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How Valhalla inspired Graeme McDowell’s conquest to US Open glory

Graeme McDowell might not be playing at Valhalla for the PGA Championship, but he told NCG’s Matt Chivers that it is a venue extremely close to his heart…

 

Norse mythology says Valhalla is a place for the fallen, for those beaten in combat, the ‘hall of the slain’.

Graeme McDowell and Team Europe might have been conquered when facing the USA at the golf club of the same name in 2008, but McDowell wasn’t one of the fallen.

Despite Europe’s first defeat in the Ryder Cup since 1999, McDowell realised he belonged on the big stage. It was Valhalla where he performed at his best under immense pressure and in front of raucous subjects imploring his failure.

The 2.5-point tally he notched that week in Louisville, Kentucky confirmed he was ready to enter a new realm. Two years later, he became a major champion by outlasting Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els at the US Open at Pebble Beach.

“I look at pivotal moments in my golfing life and career. Maybe coming to college in the States was one of my pivotal moments and some things that happened to me on the European Tour. Missing the Ryder Cup in 2006 was a pivotal moment, you know. It really kind of reeked out of me,” McDowell said to NCG.

“But then 2008 was a huge moment for me because it was my first time playing on the biggest stage probably in the golfing world. I’m conducting myself and playing the way that I did, even though Europe lost the Ryder Cup. I won two and a half points from four.

“So I actually ended with an okay Ryder Cup. I felt like I gained so much confidence from it that I could perform on the biggest stage in the golfing world and you know, that would lead to two years later winning a major championship, and I look at 2008 as a massive part of why I was able to win a US Open, because I gained so much belief from that weekend.”

Valhalla had hosted two PGA Championships before McDowell and Sir Nick Faldo’s European team arrived 16 years ago. This week, it hosts the major tournament for a fourth time, but McDowell will be watching from home and supporting his LIV Golf teammates Brooks Koepka and Talor Gooch of Smash GC.

graeme mcdowell

Graeme McDowell: Ryder Cup at Valhalla kickstarted my charge to US Open triumph

The 44-year-old was asked to reminisce about his Ryder Cup debut which was also his away Ryder Cup debut. To that point, he had won four times on the formerly-named European Tour, including the Barclays Scottish Open two months before the biennial dust-up with America.

He was paired with Irishman and recent two-time major winner Padraig Harrington in the Friday fourballs in his first-ever Ryder Cup. Mickelson and the rampant Anthony Kim beat them, but McDowell wasn’t beaten for the rest of the week in Valhalla.

He and Ian Poulter produced several highlight-reel moments to beat Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk in the Saturday fourballs and he beat Stewart Cink in the Sunday singles, who would win The Open Championship the following summer.

All that and being captained by his childhood hero and advised by an icon of European golf Jose Maria Olazabal is enough for McDowell to keep Valhalla firmly in his heart. He won’t be shooting for the stars this week, but he hopes one of his LIV Golf colleagues can pick up the Wanamaker trophy on Sunday.

“The four Ryder cups that I’ve played have been the greatest experiences of my golfing career for different reasons and 2008 was that first rookie experience,” he added.

“The US crowd and the sounds, you know. I remember holing a putt on day one in my match with Harrington, I’m fist-pumping this putt in, and I realised that no one was clapping or cheering at all. It was one of the most surreal moments where I was like, okay, no one liked that apart from me!

Graeme McDowell

“There’s just so many memories from that week, you know the songs from the European fans and obviously Faldo as the captain, Faldo is one of my childhood heroes. (I’m) getting short game lessons from Jose Maria Olazabal that week.

“Just so many great memories. The match I played with Poults that Saturday afternoon, probably to this day is my favourite Ryder Cup match that I’ve ever played in. (I have) so many great memories from 2008.

“Sitting here, I’m going to try and not sit here for six hours today and watch the TV. I need to go through some work of my own, you know, but obviously (I have) good memories from the golf course.

“I played in the 2014 PGA Championship there as well when Rory (McIlroy) won. It’s a good golf course. I like it a lot, so I’ll definitely be watching quite a lot of it as we move into the weekend. I’m pulling for a LIV winner, but there’s lots of guys I’m pulling for as well in.”

NOW READ: Which LIV Golfers are playing at the PGA Championship?

NOW READ: How much money has Graeme McDowell earned since joining LIV Golf?

Enjoy this Graeme McDowell Ryder Cup story? Which is your favourite Graeme McDowell Valhalla moment? Tell us on X!

Matt Chivers

Matt Chivers

Now on the wrong side of 25, Matt has been playing golf since the age of 13 and was largely inspired to take up the game by countless family members who played golf during his childhood.

Matt is a member at Royal Cinque Ports in Deal playing off a 5 handicap, just a pitching wedge away from his hometown of Dover where he went to school and grew up. He has previously been a member at Etchinghill and Walmer and Kingsdown in Kent.

Having studied history at the University of Liverpool, Matt went on to pass his NCTJ Exams in Manchester a year later to fulfil his lifelong ambition of becoming a journalist. He picked up work experience along the way at places such as the Racing Post, the Independent, Sportsbeat and the Lancashire Evening Post.

Matt joined NCG in February 2023 and is the website’s main source of tour news, features and opinion. He has reported live from events such as The Open, the Ryder Cup and The Players Championship, having also interviewed and spent time with some of the biggest names in the sport.

Consuming tour golf on what is a 24/7 basis, you can come to Matt for informed views on the game and the latest updates on the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, LPGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and LIV Golf.

What’s in Matt’s bag: Cobra LTDx LS driver, Cobra LTDx 3-wood, TaylorMade P7MC irons, Ping Glide 4.0 wedges, Odyssey putter.

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