Managing expectations

A COUPLE of weeks ago, Graeme McDowell became the first European winner of the US Open in 40 years for two very good reasons.

Firstly he held his head when all around were losing theirs and secondly because he is an extremely golfer.

McDowell acknowledges he isn’t the finest or longest ball striker in the world and that he doesn’t always putt to the highest standard.

Very seldom, though, do you see him fail to take advantage of his God-given talents, such as they may be, and it is also a rarity when he takes on a shot beyond his compass.

He showed this at Pebble Beach last month and it will be much the same when it comes to making it a back-to-back scenario in the Open at St Andrews next week.

And to help him on the way, G-Mac (as he likes to be known) won’t be shy in asking for the advice of his peers.

“For sure that’s something that I have been speaking about with Conor (Ridge, manager) and Kenny (Comboy, caddie),’’ he says.

“I definitely want to try and get together with a couple of people like that. Pádraig (Harrington) was one of the guys I thought about, Ernie (Els), Geoff (Ogilvy), and have a chat and have dinner with them to pick their brains about pitfalls, stuff that happens, changes in your life, how to deal with that kind of stuff.

“I will try to get my head around how my life is changing and how to deal with that. Yes, I think Pádraig would be a great guy to talk to.”

Although McDowell counts himself as one of many who loves St Andrews and saw little new to concern him on a recent visit there, he is only too well aware that he will be surrounded next week by an air of expectation that heretofore did not exist.

“I think it’s very important that I don’t become a victim of expectation because it’s a very dangerous thing,’’ says McDowell.

“I have certainly enjoyed being the US Open champion and everything that goes with it but it doesn’t give me any God-given right to shoot 65 every day.

“It has changed my life but not changed me as a golfer. I have to focus and concentrate on the things that I’ve done well to get me to this point and continue to do them and not fall into the trap of expecting too much of myself. I’ll be as well prepared as any man on the first tee on Thursday. I’ll be ready to go. I’m not going to sit back expecting to win just because I won at Pebble.’’

McDowell’s relaxed demeanour has rung a favourable bell with all who have come in touch with him. He likes a pint of Guinness and admits: “I’ve done some partying and celebrating since Pebble. Why not? It’s a special, special moment in my life and I always promised myself that I would enjoy it and I certainly have. But now we have some golf to play.”

As for being more recognised, whether it’s in walking the streets of Ireland or even in St Andrews when he travelled over for his practice round last week, he hasn’t seen much difference.

“Obviously it’s fresh in people’s minds right now,’’ he said. “I’ve been all over the papers and TV the last couple of weeks and I’ve definitely enjoyed a bit more notoriety around airports and restaurants and a few other places, so life has changed from that point of view. But we are lucky as golfers that we are not mega high-profile sportsmen from the point of view that we actually can still have a life as well. I’m sure this time next year I’ll still be able to walk down the middle of Dublin and not have too much to worry about.”

Since turning professional in 2005 after a glittering amateur career. McDowell looked on as people like Trevor Immelman, YE Yang, Todd Hamilton, Lucas Glover and a few more became first-time major champions but he claims that he never thought he’d have the opportunity to emulate them.

“When did I ever think it would become a reality?” he pondered. “Probably when I was standing over that two-footer on the last green at Pebble. I remember my mindset on the back nine, I thought about those first-time major winners and that it does happen. That’s the kind of conversation I was having with myself, ‘this is possible, I can win today.’

“You’ve got to dream big. When your dreams become reality, it’s a very surreal feeling. It’s been a weird feeling, you work so hard and talk about these things and learn. I’ve had so many rough weekends in majors where I put myself in good positions and walked away on the Sunday night with my head in my hands, going, ‘what did I just do?’”

Kenny Comboy has been telling G-Mac how he nearly punched him after the 2008 Open at Birkdale when inexperience overtook him completely. Even then, though, he claims he was beginning to realise that “major championship courses are so difficult that you actually don’t have to beat the man, you just have to beat the golf course. It’s not like a regular event when someone can shoot a 63 on you on a Sunday.” McDowell admits to “walking away a very frustrated and beaten-up man” after failing to take the chances he had created for himself at Hoylake, Winged Foot and Oakmont but claims: “I learned things like patience and conserving energy and accepting par as a good score.

“Your US Open mentality has to be that par is always a good score. It doesn’t matter if you make a few bogeys, you’re only five or six pars from being back in a decent round again. I guess the learning curve I went through definitely stood me in good stead on the back nine at Pebble.

“I really felt like I had put a lot of my learning over the years to good effect that week. I really conserved my energy Friday. I played early, I was leading, I got away, went home and rested. I felt I’d a lot in the tank and that was a first for me at a US Open.”

McDowell hopes, of course, Pebble Beach was just the start of a snowball rolling out of control while being careful not to get ahead of himself.

“I would take any major any time, anywhere,” he says. “But now I’ve won one, I’m 30 years old and playing the best golf of my life, I feel like I’ve got plenty in the tank and I feel like I can put myself in the position again and if I do, I know I’m going to be ready for it. Yeah, I’m dreaming big. I’m thinking big, no doubt about it.

“I’m going to be ready to go at St Andrews. If I put myself in the position to win on Sunday, great. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to win. Golf tournaments are difficult to win, especially when you have Woods winning all the majors he’s won, 14 over the last 13 years or whatever.

“I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to shoot 3-over par on the last round of the US Open and win. I feel I can go on and win more. I feel I’m the kind of guy that if I can get myself in position, I’ll give it a good go.”


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