With 206 bunkers sprinkled around the links of Royal Lytham & St Annes, Graeme McDowell is fully aware of the importance of finding the fairway in this year’s Open Championship.
The Northern Irishman, who was runner up in last month’s US Open Championship, has been working on his bunker play lately, which he feels has not been up to his usual standard so far this season.
But should he find trouble in The Open Championship, McDowell plans to take inspiration from the legendary Lytham performances of Seve Ballesteros, who took scrambling to a new level as he tamed the pothole bunkers, and even the car park, en route to winning the Claret Jug over the Lancashire links in 1977 and again in 1988.
“I was watching a show on Sky Sports the other night where Seve was talking about playing at Lytham and the importance of staying out of all the bunkers,” said McDowell.
“He was interviewed after he won the Claret Jug and he said ‘They say I get into too many bunkers. But it’s s no problem, I’m the best bunker player!’.
“To be honest, I’ve been a bit disappointed with my own bunker play this year so that is something I have been working on before Lytham.
“It is a threader’s course and I’m driving the ball pretty well. That showed up again at the US Open when I drove it pretty straight. At Lytham you’ll have to place it well off the tee.”
McDowell has taken confidence from his performance at Olympic Club last month when he came so close to winning his second US Open Championship, following his victory at Pebble Beach two years ago.
The 32 year old Ryder Cup player has repeated the same preparation routine – visiting the course the week prior to the Championship – and is quietly confident of his chances of following in the footsteps of compatriot Darren Clarke as Open Champion.
“What I found at Olympic this year, when the golf course becomes such a difficult test, it's beneficial to visit it the week before,” he said. “Memphis was probably the best cut I ever missed as it got me into Olympic early. I was able to do my homework. I played the golf course three times before the tournament and I think that was beneficial, because it was such a tough test.
“I think you've really, really got to learn your way around these golf courses, and so I’ve done the same for Lytham, spending two days over there to take the pressure off me a little bit on the Tuesday and Wednesday, before The Open.
“Olympic kind of started to reinforce to me that I am playing well. It was a confidence boost for sure.
“At the minute I'm struggling on slow greens a little bit but one of my best putting weeks came at Olympic where they were super-fast. It used to be that I was a bad fast green putter and a good slow green putter, and I'm kind of nearly the opposite now. When I get on slow greens I struggle a little bit and putt better on fast surfaces.
“I added a little bet of weight to my putter in Portrush, so I might look at doing that again for Lytham.”
McDowell, who is coached by Pete Cowen who helped Clarke to the Claret Jug last year at Royal St George’s, feels ready to win another Major having moved on from the life-changing experience of capturing the US Open followed by securing the winning point for Europe at The 2010 Ryder Cup.
“Last year I went through a period between March and the end of August when the head was coming off a little bit,” he said. “We all go through peaks and troughs, but it was just a wake-up call really.
“I needed to get my mind-set back in the right place and go back to doing the things I was pre-US Open in 2010. I learned a lot from last year and I have put those things into play and I have managed myself better this year. I feel like I’m now ready to deal with the expectations again if I was to win another one of these things.
“Unfortunately I’ve got the Irishness in me where celebrating comes very easily to me. I was talking to Ernie Els a couple of years ago, and Ernie knows how to celebrate as well, and he said to me you have got to enjoy every victory, because you don’t know when it is your last.
“‘The downtimes in this game are difficult so enjoy your good time’, he said. I think that is a good bit of advice. Celebrate in moderation. You need to give yourself a pat on the back every now and again.”