Sometimes, professional golf can be a horrible, horrible game. Just ask Graeme McDowell.
As a former US Open Champion (2010) and winner of 16 professional tournaments worldwide, the four-time Ryder Cupper understands how to get the job done, but where once everything seemed easy, nowadays McDowell, who has accumulated more than €19m in earnings on the European Tour alone, can’t buy a break.
Yesterday at Portstewart, McDowell set out in contention to put himself very much in the frame to win his 11th European title, but instead left the course shattered by a poor finish that seriously compromises his hopes of participating in the Open Championship over the coming weeks.
Where once McDowell effortlessly bounced back from adversity, more and more you feel that moments like yesterday’s crushing double bogey finish and his late collapse last week in France (to also miss the cut) are slowly taking their toll on a man more famed for being “clutch” down the final stretch when it mattered most.
Remember the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach, when he “delivered” his first and only major title when all about him were hemorrhaging? And what about doing the same for Europe at the Ryder Cup in Celtic Manor that same year?
Then, on top of the world, McDowell knew or understood nothing about the lives of a journeyman professional on Tour, someone who spent most of his professional career on or around the cut line, often wondering why they didn’t go into insurance, or used-car sales, or anything that didn’t involve their entire career coming down to one single misplayed moment.
McDowell of course is no journey man. He is a major champion and most probably a future Hall of Fame golfer. He’s is not one of those guys that plays early, among largely indifferent galleries. He is not someone making way for the bigger-name players to come, but this past while may have given him a fresh perspective on just how difficult the professional game actually is when your game is not functioning at 100%.
Over the past couple of weeks, McDowell has been close with his game, but not sharp enough and golf hands out no plaudits for effort. Throughout his career his game foundations have been based on accurate driving, crisp iron shots and a short game that can live with the best and, while he is undoubtedly putting much better, this week he has hit too many loose drives and more particularly too many sloppy short irons.
As harsh as that sounds, he isn’t too far away, as all aspects are easily fixable, but his consistent slump in form over the past couple of years possibly suggests he has reached a point where other aspects of his life are taking priority. If that is the case, then so be it, but if that is not the case, then McDowell, who can’t rely on a power game to disguise some of the flaws in his game, must now knuckle down to some serious work in order to sharpen up his game or run the risk of being chased down and passed by the likes of our own Paul Dunne, who is really talented, ready to compete and ready to work hard so that he can realise his own goals in the game.
In recent years, the transformation on the pro game of all the Tours around the world has been stark. Talent and ability still count, but where once a professional golfer came in to learn their trade, nowadays the Tours are filled by young, gifted kids who play a power game and have an attitude to match. Players like Jon Rahm at 22 are already ready to win major championships and while they may respect veterans like McDowell and dare I say it even McIlroy, they fear no-one.
There have always been youngsters on the Tours, but they are standing out in the crowd now more than ever. Not just because of the way they look or swing, but because they are winning... a lot. Players such as Jon Rahm and Matthew Fitzpatrick are not afraid of anything. Technically, they know their swings. They fully understand their stats and they sip water in the knowledge their diet and the gym plays an integral role in their routine. They are hungry for success and they want to be associated with the superstars — the McIlroys the Johnsons, the Spieths — and much like Brooks Koepka in the US Open Championship, they are more than ready to win if they get their chance.
While McDowell can never hope to compete with these players on their terms, he could never compete with Tiger Woods either, but where most of these upstarts have power, determination, and ambition, McDowell on form can beat them with his ingenuity, his shot making skills and most importantly his proven credentials to deliver under pressure.
Can he resurrect his fortunes? Absolutely, but only when the sum of the parts are all working in harmony and McDowell is smart enough to know that. Until then, he will be game but not really competitive and for one of the very best that is not good enough.