In this week's Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Graeme McDowell speaks about qualifying for an Open Championship in his hometown, that putt at the RBC Canadian Open and his performance at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
As a former ASI Scottish Open Champion, and on the brink of a very special week in Portrush, it’s an honour to write the European Tour blog this week.
Unfortunately I’m now writing this as my caddie Kenny drives us (at a fairly decent pace) away from the Renaissance Club having missed the cut. I hope writing this will be cathartic. If not, maybe I should swim home to Portrush as punishment for not making the weekend at a tournament which holds a special place in my heart.
When you’re a former champion of any event it’s special, and with the Scottish Open being such a prestigious title, it definitely stings when you’re heading home on a Friday night. The set up at Renaissance was great, the fans are always brilliant in Scotland and the people behind the event – led by ASI, EventScotland and Rolex can’t do enough for us players.
The only thing stopping it from it being an amazing week was me. You obviously feel pretty flat after a missed cut and having done that last week at the Irish Open, I feel pretty average right now. I hadn’t missed a cut all year till last week and now I’ve missed two on the spin. I’ll need to have a little word with myself about that over the next day or two.
It’s going to be an extremely proud week to be from the North Coast of Ireland. It’s been amazing to see The Open Championship evolve in the sleepy little town where I was born. For anyone who has never been there, Portrush is on the very northern tip of the Island of Ireland and is a very raw, beautiful, rugged landscape which feels very remote. To see an Open being staged there is mind-blowing for many of the local people. Even for the likes of myself, Rory and Darren, it’s a bit special to see it coming back to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951. I never really thought that I would see it in my career. I was born and bred in Portrush, but Rory and Darren are also synonymous with Portrush for good reasons. Rory has competed there for many years and shot 61 in his early teens and Darren moved there in his 20s when he married Heather, who was a local girl. I always remember when my school bus went past Darren’s house and I used to look out the window to see what Ferrari or Porsche was in the driveway and thinking to myself that one day that could be me.
When I think back all those years ago when I was taking up the game with my brothers and my dad, we were members of Rathmore Golf Club, which is built upon land owned by Royal Portrush. There’s no point beating around the bush here: as a family, we simply couldn’t afford to be members of Portrush. In fact, if we had lived in a part of the world where golf was more expensive, I would never have played the game. It’s that simple. Thankfully, places like Britain and Ireland treat golf as a game of the people for the most part so my dad got into the game in his 30s and just instantly got the bug and was able to introduce the game to his kids. My dad gave a huge amount of his time to the kids at my club when I was young and he, and my uncle, Uel Loughrey, ran the Junior section at Rathmore for many years and really drove it forward. We would have a winter league where we would be out there in all sorts of conditions. We would have competitions and summer leagues and play with the adults. We used to have an adult / junior nine holes on a Saturday afternoon, which a lot of the members supported as well. They were great days. We had a great bunch of kids including Ricky Elliott, who has been caddying so successfully for Brooks Koepka for the last several years. He was a fantastic player and the guy we all wanted to emulate when I was young.
I remember having the opportunity when I was about 16 to join Royal Portrush and play for their teams because I was starting to become one of the stand out juniors in the country. My dad was a proud man, and I think he would have thrown me out of the house if I had done that!!!! It was my dad's pride that made me stay where I was and he taught me to never forget my roots and show some loyalty for the people that had given me the game of golf. To bring the U.S. Open trophy back to the club of Rathmore was special. I mean that with no disrespect to Royal Portrush in any shape or form. This is about my roots, and to be able to bring that U.S. Open trophy back in 2010 was so special for my dad because he and everyone at Rathmore had helped raise me in the game of golf, and to achieve one of the four ultimate prizes in the game and bring it home to Rathmore was incredible.
I literally cannot wait to feel the power and force of the home support next week. It’s going to be phenomenal. The home fans bring their own pressure and expectation but I am going to try and use their energy as motivation to play well and do everyone proud.
It’s hard to describe how much it means to be in the field next week, and the excitement really started when I made that putt and realised I was in. I was pretty blown away by the reaction to me qualifying. There was a lot of love out there for me when it happened which is always nice to feel obviously. The next week I get to Pebble Beach and I am at the Past Champions dinner at the US Open and Nicklaus, Watson and Trevino all took time to come and congratulate me on making it. They had all seen the putt and were genuinely thrilled I had made it.
I’m not sure there is anything I haven’t been asked about Portrush but there are a couple of little fun facts to share about my history with the place. The best score I’ve had round there is 63. The worst would be at least 103! The first time I played it, we kind of snuck on because my brother and I weren’t quite 15 handicaps and I think juniors had to be at that level to play. Anyway, we went and played and it was literally like we were at Augusta for the first time. It was a summer evening and I was around 13 years old. Portrush was like this hallowed turf to us and to be playing shots from that incredible land was dream-like stuff.
I’m not sure how many people outside of Portrush will know that I will not be the hardest-working McDowell at The Open. That honour goes to my little brother, Gary, who has been a part of the green-keeping staff at Royal Portrush for over 20 years. If you think I’m excited about next week, you should go and speak to Gary. The level of preparation that has been done on the golf course is unbelievable, and Gary is so proud to be a part of the team led by Graeme Beatt who are working tirelessly to showcase one of the best links courses on the planet in perfect conditions. Those boys and girls will have one hell of a party when the show is over and they will definitely deserve a few pints.
Given all my history there, one thing I am really trying to avoid at Portrush is letting my local knowledge lead to complacency. By that, I mean going there with the attitude of ‘I know this place like the back of my hand, so I don’t need to focus on course preparation etc. Yes I grew up there and many of the humps and bumps around the golf course are the same as they always were but the golf course has evolved and changed subtly over the years and then obviously the club and the R&A have done a spectacular job with Martin Ebert in redesigning some of the holes. It’s a different proposition today with some new tees, some new bunkering and green complexes so it’s not the same course than it was when I first played it and I need to prepare meticulously and avoid any complacency.
One thing I won’t forgive myself is being underprepared next week. It will be among the best weeks of my career no matter what happens, and if I can play well and get into contention then, well, part of me wants to think about winning and part of me can’t even contemplate it! To walk up the 18th, late on Sunday evening, which is always one of my favorite walks in golf, at The Open, will be one of the proudest moments of my career.