I’m here to compete, says upbeat McDowell

Graeme McDowell poses on the 18th tee during a practice round yesterday prior to the US Open at Pebble Beach in California. ‘I come into this week feeling very good about my game,’ he says. Picture: Ross Kinnaird

After missing the cut at the 2017 US Open, Graeme McDowell was sitting around the kitchen table with his wife and kids and watching Brooks Koepka march to his first of four major titles.

It was during the trophy ceremony when McDowell’s wife, Kristin, told their kids, “You know, Daddy has one of those.”

McDowell’s children were just a twinkle in his eye and he had yet to meet his bride when he was the one hoisting the US Open’s silver bauble at Pebble Golf Links in 2010.

“They were like, ‘What?’ So I went and got the trophy and it sat in the kitchen for a while,” recalled McDowell.

The trophy has been returned to its rightful place in his office, where McDowell also has a painting hanging that he commissioned especially. It depicts McDowell hitting his second shot at the ninth hole during Sunday’s final round en route to a one-stroke victory over Gregory Havret of France. It made McDowell the first Northern Irishman to win the US Open and first European winner since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

“Hard to believe it’s been nine years,” said McDowell. “But it’s special to have won here and be part of the lore and the legend of this place. I do still pinch myself to this day. When the sun shines, this may be the most beautiful place in golf.”

McDowell entered the final round trailing 54-hole leader Dustin Johnson by three strokes. They had played together for the first time in the third round and Johnson had impressed McDowell with a sterling 66.

“It was one of the best rounds I’ve ever seen,” said McDowell. “I walked off 18 scratching my head thinking, ‘I can’t believe what I just saw.’ I was like, ‘This kid is special.’ But it also took the pressure off because I figured if the same guy shows up tomorrow, I’m not beating him anyway.”

A less composed Johnson showed up on Sunday andbutchered three consecutive holes beginning at the second and skyrocketed to 82 and finished T-8.

Wearing a gray cardigan on a cool day, McDowell played the first eight holes flawlessly in 1 under, but then made bogeys at 9 and 10, and a moment of panic struck him.

“I remember walking to the next tee and feeling like I was letting it slip from my grasp,” said McDowell.

“But I looked up at the board and everyone was struggling, too. I remember saying to myself, ‘This is hard.’ It was just a war of attrition that week. I said, ‘Get your head back on and start playing some golf again.’

“I hit a good tee shot on 14, but caught the top of the bunker and had to lay up. I had a 7-iron for my third shot and it was as good of a 7-iron as I could hit. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Maybe I can do this.’

“It ended up going over the back and I made bogey, but it reaffirmed that I had the fortitude to hit the shots down the stretch.”

Before long he was sinking into the warm embrace of his father, Kenny, on the 18th green — on Father’s Day, no less.

Asked where a plaque to commemorate his victory should be placed, McDowell quipped, “Plaque? I don’t know where exactly you’d put it. You might put it in Brophy’s.”

Brophy’s Tavern is a famed local watering hole in nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea, and caddie headquarters that week. It wasn’t long before the victory celebration began at the cosy Irish pub.

“Funny story that Friday: Billy Foster, Lee Westwood’s caddie at the time, was in Brophy’s. Lee had missed the cut and he was several beers deep. I walked in the doors and I had a three-stroke lead at the halfway point and he started singing, ‘We are the champions’ to me at the top of his voice. I spent three minutes there and walked out the door. I couldn’t handle it,” recalled McDowell.

As for Sunday’s celebration, it’s all a blur. “Had a couple of glasses of champagne and I was buzzing from the adrenaline, the exhaustion. I hit the wall about 1am.

“But I didn’t drink out ofthe trophy until I got home to Portrush. I rememberwalking in to Brophy’s and (Pádraig) Harrington was there and he saw me signing a flag by the bar. He said, ‘You better get used to it. You are going to see so many more damn flags you’ll be sick of it, but that’s just part of it.’ He was right. You see thousands of the things. It’s a privilege to sign them.”

And a privilege to be back at Pebble this week, the defending champ at this venue, his father along for the ride again, and with a boost of confidence after securing his PGA Tour privileges for the next two seasons with a victory in March and qualifying for the Open Championship at Portrush last week at the RBC Canadian Open.

“I come into this week feeling very good about my game,” he said. “I won once around here, I obviously feel like my game suits this golf course. And I’m certainly not here to take the views in as much as I’m here to compete.”

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