SIMON LEWIS: Team McDowell a well-oiled machine

YOU can understand Graeme McDowell’s disappointment at Rory McIlroy’s decision to leave Horizon Sports Management after just 18 months in the same stable.

McDowell’s success since 2010 is synonymous with Horizon’s, whom he joined three years previously after making his own decision to leave Chubby Chandler’s International Sports Management. Indeed, when G-Mac made his great breakthrough at the majors, Horizon’s founder Conor Ridge was one of the first onto the 18th green at Pebble Beach to congratulate the 2010 US Open champion and the emotion of the moment shared with McDowell, his father Kenny, caddie Ken Comboy and Ridge suggested theirs was more than just a manager-client relationship. Ridge and McDowell are firm friends, united in their journey to be the best in their respective businesses, their fortunes intertwined.

And that group hug in the wake of McDowell’s first major win underlined just how important it is for a sportsperson to be absolutely comfortable with the people around him making big career decisions.

That hit home again on Sunday when McDowell lifted one of golf’s most coveted non-major titles at the Volvo Match Play Championship in Bulgaria, in the way the new champion credited Comboy’s contribution. McDowell lauded his experience in the game and anticipated the role his trusted caddie would play in keeping his own expectations in check now that he will be made a top contender for next month’s renewal of the US Open at Merion in Pennsylvania.

Because if that stellar year in 2010 tells us anything with McDowell following up his Wales Open victory at Pebble Beach a fortnight later and then going on to perform Ryder Cup heroics at Celtic Manor and then win two more tournaments, it’s that when G-Mac gets hot he gets very hot.

Echoing 2010, McDowell was victorious by the Black Sea on Sunday just five weeks after winning the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, South Carolina, lifting the Portrush golfer to seventh in the world and cutting the odds of a repeat US Open title.

McDowell and Comboy are convinced he is a much better player now than he was when winning his first US Open three summers ago and managing expectation levels has been key to that progression.

“They are dangerous, no doubt about it,” McDowell said Sunday at Thracian Hills. “I’ve got one event now before the US Open. You could say I’m in the form of my life going into an event. Certainly my record kind of speaks for itself.

“But this game, any time you think you deserve something or you think you’re owed something it typically doesn’t give it to you. I’ll be making sure I’m in check over the summer.

“Talking to my caddie, you’ll understand that he’s a very smart caddie and he’s been there and he’s done it. He’s caddied for great players before and he’s watched them go into major championships and over-prepare and over-expect and under-deliver. He’s a great asset to my team. He’s been on the bag seven years in June for a reason because he’s a great caddie, and I believe a lot in him.”

Team McDowell – player, caddie, manager and father, put together over years of trial and error. It’s a lesson McIlroy may have to learn with some trial and error of his own.

Maybe this was another impulse move for McIlroy, made in as instinctive a manner as his decision to rip up his playing schedule over lunch one Saturday and play an extra tournament the week before the Masters. Of course, this one concerns an issue where clearly he could not turn to his management for help and advice but in deciding to close ranks and form his own management company built around close family and friends, McIlroy is clearly turning to trusted allies with whom he is every bit as comfortable as McDowell is with his team.

Whether they are the right team to take Brand McIlroy forward is a different matter entirely and only time will tell.

G-Mac and Rory maybe great friends but the former’s little pop at his fellow Ulsterman was too difficult to resist on Sunday night as he became the first Irishman to win the Volvo Match Play.

“It’s just crazy stuff, really. To have your name on a trophy this cool is pretty special,” McDowell said.

“You know, Irish golf is certainly carving a niche for itself in world golf at the minute, and there’s a curly-haired kid who’s pretty good... so anytime I can do something before he does, it’s never a bad thing. Every time Rory looks at the US Open trophy he’s going to see my name above his.”


Hehir brothers keep Banner flag flying in Dubai

Graeme McDowell wasn’t the only Irish winner on foreign shores last week. Ballyliffin and Team Ireland’s Brendan McCarroll retained the Gosser Open in Austria on the Alps Tour and even further afield, team of brothers Mervin and Michael Hehir reigned supreme at the Els Club in Dubai when they took the Men’s Pairs title at the 2012/2013 Golf Care Matchplay Championship.

Styled as the UK’s largest amateur golf event, the Spanish Point, Clare duo won in the championship’s 10th anniversary event and did so thanks to a final round score of 45 stableford points.

Still, that only tied the Hehirs on 119 points with overnight leaders Martin Firth and Andrew Taylor, the Clare pair winning on a countback.

“I can’t believe it,” Mervin Hehir said. “We got off to a fast start today, with a par at the first and a birdie at the second. After that it’s all a bit hazy, but I guess you could say we were in the zone. Although when we dropped a shot on the closing hole, a par five, I thought we had blown it.”

Garcia could learn from candid Poulter

You’ve got to love Ian Poulter’s remarkably candid appraisal of his short-lived appearance at the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Bulgaria.

Ryder Cup hero Poulter departed the prestigious event at Thracian Hills at the first stage and described his performance as “disgusting, disgraceful and unacceptable”.

That’s the sort of fighting talk and passion with which Poulter is synonymous as a European team player and it would be great if the architect of last September’s Miracle at Medinah could parlay that fire into the individual success his talents merit.

Compared with Sergio Garcia’s blame-everyone default mode, it was a breath of fresh air. Garcia may have been proved correct in his criticism of Tiger Woods’ antics at The Players Championship, but wouldn’t he have been better to keep his mouth shut or at the very least turn a little criticism in on himself?


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