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McDowell Likes the Heat
The image is still clear. On the 16th green at Celtic Manor during the 2010 Ryder Cup, in the Singles match between Team Europe's Graeme McDowell and Team USA's Hunter Mahan, McDowell has just dropped a long curling putt to push Mahan to limit, 2-up with two to play. McDowell pumps both arms in the air in exultation after the putt drops to put Europe on the brink of another Ryder Cup victory.
We all know what Mahan would do on the 17th hole but, really, the match was over and Mahan's fate was sealed when McDowell sank the putt on 16.
The lad from the scruffy seaside town of Portrush in Northern Ireland had a good year in 2010, winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that year. And he's done alright this year, playing his way onto his third Ryder Cup team (also playing on the 2008 squad) with a T2 finish at the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club and a T5 finish at the Open Championship at Lytham, as well as a T11 finish at last month's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
The 33-year old McDowell does well when the spotlight is brightest.
Before a practice session at Medinah Country Club, McDowell met with reporters to talk about his preparation and his love of playing on the game's biggest stages.
MODERATOR: Graeme McDowell, who clinched The Ryder Cup victory for Europe in 2010 in Wales joins us at the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club. This will be Graeme's third straight Ryder Cup appearance. Obviously great memories from two years ago and now here we are two years later at Medinah. Welcome.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, thank you. Great to be here, obviously. You know, there's always so much buildup to this thing. When we do eventually get here, it's a relief and a little bit surreal, as well, you know, getting together with the team for the first time last night and just kind of getting the juices flowing a little bit. I went to bed last night and I could barely sleep. Just excited to be here. Looking forward to getting on the golf course today and have a look and see what's in store for us.
Q. Obviously you clinched The Ryder Cup two years ago at Celtic Manor and obviously Europe has a pretty decent record, winning four of the last five. How much of a psychological advantage do you think that gives the European Team going into this, or frankly, does history not count for anything?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, I really don't think history counts for much this week. I think you've got two very different teams assembled here this week. Our team certainly has quite a different look to it than it did five to 10 years ago. The American Team, you know, four or five of their stalwart players on there, and five or six new, young, up for it players as well, and talented; both teams are very talented. I really don't think history counts for much coming in here this week. I think Europe have to be slight underdogs perhaps on paper, you know, with the home advantage here and the home crowd. It's going to be an exciting week. Like I say, we all start from scratch, and it's a lot of fun having The Ryder Cup in our team room this week, and we certainly want to play hard and we want to take it back to Europe with us. So I don't think there's any advantage from history.
Q. Davis Love said yesterday that he was setting the course up for entertainment, for fun, for scoring, and also hinted that the greens will be very fast. With so many of you guys playing over here now, is there anything an American captain can do to set up the golf course that you wouldn't be familiar with? Do they sort of lose home advantage with so many of you playing over here?
GRAEME McDOWELL: To a certain extent, yes, I think that's the case. Historically, the U.S. Team has been longer the European team. I still think they are a little longer than us as a whole this week, but you know, our four or five longest guys are very long. Like I say, maybe as a 12, they might be just a tad longer than us, but there really isn't much in it. So the golf course setup, you know, to me, the only thing that Davis can do this week is to set the golf course up for scoring to get the crowds on their feet, and to get them charged up from the word go. And I really think that's their tactics, to get the crowd behind their guys. So I'd say he's trying to get the crowd on his side as best he can, because there's no doubt, as much golf as the Europeans play here in the States, I think the crowds like the European golfers. They have embraced them as PGA Tour players. It's going to be exciting and it's going to be loud.
Q. With all of the success Tiger has had in majors and everywhere else around the world, is it at all surprising to you that that has not been matched by his Ryder Cup record here and whatnot, and wonder if you have any theories to that?
GRAEME McDOWELL: It's difficult, you know. I kind of liken it to playing premiership football, the biggest teams, the Manchester Uniteds, the Liverpools, the Chelseas, the Arsenals. Any lesser team that comes to play these guys, they have a tendency to raise their game, because it's a huge game for an underdog to play a Tiger Woods. And they get up for it. They are not expected to win. When expectation levels drop, game tends to improve. I think a guy who plays Tiger Woods, or a player of that caliber, he doesn't expect to win, so he lets it all go and he plays out of his skin and gets the upset. You know, that's the only reason I can come up with. Golf is a very individual sport. Tiger Woods is perhaps the best player to ever play the game of golf; why is his Ryder Cup record not reflecting what he…what he does individually is so phenomenal, that it would be very hard to emulate that here at The Ryder Cup. Because one thing I have learned, to win a point here at The Ryder Cup is so difficult, the quality of golf and the things that happen, and you've just got to expect the unexpected this week. I think it's very difficult to be critical of Tiger and a guy of his caliber. It's hard to win points, and like I say, guys raise their game for this thing.
Q. Having been through this now a few times, what's your take on how important experience in The Ryder Cup is? Does it matter much? Is it overrated, or do you think it really helps?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think experience is a big key this week, just knowing what to expect I suppose. A bit like I just said about how difficult it is to win a point; how high class the games are. I guess the big thing I've learned from the last couple of Ryder Cups is that being nervous and being anxious is kind of not really worth it, because when the gun goes off on Friday and Saturday and Sunday, you've just got to go out there and play hard and play aggressively, because you know, if you don't shoot 7 , 8 under par, you're going to lose. There's no room for anxiety about bad shots, because you know, bogeys and doubles and others are not going to matter this week. It's going to be about the quality of your good shots that's going to matter; holed putts and chip ins and just exciting things, and just get charged up and enjoy the atmosphere and enjoy the adrenaline that's going to course through your veins. Like I said, just leave nerves on the first tee. It's exciting and it's something that's a bit different. All you can do is do your part. You have a great team around you, which I feel like I have this week, and just kind of enjoy it. I think that's what I've learned and what I think experience brings. I'm looking forward to seeing what my role is going to be within the team room this week.
Q. You mentioned how close this Ryder Cup looks on paper. Where do you think Europe might have the advantage? Would that include having established successful partnerships such as yourself and Rory, Luke and Sergio, ready to go?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Perhaps. You know, very tough to pinpoint where the Europeans are going to have an advantage this week. Alternate shot is always a strength of ours. You know, we always talk about the camaraderie. I think the American Team has got a lot more camaraderie on their side than they have ever had before. I look at the young blood on their team, the sort of these great young players that they have now. I feel like their team is a lot more close knit than it ever used to be. So that advantage has kind of gone to a certain extent. But the established partnerships are fairly obvious: Myself and Rory, Poulter and Rose, Donald and Garcia, perhaps Westwood and Lawrie. You can pretty much predict our first eight players Friday morning. You don't need me to tell you that. Will we be that predictable? Who knows. But looking forward to seeing how the next three days sort of pan out in practice and how José kind of assembles us all. I can tell you today that the first four guys, Poulter, Rose, Westwood and Donald, and myself and Rory are in the second group with Lawrie and Garcia. So there's your eight, the first two groups, fairly predictable.
Q. You were just talking about nerves and sort of trying to put them out. I imagine that has a lot to do with what you went through in 2010 in terms of that final match. Can you talk about that match? Was that the most nervous you've ever been in your life? Is there any way to describe that feeling of nerves in a match like that?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, you know, I can safely say that I don't think I can ever be more nervous on a golf course than I was that day for those last seven holes. I think from the 10th green onwards when I looked up at the giant scoreboard, did exactly what you're not supposed to do as the 12th man, and kind of did a quick calculation and realized that I was going to be needed perhaps. Those last seven holes, I've never been so nervous in my life. You're just trying not to mess up. You're trying not to lose it for your teammates. You know, I could have 200,000 spectators watching me, but two of my teammates watching me, kind of begging me to get the job done, there's something intimidating and very nerve wracking about that, because I think you look at your teammates and you know how they feel; they feel helpless, because there's nothing more they can do. Coming down the stretch that day was some of the toughest golf I had ever played in my life and some of the most nerve wracking golf. Myself and Hunter Mahan, someone was going to be the hero and someone was going to be the villain that day. Thankfully I was able to get the job done, and it was definitely one of the most amazing moments of my career just to be able to share that with 11 great teammates. It was just really an honor to be the 12th man that day and to be able to get it done because it's such a team effort. There's nothing individual about The Ryder Cup; it's a holistic kind of approach and everyone tries to get the job done. You know, where will I play on Sunday? Who knows? Part of me would love that opportunity again. Part of me would love it; part of me would hate it; I'll take whatever comes.
Q. Actually that was my question: Just the lingering effect and how that felt basically to make that final putt and have the crowd surround you on that green the way it did, and how long did that glow last?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, it lasted a long time. Winning the U.S. Open, there was sort of an aftermath of congratulations from everyone. I think that lasted a few weeks. But The Ryder Cup was something a bit different, because that was enjoyed by Europeans, fans, European Tour, everyone involved with the Tour, anyone that calls themselves European. I think I certainly got recognized more for that putt at The Ryder Cup than I did for my U.S. Open. There's no doubt about that, certainly in Europe. The Ryder Cup's become such a big deal. I think people love it as a spectacle. It's such an amazing golf event, and there's no doubt, the emotions that go with kind of the 12th match on a Sunday afternoon, I think it was the first time in history it had ever gone down to the 12th match. It was fun to be able to do it; and the aftermath and the 17th green when everyone swamped that green, it was something like I've never seen in golf before, and cool to be a part of.
Q. Can you talk about your recollections of your debut in Valhalla (in 2008) being an away game, if you will, and what advice you would have for the four or five players that will be playing for the first time in the U.S., especially playing before a home crowd as their first one?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, there's no doubt, there's a world of difference between playing in front of your home fans and playing in front of the U.S. fans. You know, putts that drop in front of your home fans was like a bomb going off and putts that go in this weekend will be like someone's got the silencer on. It's kind of a muted applause. I remember Valhalla in 2008, some of the really amazing holes, I think 14, the par-3, there was a very big natural amphitheater around there, and that was one of the most intimidating holes as a European. You knew when somebody birdied 14; you could hear it reverberating around the golf course. Going to be interesting to see, I think 17 is going to have that same effect this week by the sound of things. I mean, Chicago is such a great sports town. People love their sport in this part of the world, and you know, I know they kind of had a pop at that Super Bowl and didn't get it and the Olympics, didn't get it and all that kind of stuff. They got The Ryder Cup, and I think they are going to be excited, the town of Chicago, and they are going to be behind their guys. It's going to be interesting to see the atmosphere.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.