There’s no place like home, as Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz.
But if Graeme McDowell is to return to golf’s top table it may take a little more than the comfort of his own bed in his mother’s house and a few Ulster fries to get back to being the bullet-proof G-Mac that won the 2010 US Open and stared down Tiger Woods in a play-off at the end of that magical year.
Ranked fourth in the world in March 2011, he was informed yesterday that he is now ranked 100th — his worst ranking for nine years.
And while he could laugh at getting that piece of unwelcome”good news”, he knows things are now deadly serious as he bids to scale the world rankings again with a big week in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
A tally of 10 top 30 finishes from 15 starts this year bodes well. But it hasn’t been enough to stoke those competitive fires of a player who has won 14 times as a professional and competed in four Ryder Cups.
He needs a big week to really get going again and after turning up at Rathmore Golf Club for a pint with his father Kenny and his brother Gary on Monday night, he was quickly disabused of any notion that he’s above being taken down a peg or two.
“I always joke that people do treat me the same way as they treated me as I was 15 years old,” said McDowell, who is also chasing a place in The Open for the top three non-exempt finishers inside the top 10. I feel like they look at me the same way. I feel like they say the same things to me.
“You get a clip around the ear when you need one: ‘What the hell were you doing last week at The French Open? I had a few quid on you.’
“You know, it is a sense of grounding and kind of coming home for me, and like I say, people treating me the same way they always have. It’s nice and you kind of gain that humility that I think’s important.”
McDowell has done plenty of soul-searching over the past few years, admitting yesterday that he’s had doubts he will ever be the same player again.
“This would be a great week to reignite things for me,” he said. “It’s a been a frustrating year — playing well but not getting the big finishes that are the catalyst for more confidence and more belief.
“The big piece of the puzzle that has been missing for me a little is that belief and that confidence.
“It’s just kind of been a waiting game which has tested our patience so far this season. But we’ll keep chugging away.”
It’s all about belief and asked if he believed he could get back to where he was five years ago, when he won multiple times around the world, he admitted he’s been to some dark places.
“The last few years and the first half of last year, I doubted myself a little bit and felt I didn’t have what it took anymore to get back to where I wanted to be,” he admitted.
“But the last 12 months it’s been much better. I feel like I have ignored the negativity in my own mind by working harder again and doing the things I used to do well.”
Staying in his own room in the house he bought his parents when he won the Volvo Scandinavian Masters in just his sixth professional start is a timely reminder of how far he’s come since 2002.
At 37, he’s still got time to get back where he believes he belongs and if he maintains Pádraig Harrington’s level of self-belief, he will return.
The Dubliner did not want to compare himself to his 2008 version when asked that question yesterday — “I’m not as innocent, that’s all I can say,” he conceded.
But when it comes to competing for a second Irish Open title, a decade after his breakthrough win at Adare Manor, he’s not ruling out another win from the blue.
“As Shane Lowry said about me, I believe I can win the weeks I’m not playing!” Harrington said with a grin.
He might have played just 22 rounds this year following a three-month break after neck surgery and another fortnight off to recover from being smashed on the elbow by an amateur at a clinic but he feels like a world beater with the smell of sea air in his nostrils.
There’s nothing like links golf and the prospect of challenging for another Open title in two weeks’ time to get Harrington excited, even at the age of 45.
“I think the golf course will give me an advantage,” Harrington said. “A links golf course suits my eye.
“Clearly I would like to think I’m second to nobody when it comes to managing my way around a links golf course.”
Like McDowell, he knows the key is between the ears and with nothing to prove and a “home” crowd cheering him on, he’s quietly confident more good times lies ahead.
“I’m just waiting,” he said. “I’ve been putting very well, and I’m No. 1 statistically in the States around the greens.
“So as much as I’m frustrated with my chipping, I’m better than everybody else, which is a good sign.
“The long game… well, it’s about getting the head in the game, and as I said, I’m working on that.”
In professional golf, the long game means more than driving or long irons.
As McDowell has discovered, dealing with those long nights wondering where your next big result will come from is the biggest challenge of all.
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