'Missing out on last year's Ryder Cup lit a fire underneath me'
At the end of 2010, Graeme McDowell was ranked 6th in the world. He was the reigning US Open champion and was still riding the wave from holing the Ryder Cup-winning putt at Celtic Manor.
Now he finds himself nearly 150 places down the rankings and relying on invites and exemptions to play regularly on the PGA Tour.
Between 2010 and 2014 McDowell’s stock remained high and the Northern Irishman did right to cash in. He opened his own pub and restaurant in Orlando and started his own clothing line.
He’s also now married with two children so can be forgiven for a shift in focus.
It’s not like he’s fallen into oblivion. He won on the PGA Tour at the end of 2015 and has picked up a handful of top-20 finishes on both sides of the Atlantic in the last 12 months.
But the 38-year-old tells NCG being left out of Darren Clarke’s team at Hazeltine last year has reignited his determination to not only make the side for Le Golf National but also start competing again for more trophies of his own…
How would you sum up your Ryder Cup career because there have been highs and lows?
My four Ryder Cups have been very special but on different levels – it has been a rollercoaster of emotions.
In 2008, when I made my debut, we lost but I played OK. I won a phenomenal betterball match with Ian Poulter [beating Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk 1 up] which is probably one of the best matches I have ever been involved in.
I was in the last match at Celtic Manor then I hit the first shot at Medinah and was the first match in the singles at Gleneagles. I actually lost my singles match in the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ so it was a bitter-sweet Sunday for me.
To go from being 3 and 0 at Gleneagles to sitting it out at Hazeltine was definitely tough. I enjoyed watching it on the box but there’s nothing like being there and being involved.
But it lit a fire underneath me and France in 2018 is a big part of what I’m working towards and why I feel like I have re-dedicated myself.
The motivation is definitely back so I just need to work hard and be patient.
I want to show my kids that their dad can play golf rather than just relying on reruns on Sky Sports to show them how good I used to be
Have you geared your schedule more towards qualification for France in 2018?
If I get on the team the chances are it will be through the world ranking points. I play a pretty solid schedule in Europe and try and put some money on the board playing in America.
I know if I play well it will take care of itself. I just need to focus on my schedule and keep trying to execute things week in, week out. I know I’m good enough to be there.
Has becoming a father changed your career focus?
The last few years have been really special – getting married and having a family.
No one gives you a handbook on how to handle it and still have a career. It’s different for everyone I suppose.
For me, it’s getting harder and harder to leave the kids now they understand that you’re gone.
The biggest way it has affected me is on my weeks off. It’s harder to get myself out of the house in the mornings to go and practice because I like being at home with my kids.
When you’re away as much as we are – 35 weeks of the year – when you are at home you want to be present and with them as much as you can.
My weeks off haven’t been as effective as I would have liked over the last few years. But I’m working hard on that now because I want to show my kids that their dad can play golf rather than just relying on reruns on Sky Sports to show them how good I used to be.
I’ve got that visual of having my kids on the green at the 72nd hole somewhere in the world with a trophy in my hand.
Pete Cowen told us that in 2010 at Pebble you told him you had a ‘big one’ in you. Can you explain how and why you felt that way and do you still feel the same now?
The week at Pebble was really special. I had just come off the back of winning in Wales two weeks before and the weekend there was probably the best I’ve ever played to this day, so I was going into Pebble with a lot of confidence.
I’m not sure I was feeling like I was ready to win a major championship then as I still felt like I was still trying to get the experience of competing.
But I knew I was playing well that week. Pete and I had been working really well together and I just had a weird confidence going.
When I said I knew I had a big one in me, I wasn’t sure if I meant that week but I think it was a reflection of where my head was at that time and where my dreams were and what I thought I was capable of achieving.
It came a bit quicker than perhaps I had expected.
And do you feel that way now?
Well, at that time my goals were really sharp and focused and that’s something that I really need to be pulling on now.
I am getting better at being visual about what I want.
When you get to the top of the mountain, no one really tells you how to get down the other side.
Falling down the world rankings can hurt – it has certainly hurt me over the last two years. But is has re-motivated me and made we want to really play hard for the next five years.
I feel like for me, it’s only ever a week or two away to get that flow, confidence and belief back that you can still do it
What were you doing well a few years ago that you maybe aren’t doing quite as well now?
When I look at myself from 2010 to 2012 – I think it would be great to go back in a time machine and play 18 with yourself. I feel like I stand here now smarter and probably in better shape. I thought my technique was better back in 2010 so I’ve been working on a few things to get back to the way I was which was a little bit more laid off and in a better position.
I was a lot more selfish with my focus back then. Selfish is a horrible word but when you apply it to sport in the right way it’s about being very focussed and motivated and you are very singular in how you approach things.
Nowadays, there’s an inevitability that my wife, my family, my business ventures will take that singular focus away.
But you have to adapt. All these beautiful things I have in my life – I wouldn’t change them for the world but my golf isn’t where I want it to be. You have to adapt and grow as a person.
Do you take heart from Poulter’s recent resurgence?
Poults and I live in the same place in Orlando. I saw him down the range a few weeks ago and he’s definitely got that spring back in his step – he’s like the old Poults again.
This game can knock you down quickly. Ultimately it’s a game of confidence. If you can get that confidence and that wind under your sails you can really get going.
It has been great to see the way he has bounced back. He’s a great player but you could see that massive weight lifted off his shoulders with getting his PGA Tour card.
I feel like for me, it’s only ever a week or two away to get that flow, confidence and belief back that you can still do it. I’m definitely pooling from what he has achieved this year and realising that you can get yourself back in that top 50 pretty quickly.