Little more than a year after admitting he almost quit the game after losing his “desire and urge to practice”, Graeme McDowell is prepared to grind for a second US Open for the pure joy of winning alone.
Forget the €20 million plus he’s won on the golf course alone since he turned professional, the Ryder Cup triumphs, the magical putts and the $1.8m the winner will take home from Oakmont.
Like anyone who has done a job for a long time, McDowell has lost that shiny innocence of youth and become a mini corporation with multiple responsibilities.
The lure of filthy lucre is strong but while the 36-year-old makes no apologies for chasing the cash, he’s focused on adding to his major haul for purely sporting reasons.
When he started in the game, he didn’t want fame, or a restaurant chain, or a big house in Orlando. He just wanted to win and he’s slowly getting back to thinking that way again.
Reflecting on his journey as he sipped a cold beer in the shade of Oakmont timber clubhouse, he said: “I never wanted the fame and adulation. When that gets to a crescendo, you don’t really want it any more.
“Sure, it opens doors you would never have opened — front row seats at the Superbowl and seats for this and that.
“It opens doors to do things that you night not get the chance to do. But after that is all said, there is something about being anonymous that is kinda nice as well — being able to go about your life.”
Having seen how it could all slip away, last year’s win at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba reminded McDowell that nothing is permanent in the game and he’s now doubly determined to win another major or two for the pure joy of victory and his place in history.
The money machine that is modern professional golf has mangled some of McDowell’s naivety and he wants to get that back and win more major titles, not for the money but for the sheer sporting achievement.
He said: “I still love the game of golf. I do. Perhaps, if I gave a true answer, I would say that I don’t have the starry-eyed innocence about the game that I had before.
“I think when you start to know what it is all about and you know how top heavy this world we live in is — all the tournaments and exemptions and invites and appearance monies and all the things that come with being the best player in the word — it’s hard to ignore.
“You can’t ignore it any more. The game is huge now. And a major win is much bigger that it was even 10 years ago.
“But I still love the game and I love the sport of golf. If this was gone tomorrow, would I still want to tee it up with the boys? Yes, I would.
“But the innocence of the game has gone from me a little bit. It is business out there.
“Yes, it is the machine of golf. And perhaps I have to find a way of igniting that aspect of the game and look at it as just me, a golf ball and 18 holes and forget about the show, forget about the machine.
“I do want to have another major run and I do understand the less innocent side of the game because I have been there and I have done that.
“I have come out the other side and I do want another major championship, just for the pureness of it.
“I don’t want this next one for the money, I want it for the pureness. I don’t want it for anything else.”
Few players are better suited to the grind of US Open golf than McDowell, who sees Oakmont as a fair but tough test.
He said: “I think this course asks a lot of questions I am capable of answering. I think it’s a real purists US Open course.
“It’s a ‘par’s a great score’ kind of course and in the past I have been very good with that mentality generally.”
US Open winners make between nine and 12 birdies and after making just four to go with an eagle two at the 17th when he finished tied 30th at Oakmont in 2007, he knows he’s got to make more this week.
He said: “The key is knowing when to attack and when to defend and it’s the old major championship adage — you spend all day being defensive and you don’t make enough birdies.
“You have to be aggressive when you get the chance and take pins on when you get the opportunity. You have to balance out the inevitable mistakes.
“I don’t have the power of some of guys, so I have to pick my battles out here.”
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