Some good news from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia! The star-studded European Tour Event, the Saudi International golf tournament, was won on Sunday afternoon by Graeme McDowell.
That’s the first bit of good news.
The second, well, maybe clutching at straws here, but the fact that 104th-ranked McDowell won it, and not, say, Brooks Koepka or Big Phil must have annoyed the host nation ever so slightly, especially as they forked out millions of dollars in appearance fees for the game’s biggest names to appear, and in doing so try to make all of us watching forget all the stuff we should be remembering about Saudi Arabia.
Assuming McDowell was not one of those in receipt of an exorbitant appearance fee (which, let’s face it, is nothing but last night’s loose change to the royal family), his victory has some sort of karmic justice about it.
Somebody had to win it, right? And unless there was, unbeknownst to us all, a bisexual, human rights activist touring-pro in the field, let’s be happy it was McDowell.
Without a European Tour win in nearly six years, his last victory of any shape or form was in the Dominican Republic last March in a tournament which, although a full PGA Tour event (albeit what’s known as an opposite-field event), was the equivalent of winning the O’Byrne Cup.
So, while the sports world did not need a globally televised advertisement highlighting “tourism” in KSA, McDowell the golfer needed this victory.
In recent years he had watched, not passively, but frustratingly as he was overtaken both domestically and internationally as a perineal contender.
So bleak was the outlook, he had been selected by Pádraig Harrington as a vice-captain for this year’s Ryder Cup, just as he was for the previous one.
This “honour” is the equivalent of accepting a lifetime achievement award while you still thought you were doing important work, or being asked by the club manager to “help out with training” when you thought you had a lot more to give.
McDowell, 40, is still young in golfing terms. But the sense was that his peak had passed.
Before Sunday, he had been victorious 17 times on tour around the world. That’s not a good career — it’s a very, very good career.
He won the US Open, at Pebble Beach. He won his major before Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke.
In many ways, he was the good cop to McIlroy’s impetuous protégé cop and Clarke’s cranky cop. He was accessible and funny.
He didn’t take himself too seriously, but serious enough that he was fourth in the world this time nine years ago.
Maybe he became a victim of his self-deprecation. With his hybrid accent, he often sounded like he was doing an impression of himself during interviews.
Like many successful golfers, he developed a taste for the finer things in life, and he built his dream Florida home, which he has given tours to PGA Tour TV more times than he has his actual neighbours.
He was not ashamed of his success. But all this access and exposure, and the borderline innocence and good grace with which he granted it, has made McDowell somewhat of a lampoonable character.
As if, by showing us he wasn’t taking himself too seriously, he was somehow taking himself much too seriously.
As McIlroy’s star inevitably ascended, McDowell’s didn’t so much crash but gently fade.
Their friendship — the kind we mortals always hope is something more than it sadly ever turns out to be is — strained, following McIlroy’s lawsuit against Horizon Sports Management in 2014.
McDowell’s contract with the agency was argued as a point of contention by McIlroy’s legal team.
It was an ugly affair, which proved to those watching that McIlroy was as bullish a businessman as he was talented a golfer.
McDowell, in contrast, looked drained and a little hurt by the experience. It was perhaps no coincidence his slide down the rankings began just as the lawsuit ended.
The slide never looked too steep not to be arrested, however. But in golf, you just never know.
He holed a putt on the 72nd hole at the Canadian Open last summer to qualify him for The Open Championship in his hometown of Portrush.
Had he missed it, the emotional consequences could have been drastic for his career, enough maybe to send him to the commentator’s booth — a path of no return.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 3, 2020
He rolled the putt in, and while he never threatened to win his home Open, he played the four days, and was waiting at the side of the 18th green, happier than anybody that his buddy Shane Lowry was victorious.
You’d guess the sentiment was reciprocated by the Clara man last Sunday.
After McDowell sank the winning putt, he walked off the green beaming, chest-bumping his caddie, and quipping “goodness me!” to the TV cameras.
It was just about the most Graeme McDowell reaction possible.
Now, like never before, the cult of the sports star is so contrived and manipulated in order to maximize their marketability.
McDowell has no doubt been a part of this rather demoralising trend, but, for all the parody of him, for all his affectations and mid-Atlantic idiosyncrasies, you kind of believe him when he tells you he likes a pint of the black stuff.
Even if he says it sounding like an American actor playing an Irish actor in an episode of Entourage (which is, of course, McDowell’s favourite TV show).
So, if there is some consolation to be taken from so many of the world’s top golfers taking Saudi money to sell the KSA myth, we should find it in McDowell’s victory.
We should have already long learned the lesson not to expect too much from our sporting heroes when judging them in the vortex where morals and money meet.
McDowell the man may not have needed the half a million dollars of prizemoney — but G-Mac the golfer did.