Graeme’s beach party

IT was the morning after the night before at Brophy’s Tavern in Carmel.

Graeme McDowell’s manager Conor Ridge – dubbed Jerry Maguire by the new US Open champion – was fielding calls every second.

One minute it was the Six One News, then Des Cahill. Earlier he had organised appearances on last night’s Jay Leno show and possibly, a walk-on cameo in the final episode of this season’s mega-hit series “Entourage”.

Hearing all this going on, McDowell knew it couldn’t be a dream. But he hardly dared to open his eyes, just in case.

“I was happy to wake up and see that the trophy still in my room,” McDowell said with a grin, as he sipped coffee in shorts and a tee shirt. “I was almost worried. Had it really had happened. Did I really did win? It wasn’t all a dream, was it?”

Now that he’s come to terms with the reality of his stunning one-shot win over Gregory Havret at Pebble Beach on Sunday, McDowell has to get his head around the fact that he’s a major champion.

It’s a massive step up in class for the man who jumped 24 places up the rankings to 13th in the world and to second in both the qualifying lists for October’s Ryder Cup.

He once looked at young guns like Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa and wondered how much longer he’d be capable of winning the really big bucks. Now he’s set up for life and he’s got a major title to back up his pedigree.

His heart-stopping one shot win over Gregory Havret on Sunday meant he earned a cheque for more than €1m and now tops the Race to Dubai standings with earnings this season of €1.88m.

He’s already earned more than €8m in eight years as a pro. But there’s a lot more to come.

Bonuses from sponsors will bring in another €1m-plus. Then there’s the massive fringe benefits – a 10-year US Open exemption and a five-year pass for the other three majors.

He’ll take up his PGA Tour card and play in the season-opening PGA Tour event. He may even play the FedEx Cup and pocket another $10m for winning that.

The biggest plus of all is the title that no-one will ever be able to take away from him, no matter what happens.

But while McDowell is somewhat intimidated by that thought that he is now expected to play like a major champion, it’s a problem worth having. Hell, he’s up for it.

Having played like a superstar when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els folded like rookies on that pressure packed final day, it was amazing to hear McDowell doubt himself for an instant.

“I don’t know if I am ready for that. It’s funny. My caddie said to me yesterday that we can deal with failure. We know that because we have been there, because we have dealt with failure in the past.

“But he said, can you deal with the other? Can you deal with this win? Know what, as I stand here I am not quite sure.

“I am sure I can deal with everything that goes with being a major champion. I will certainly do the best job that I can to be a role model and be whatever it is that major champions have to be.”

McDowell is now ranked two places ahead of Pádraig Harrington at 13th in the world rankings and the Dubliner was one of the first people to slap McDowell on the back when he walked into Brophy’s Tavern on Sunday night.

Harrington has been there, done that and bought the tee shirt and while the Dubliner knows it’s the kind of pressure every player dreams of having, he warned McDowell winning a grand slam title doesn’t make it any easier to win another.

“It brings a huge amount of pressure,” Harrington confessed, “but it is what you want as a player. It is the goal you have been looking for and I don’t think it relaxes anybody.

“Having won one might make it easier to win one when you are in contention, but it doesn’t make it easier in terms of preparation.”

Despite that, Harrington sees no reason why his countryman can’t keep his red-hot run of form going following his back-to-back wins at Celtic Manor and Pebble Beach.

“He has played well for three, four months at a time. It is not a gradual curve, he goes up and stays up but it has been improving over the years and I would see him playing very well off the back of this,” Harrington said.

McDowell was simply relishing the moment. “It is certainly a pinch yourself moment,” he said. “It’s surreal. It has not sunk in and I don’t know when that is going to happen. Graeme McDowell, major champion. My manager Conor said it to me there earlier and it’s a special moment in my life and my career.”

Standing on the balcony of his hotel he still found it all hard to believe. “I am holding this trophy like someone is going to take it off me and say this is a big joke. It didn’t really happen.”

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