GRAEME McDOWELL could hardly have anticipated the ovation that greeted him on arrival on the first tee at Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Club at 8am yesterday for the opening round of the JP McManus Pro-Am.
The thousands encircling the tee box and lining the fairways took his breath away but that was nothing to compare with the cheers that rang out as he drove off and then walked the fairways with amateur partners Jerry Chang, Ciaran McManus and Guy Senan.
“This was the perfect place to come for a couple of days, to see the guys and get the response from the Irish crowds that I’ve had,” he enthused. “That was an amazing reception out there this morning. Everyone is so excited about it. It is great having everybody coming up to you and congratulating you. This is ideal. Perfect. And then there was the presentation on the 18th green of a little memento from JP and Noreen.
“He’s a special person in the world of golf and it’s a real honour to play my first competitive round back since the US Open out there. I really enjoyed it. I’ve signed some autographs, that’s for sure.”
GMac, as he is known, has now had time to look back on the most momentous week in his 30 year-old life and reflect on becoming the first European in forty years to win the US Open.
“I think of Tiger, Ernie, Phil behind me on the leader board and that’s the kind of stuff that I haven’t really sat down and thought about,” said McDowell. “When you add your name to the list of winners at Pebble Beach – Nicklaus, Watson, Kite, Woods and now myself… that certainly added to the experience, no doubt about it.
“I always said that I would take any major but the one I won is pretty special. Pebble Beach is an iconic venue in the world of golf. I’ve watched a little bit of the video replays and it’s just an amazing place to win. It’s an unbelievable, surreal feeling. When you achieve a dream, and that’s what it was, it was a surreal feeling and it still feels surreal to me. I haven’t quite grasped the enormity of it but obviously it’s life-changing, it’s schedule-changing, it’s everything. It’s been a great ride. I’m certainly going to give it my best shot and represent this trophy well.”
Most would expect that having made the breakthrough at Pebble Beach that McDowell would now covet another major, as if to prove to the sceptics, including a number among the American media, that the first was no fluke. But McDowell has no intention of loading undue pressure on himself.
“It’s not hugely important to me,” he declared. “I’m preparing myself as well as I possibly can for St Andrews next week but this doesn’t give me any God-given right to go on and win. Basically, all I can draw from it is the confidence that I know I’m good enough to do it when the chips are down on the back nine Sunday in a major championship.
“Confidence is the biggest thing I’ll take away from Pebble Beach. I know my game is in the greatest shape it’s ever been in and also that I have a lot of improving to do. All aspects of my game I can get better and better and better. I feel very fortunate and privileged to have an opportunity to win and to take the opportunity was obviously very pleasing but I have to keep doing what it is that I’ve done to get me here. I’m certainly not going to take anything for granted.”
He also insists that he won’t be changing his schedule unduly apart from adding the Grand Slam of Golf (confined to the four major champions), explaining: “I can ink in the Ryder Cup now as opposed to pencil it in. I’ll have a week off before the Irish Open and some time off before the Ryder Cup and will play all my usual European events although obviously next season will be a little different and I’m definitely going to join the US Tour in 2011. That was something I wanted to do anyway.”
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