said to him, “We realise we’re our out here and we’re trying our damndest and can’t seem to get back in position.”
He said, “I’m watching. I see the effort. I appreciate it.”
You know, (Andrew) Snoddy (rules official), he gave me the bad time on Friday. I feel like he kind of got the brunt of the negativity that was created, that I caused him and I want to apologise to him. You know, these guys are just out here trying to do their job. That’s a new rule, a new pace of play policy that needs to be enforced, and they are trying to make an example of players, not necessarily me, but they are trying to make a statement that you know, The European Tour are trying to do everything they can to make this game faster.
I was glad I didn’t — I was glad we didn’t get monitored and put on the clock coming down the stretch because that would have been something not necessary, not needed. It’s just one of those intangibles. It’s the last thing you need when you’re trying to win a golf tournament.
On the win in Saudi? How emotional and did he see it coming?
GRAEME McDOWELL: This is a weird win because I’ve kind of felt it coming. Not a lot of my wins in my career have been like I expected. There was a certain sense of expectation with this one. I felt like it was part of my journey back, in that sense; this I’m playing well enough to win and if a win gets in the way, it’s great, it’s going to be a steppingstone.
So I’m not as emotional. I need to keep cranking on and I need to have weeks like these where I’m competing against the best in the world. So yeah, I certainly wasn’t Westy level a couple weeks ago. (Tim) Barter was trying his best to make me cry (at the interview), didn’t quite succeed, but thought about it for a second.
This is a weird week, I mean, no disrespect to this place, but there were 15 people watching us. You know, it didn’t have an intensity of a big, big, big tournament, even though the best players in the world are here. The No. 1 world player (Brooks Koepka) in the world is here; Dustin Johnson is here. You’ve got some seriously highly ranked golfers here and with a great strength of field on a great golf course and a tough golf course.
But that kind of external 25,000 people creating that atmosphere, it didn’t feel difficult from that point of view, which was kind of nice, I suppose.
Yeah, very important win, and hopefully one that I can really double up on and kick on from here. I’m excited to see how my schedule is going to develop if at all. Really, really a nice stepping stone and I’m proud. It’s a beautiful trophy.
On what made him think he could get back in the Top-20?
GRAEME McDOWELL: To get back in the top 20 — it felt a long way ahead of me. I think I’ve sort of broken that top 50 barrier probably three, four, six months faster than I thought I could.
I knew it was going to be a journey. I had kind of geared my mind for patience. I mean, if I haven’t learned anything in 20 years, I’ve learned that you’ve got to be damn patient out here. It’s not about your bad weeks. It’s about really making your good weeks into great weeks.
I don’t know. I don’t know. It was really just a good team. Kenny, having him by my side, it will be 14 years in June. Like I say, Kevin Kirk has really brought an interesting dynamic into this team. He’s told me, “There’s absolutely no reason why the best golf of your career can’t still be ahead of you.” It’s little things like that that have resonated with me.
But the things I’ve been saying to myself the last six months, I’ve been way, way better than they have been in a long time and I think that’s really all it boils down to, that combined with some hard work and some good preparation and a bit of luck, you know. It’s really about the attitude.
After four Ryder Cups, how much is it on his mind?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Too early to say. Westy, he text me last night, you know, when I was leading. Obviously I was thinking about him a little bit the last 24 hours and his win in Abu Dhabi. I guess we didn’t really enjoy the vice captaincy thing in Paris. I would love to be on the team. But there’s a lot of things that need to happen between now and then before I get myself on the team.
I’m a little like Lee. I want to play my way on to the team and I don’t want to have to rely on that pick. But we’ll see. A lot of things need to happen. My schedule is going to change a little bit here, maybe in México, maybe in the Masters, things like that. We were trying to plan an Easter holiday the weekend of the Masters. That may have to go on hold now.
Does he feel his game is getting back to somewhere near it’s best?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I do. It’s been ten years since a won a U.S. Open, ten years probably since I played the best golf of my life. I feel like I’m moving back in the right direction. I’ve got my head around what I’m trying to do with the swing and what I’m trying to do with the golf ball again, thanks to Kevin Kirk, who I started working with last August, and Pete Cowen who has been by my side for many, many years. Kenny on the bag there; I have a solid team. Life’s settled down. I’ve got a great wife and great family. I’m very happy with what’s going on in my life right now. I feel like the pond, the ripples in the pond have kind of steadied out a little bit now, and I’m in a good place to play some good golf.
Kevin said to me, “There’s no reason why the best golf in your career can’t still be ahead of you.” I like that. I like that kind of idea. I like that focus.