Graeme McDowell played a spectacular 2-under round of golf in Sunday’s final round of the RBC Heritage; it was one of just three and they were the low rounds of the day. He beat Webb Simpson, who was playing in the last group, in a one-hole playoff. It was the 2010 U.S. Open Champion against the 2012 U.S. Open Champion. The 25 to 35 mph winds hammered the course all day long and made club selection a mysterious affair. Unless your home course is Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and hard by the blustery Irish Sea:
Yeah, I guess the weather was kind of what the doctor ordered for me today. I needed an opportunity to get close to these leaders. I’m not saying that I didn’t have any God‑given advantage in the wind, but I needed the golf course to play difficult. If it had been benign like [Saturday], four shots back, one of the two guys goes and shots 4‑ or 5‑under par, and it’s kind of all over. I needed the course to play tough today and I got that.
It was really, really difficult. Very gusty wind conditions. You really had to pick your moment, pick your shot. The key today was a few big par saves early on…
But today I held on extremely well, which you’ve got to do in these type of conditions. I really flighted the ball well off the tee. I really kept it in play most of the week. Was in trouble very rarely on this golf course. And just managed to control my ball well. And that’s what you’ve got to do around here. It’s a very “majoresque” golf course…It’s got a huge amount to do with the way the golf course sets up, discipline, patience, all these words that are required to play well around here…
McDowell had a definitively different approach to this week, brought on in large part by the disappointment in last week’s Masters — he missed the cut — and the fact that Hilton Head is a resort the players love to visit:
We managed to rent a beautiful house here in the Sea Pines resort, over on the other side of the beach. And my fiance and loads of friends and their family here. We have just been kind of hanging out every night.
After the intensity of last week and the preparation that goes into an event like last week, this week was really about coming here, yeah, workweek, but it was kind of a low‑key workweek. I came here, I did my work and I went home [to the rental]. There was very little grinding going on. I took a pretty relaxed approach this week, and really tried to enjoy myself. Have a glass of wine or two in the evening and some great food and some good friends and family. So that was really the MO this week, and it seemed to work out really well.
It’s amazing kind of how things happen. I miss a cut by one last week and am frustrated and disappointed. And perhaps if I make the cut last week and grind a 30th or 40th position out, do I sit here with this beautiful jacket on? It’s kind of amazing how things happen. I wouldn’t swap the way it’s happened. I wouldn’t swap this win for a top 10 last week. Of course I’d swap it for a green jacket, but I wouldn’t swap it for anything less than the win last week. In many ways the missed cut was the best thing that happened for this week. So it’s amazing how things happen.
He finished two groups ahead of the last group and there was a strategy for what to do while he waited to find out if there was going to be a playoff or not:
When you’ve signed your scorecard…it’s pretty chaotic back there. There was a lot of people, a lot of fans. It was kind of chilly as well. So there’s no real recipe. What do you do? No one really tells you what to do in those moments. That’s when I’ve got a good caddie and good support network around you. It’s a case of let’s get out of the chaos here.
Let’s be prepared as mentally as we possibly can. I went up to the range and kept loose and kept warm. Listened to it over one of the rules official’s radio.
So I stayed mentally fresh and physically kind of warm, and I really made two great swings in the playoff. Like I said, there’s no recipe to prepare yourself for those kind of things. More than likely there’s a playoff, and I tried to prepare myself for that.
McDowell was paired with Wisconson’s Jerry Kelly who drew kudos for his demeanor on the course. They were a perfect blueprint for the kind of person we’d all like to be paired with when we play:
I think I said to my caddie, Jerry Kelly is the guy you’d like to play with every Sunday afternoon. He’s got a great demeanor, very happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He’s got a good attitude for the game of golf. He’s the kind of guy you like to play beside. He’s the kind of guy that I certainly try to make my personality and demeanor like that, as well; just kind of carefree, enjoy the good stuff, shake off the bad stuff. And like I said, I’d love to play with a guy like him every Sunday afternoon.
He’s a good player, he’s been around the block. He understands the game. We had a pretty good little kind of rapport going on out there. He’s an enjoyable guy to play with. It really makes a difference, the guy you’re playing with, the rapport, the way you feel. It can really make a difference out there. And he was a good guy to have beside me when it was so tricky and difficult out there.
We think of these great players as having this sort of invulnerable way about them, but the truth is, they can get just as insecure as we do. And while they certainly measure their success and progress by the obvious standard of their number of wins, McDowell says it’s all about the upper part of the learning curve:
To win Tiger’s [World Challenge] event end of last year, unofficial, small field, blah, blah, I took a lot of confidence from that, also, because I had a solid season last year and got nothing from it. My best weeks were often my most disappointing weeks; finish 5th at the [British] Open from the last group.
Didn’t get a lot out of my year last year in many ways, but knew in the bottom of my heart that my game was getting better and better all the time. And really being optimistic about the start to this season, you know, some good golf, some solid stuff, really put myself in the heat a couple of times.
We’ll all sit here and say you can’t measure yourself by wins. It’s not about the wins, it’s about the upper [learning] curve and getting better and all these things. What it really boils down to it, wins are very, very important to us personally. And you take a huge amount of confidence and belief and momentum from those.
So this is probably one of the more special ones in my career because it feels right. It feels good. My first real [full field] win on this side of the pond as a PGA Tour player. I feel this is building blocks for something good this year and beyond. I’m very excited about this.
One of the things that has led to McDowell’s improvement has been his outlook and approach to the game; the way he handles disappointment:
You know, I think talking about personalities and demeanors of a guy like Jerry Kelly, the way you conduct yourself on the golf course. The way you kind of take the pressure off yourself, I suppose, by looking at the bigger picture and realizing that it’s not life or death; it’s just golf. It’s just sport. And, yes, it hurts and, yes, you’re nervous and it’s disappointing. There’s more disappointments in this game than there are successes. That’s why you’ve got to enjoy nights like tonight because this game kicks you more often than it gives you a pat on the back.
It doesn’t pay debts, this game. If you feel like you deserve anything, this game certainly doesn’t give it back to you. And I feel like I have learned to understand, to keep an open mind, to kind of accept what this game throws at me and learn from my tough experiences and just try and put that back into the greater improvement that I’m on.
And I feel like I’ve learned a lot from this sport. Like I say, it still continues to disappointment me and frustrate me, but I feel like I’ve got better and better at kind of accepting and going out there today and being patient and understanding what it takes to win more.
And I want to win more often. I’ll learn from today and hopefully try and put that back in my game, and make winning more of a habit. It’s a great habit to get into. There are so many great players in the world right now it’s very difficult. It’s hard to do and you’ve got to savor them.
And finally, a little more mundane but terrific coaching on how to stay committed to your shot in really high winds:
You have to be fluid with your routines and thinking today. Very often you’re standing over the shots and you hear the gusts coming. And you really have to be accepting. You really just have to play on some instincts out there. I just made a decision to try to get into the ball, and just hit my shot and try not to get too distracted by what’s going on.
Like I said, sometimes it took me longer than others to get [over] the ball. I stood there a few times early on the front nine, thinking to myself I’ve got to hit this ball at some point as these gusts were ripping through. And other times you’re jumping in there quick. You’ve got a lull in the wind, right. I’ve got to get in there and hit this thing quick.
So it was very easy for your brain to get distracted by listening for new gusts and new changes in the wind coming through. Speed, putting and holing out is probably one of the most difficult things to do on a day like today.
Because of the seemingly constant, affable grin on his face, McDowell is a good example of all that he talks about in this media session. And if it is something as simple as playing the game in acceptance of whatever comes your way, would that we all played that way.