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An Interview With: Graeme McDowell

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

RONALD TOWNSEND: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We are delighted to have Graeme McDowell with us today, winner of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He's making his fourth Masters appearance this week, his first major since holing the winning putt for the 2010 European Ryder Cup. Thank you for coming. If you have a few comments before we open it up to questions.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, my fourth Masters appearance, my first time in the press center. (Laughter). Always a nice place to be. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, if you're in the press center, you've done something good.

Nice to be in here and hope to be back in here this weekend. Played yesterday and about seven holes today. It's breezy and not representative of how the golf course is going to play this week, hopefully. I think I hit driver, 3 wood to the first, not really ideal. The course is in great shape as always. Everyone is excited.

Good buzz in the locker room and good buzz in the crowd. It's the Masters Tournament and everyone gets pretty excited about this one and always nice to be here.

Q. A college question. How often do you get back to Birmingham and how much does your UAB experience help you?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I went back to Birmingham about four weeks ago, spent two days with the golf team just hanging out and playing a bit of golf with them and trying to give them a bit of my knowledge. I don't really get back there as much as I should. A lot of my old college teammates are still in that part of the world and I figure if I get back there, it could end up in a late night bar somewhere, so I try not to get back there too often.

Obviously I keep in touch with a lot of the guys. Most of them have gone on to get married and get a real job, as opposed to me. But that was great. I love going back there. They are really doing some great things over at the school, expanding the campus.

I keep in good touch with the athletic director and keep a keen eye on what's happening at the school. Certainly was a big part of my development and a big reason why I push a lot of the kids in Britain and Ireland over to this part of the world if they have aspirations to hit the pro ranks.

Q. Would a pairing with Tiger have affected you a lot more a year ago than it does now?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I think that's fair to say. I always say to Kenny, my caddie, when we are out there playing with him at Doral or Chevron or Shanghai last year, I say to him, "This is good practice for when it happens in the big shows, really." It doesn't get much bigger than the Masters.

I feel like I've played with him enough now to where it's pretty normal I guess. I've got to go and play my own game Thursday, Friday and let him play his game. Once you get used to the whole buzz that surrounds him, especially inside the ropes, once you get your head around that, it's pretty normal.

I would have been intimidated a couple of years ago but nowadays it's reasonably normal. I was expecting to get a draw somewhere along those lines this week.

Q. Obviously you have nothing to prove but how driven are you to do well in this particular major?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, my three appearances here, my record doesn't read very well on a course that I'm very keen to get here and have a great week this week.

It's just one of the very special major championships. They are all special, but this is particularly special, because it's the first one, because we are here at Augusta. It's an amazing place. I have dreamt of putting the Green Jacket on my back Sunday afternoon here, and of course I'm definitely very driven to do the job this week.

But you know, the more often I come here, year by year, I feel like my awareness and my knowledge of this golf course continues to increase. And it's probably as good as I felt this week on the golf course, really knowing the greens, knowing where I should be hitting it and where I should be hitting it of course.

I definitely feel as comfortable on this golf course as I've ever been. So you know, it's set up for scoring this week so far from what I can see. There's a bit of grass on the fairways which is giving us a chance to flair our irons, and the greens are firm, receptive, but as we know they can take the moisture out of these things very quickly.

Q. You talk about the buzz normally inside the ropes when you are paired with Tiger, and obviously in the Masters, there's much less of that, is that in a sense of a bit of an advantage?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: For sure. I think so. I played with Tiger here two years ago in the third round. So I've had a little bit of experience around this golf course playing with him. And like you say, things are a bit more controlled. The environment is a little more controlled here. The members of Augusta and the officials take extremely good care of us. It's one of the greatest places to come as a player. We get very well looked after.

I'll sure it will be a lot of fun playing with Tiger Thursday and Friday. There's a pretty good buzz regardless who you're playing with Thursday and Friday. I'm sure it will be busy; I've got my folks over this week. I'm sure they will be a little disappointed when they see the draw because they won't be able to see much golf Thursday and Friday. It's good problems to have.

I'm excited about it. This is one of the fun tournaments to play. It really, to me, signals the start of the season. It really begins from here, and it's amazing how quick the US PGA comes around from here. So looking forward to the week.

Q. Given the conditions today and the fact you played seven holes, does that throw your preparations out of tilt a bit; do you have to do more tomorrow or not?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: I played a really quality 18 holes yesterday and came up last Tuesday and played 27 holes. I'm not feeling unbelievably under pressure to go out and do things tomorrow.

I'm going to come up and do a couple hours of practice and play the back nine. And I think I'm going to give the Par 3 a miss this year. I wasn't able to get an early enough tee time and a pretty big football game on TV that I want to watch. I would love to do most, but first and foremost, my preparation is key tomorrow. I want to have a good practice session and play a really good back nine holes, and get in and put my feet up and watch the match and get ready for Thursday.

Unfortunately the Par 3 does not fit my schedule this time around. I'm disappointed, but hopefully there will by more Masters Tournaments. United don't get to play Chelsea too often in the Champions League, so it will be a lot of fun.

Q. Has winning changed your hunger for major championships?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I certainly don't feel under any added pressure to go win another one, but I feel like I've got the confidence and belief now, and I'm really as you play more and more major championships, it's no surprise that you see guys like Mark O'Meara and Ben Crenshaw win in their twilight years, because there's so much course knowledge at a course like this one.

I think guys understand what major championships are all about as far as pacing yourself physically and mentally and having a little bit left for the tank on the back nine on Sunday. It really is about hanging around on major championships and not shooting yourself out of it really, especially when the tests are very tough. You just have to hang around.

It seems this week that scoring looks to be on the minds. They want to see 15 , 20 under par win this week, and from what I can see so far, it's not the scary Augusta test. It's going to be a fun test. It's going to have a mixture of course there's holes out there you're happy with par but there will also be some birdie chances this week.

Q. Do you have a particular strategy this year, as opposed to previous years about how you're going to attack Augusta?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: You know, I don't think my strategy really ever changes. There are certain areas on these putting surfaces that you have to hit it into, and there are certain areas that you have to avoid. I'm driving the ball probably as well as I've ever drove it coming into this tournament.

I feel like I've worked very hard on my short game, my pitching and chipping is something I've worked really hard on preparing myself for events like this one. The way the course is set up at the minute this is not Thursday, it is only Tuesday and a lot can happen on the golf course in a couple of days. This has given you opportunity to be slightly more aggressive into the greens that are a tiny bit receptive right now. The ball's not carrying off these greens like they normally do. They are actually just trickling off and leaving yourself a pitch off a bit of an upslope which is giving you a chance.

I made the example of No. 10, when you hit it short of the green, years gone by, the ball has carried 20, 30 yards by and leaves you a tricky pitch up there, and now it's only coming off 20 feet and you're still on the upslope with a reasonably easy up and down. You can play the golf course slightly more aggressively than in years gone by.

Q. In what you achieved last year in terms of your tournament wins and The Ryder Cup, what's the biggest thing you discovered about yourself?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Probably that I'm good enough. I've never really been blessed with a talent of a Rory McIlroy or a Tiger Woods or a Sergio García or somebody like that. I've always had to work hard at my game. Things always came a little more difficult for me than other guys. I guess 2010 proved to me that I'm good enough. I know where I can go with my game and I guess what last year told me is that I'm on the right path, and you know, if I can put things together on the right weeks, that I'm good enough to win the big tournaments. It's just a belief thing more than anything. But a lot of improving to do in this game; that's what we love about golf, it's the imperfectible.

Q. Talk about your friendship, relationship with Tiger Woods and does it extend to following each other on Twitter?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: I do follow Tiger Woods on Twitter. Doesn't really put much out there to follow. My friendship with Tiger Woods exists on the golf course. It doesn't really exist off the golf course as such. He's not a guy I hang out with for a beer in Orlando much to be honest. (Laughter).

He's a great guy. I enjoy playing with him. He's a gentleman. He's a sportsman. He's one of the greatest players ever. He's always a lot of fun to play with, but like I say I wouldn't call us friends as such. We are certainly not not friends, if you like, but yeah, he's a great guy to play with and I have fun when I play with him.

Q. You said the first three times you played here, that you didn't play well. But did you feel that those six rounds, they were getting progressively better so that your mind set

GRAEME MCDOWELL: I made the cut once. I made a cut. (Laughter).

Q. Top European.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: I finished 17th I think back in 2009. Something like that. (Laughter).

Q. Even though they were not your greatest rounds obviously, did you feel like you were getting better playing this place?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I think you begin to see a way around the golf course. When I came here in 2005, it was like, I mean, are you kidding me, how did I get around this place. I played with Crenshaw that year ironically and he showed me how to putt the greens. Well, I watched him know how to putt the greens. I think I had four 3 putts in the first 11 holes or something in my first competitive round at Augusta.

I really got my head around the greens over the years and like I say, I'm out there today, the last couple of days and I feel very comfortable on the putting surfaces. Once you get the hang of the grain here. And there's no doubt about it, the pull of Rae's Creek, the grain, the famous grain here at Augusta, it exists and it takes a little bit of getting used to.

Greens like 10 where you're putting front to back, you swear that green looks uphill, but it putts pretty quickly from front to back. There are certain idiosyncrasies of this golf course that you have to understand. Until you come here and hit the iron shots and pitches and see how they react, you can't really believe it until you see it sometimes.

I've got a pretty good bank of memories now and plenty of good lines if my books and I have a pretty good knowledge base now.

Q. Is this the first tournament where you've had a chance to go to world No. 1?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: I don't even know the mathematics if I win this week, could I go to No. 1?

Q. You could.

GRAEME MCDOWELL: I guess so. Not that I need anymore incentive this week, but there you go, that would be nice.

Q. Just to bring you back to how important the Masters is, for any kid who has grown up in Ireland, because for a lot of us, it was the first chance to watch golf other than Sawgrass I suppose; what is your outstanding memory from watching it as a kid and did it shape anything that you wanted to be?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think like you say, we grew up with probably having a pretty special relationship with the Masters because I guess it was back before the days of SKY Sports and the unbelievable coverage of golf that we get from all over the world nowadays. The Masters took a long time to come around. I always remember waiting for the old Wednesday night preview program on BBC and Steve Rider popping on there, and the music.

I remember getting very excited about the coverage coming on and getting frustrated at how little coverage we did get, but it was great. I guess my memories, one of my favorite ones was probably '96. I was starting to take the game very seriously back then. Faldo and Norman, two of my real heroes. I was 16 years old, and really starting to see my future in competitive golf.

I guess that was probably one of my greatest sort of Masters memories. Like I say, staying up late at night, getting a free pass off the folks to watch the Masters coverage on the Beeb was pretty fun stuff back in the day.

Q. Did they ever use a stick to beat you with

GRAEME MCDOWELL: I was too well behaved for that.

Q. Who did you want to win?

GRAEME MCDOWELL: I was very torn that day. I member feeling very sick for Greg and it was a pretty amazing Masters. It was pretty cruel.

RONALD TOWNSEND: Thank you, Graeme McDowell.

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