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Bottoms-Up at G-Mac's Pub
Though he hasn't by any means been horrible since his victory in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, it's a fact that Graeme McDowell hasn't returned to an American winner's circle since that magical moment June 2010.
But all that changed Sunday when the 33-year-old parred the first sudden-death playoff hole to beat 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and win the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C.
The reason for the gap is because the Ulsterman says he celebrated a bit too much after Pebble Beach, and it wasn't until a year and a half later that he got back down to business.
"I've been working my ass off since September of 2011 to get over the U.S. Open hangover and everything that goes with it," McDowell said Sunday night. "This has been a work in progress for two years."
There were also a couple of other items added to his expanding plate, including getting engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Kristin Stipe; launching his own brand of clothing, Kartel Golf; and moving full-time to the Orlando area to better focus on the PGA Tour.
In March, he debuted an upscale pub-restaurant called Nona Blue, which almost immediately became a going concern and will probably be quite the hot spot this week, especially after the popular player known as G-Mac promised after it opened: "I do know that with many wins ahead of me, my hope is to give a call to the restaurant every time and buy a round of drinks," he said then.
As for his play at the Pete Dye-designed Harbour Town - which he called "a very majoresque golf course," McDowell matched Sunday's low round, a 2-under 69, to tie Simpson on a blustery day similar to the conditions he grew up with at Portrush in Northern Ireland.
McDowell could have won the tournament outright on the 72nd hole, but he three-putted the par-4 18th to send it to extra holes. He and Simpson returned to play the 18th. McDowell again found the green in regulation, two-putting - this time - for par, while Simpson couldn't get up and down from the fringe.
McDowell took some keys from his final-round playing partner, the fun-loving, 46-year-old veteran, Jerry Kelly. "I think talking about personalities and demeanors of a guy like Jerry Kelly, the way you conduct yourself on the golf course," he told reporters later.
"The way you kind of - what am I trying to say - the way you take the pressure off yourself, I suppose, by looking at the bigger picture and realizing that it's not life or death; it's just golf. It's just sport. And, yes, it hurts and, yes, you're nervous and it's disappointing. There's more disappointments in this game than there are successes. That's why you've got to enjoy nights like tonight because this game kicks you more often than it gives you a pat on the back.
"It doesn't pay debts, this game," McDowell added philosophically. "If you feel like you deserve anything, this game certainly doesn't give it back to you. And I feel like I have learned to understand, to keep an open mind, to kind of accept what this game throws at me and learn from my tough experiences and just try and put that back into the greater improvement that I'm on. And I feel like I've learned a lot from this sport.
"Like I say, it still continues to disappointment me and frustrate me, but I feel like I've got better and better at kind of accepting and going out there today and being patient and understanding what it takes to win more."
After receiving the gaudy red-plaid jacket traditionally given to the Heritage winner and accepting the $1.026 million winner's check, McDowell made no mention to the media of his earlier promise for free drinks at Nona Blue. But it wouldn't be surprising at all if that vow isn't fulfilled sooner rather than later.
Here's what else McDowell told reporters Sunday evening.
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the winner of the 2013 RBC Heritage, Graeme McDowell. Congratulations on the win.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Began the day four shots back. Got the job done, extra holes. With the win you become the 10th International event winner but the first from Ireland. So with that, I'll turn it over to you for some general comments on the week.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I guess the weather was kind of what the doctor ordered for me today. I needed an opportunity to get close to these leaders. I'm not saying that I didn't have any God given advantage in the wind, but I needed the golf course to play difficult. If it had been benign like yesterday, four shots back, one of the two guys goes and shots 4 or 5 under par, and it's kind of all over. I needed the course to play tough today and I got that. It was really, really difficult. Very gusty wind conditions. You really had to pick your moment, pick your shot. The key today was a few big par saves early on. I made a big par save on 6. In fact, a couple earlier than that, but really hung in there well with the putter. The putter was kind of a little frustrating all week because I felt like I gave myself a lot of 10, 15, 20 feet birdie opportunities and took none of them.
But today I held on extremely well, which you've got to do in these type of conditions. I really flighted the ball well off the tee. I really kept it in play most of the week. Was in trouble very rarely on this golf course. And just managed to control my ball well. And that's what you've got to do around here. It's a very majoresque golf course. And I guess someone told me there's a bit of a link between U.S. Open champions and champions here. So it's nice to continue that link. It's got a huge amount to do with the way the golf course sets up, discipline, patience, all these words that are required to play well around here. Very excited.
MODERATOR: I guess with the RBC affiliation, it makes it more special.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah. First season as a Team RBC Heritage player. Obviously they've done amazing things with this event the last couple of years, really putting it back on the map again. And for this being my debut RBC event, I guess it was a pretty good start to my relationship with them. This was going to be on my schedule regardless, whether I was an RBC ambassador or not. I was excited to get back here. I've always figured this is one of the golf courses I could get around. I'm very excited to clock up, which I'm going to call my first defensive PGA Tour win. The U.S. Open was a special victory, but I wasn't a PGA Tour member. This is my PGA Tour victory as member. I'm going to call it my first defensive win.
Q. Does this mean the bar is open at Nona Blue?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Just switching the phone on, give my boys a call. The bar is open. How long the bar stays open will depend on how many people are in there.
Q. You start the day 4 back, 3 birdies, no bogeys. I guess given the conditions the start of the day, could you imagine going the first 17 holes without a bogey?
GRAEME McDOWELL: No, bogeys were kind of there at every turn today. You really had to control the ball well. Like I said, a couple of big par save moments. Let me think, 3 I left it six, seven feet short, made that one. 6, I was out of position, hit it in the back right trap. Hit a great trap shot for about 15 feet and made that for par. Really hung in well with the putter today. I made a great six or seven footer on 8 for par. That was kind of what you had to do out there. I had to grind. I had a lot of quality shots, I drove it great. I kept it out in play. I said to my caddie, "This putt looks awfully fast." I had a decent shot to the back edge of the green. I knew the putt looked very quick. But in the back of my mind I said to myself, get it there, because I didn't want to leave myself 5, 6 feet down a slippery slope downwind there. So I certainly got it there.
Q. Have you been out to your mom and dad?
GRAEME McDOWELL: They flew back home yesterday, so they landed there this morning. I'll be making that call here very soon. Looking forward to speaking with them. They've been in Florida for a few months with me now. I'll look forward to talking to them. They'll be excited. They'll be back in Portrush right now, jet lagged, so it would be perfect. They won't have missed a shot. They generally don't miss a shot, no matter where I am in the world.
Q. You had mentioned earlier in the week you had rented a house for your friends and family. Would you mind talking about the week at Sea Pines and just the general atmosphere.
GRAEME McDOWELL: We managed to rent a beautiful house here in the Sea Pines resort, over on the other side of the beach. And my fiancée and loads of friends and their family here. We have just been kind of hanging out every night. After the intensity of last week and the preparation that goes into an event like last week, this week was really about coming here, yeah, workweek, but it was kind of a low key workweek. I came here, I did my work and I went home. There was very little grinding going on. I took a pretty relaxed approach this week, and really tried to enjoy myself. Have a glass of wine or two in the evening and some great food and some good friends and family. So that was really the MO this week, and it seemed to work out really well.
It's amazing kind of how things happen. I miss a cut by one last week and am frustrated and disappointed. And perhaps if I make the cut last week and grind a 30th or 40th position out, do I sit here with this beautiful jacket on? It's kind of amazing how things happen. I wouldn't swap the way it's happened. I wouldn't swap this win for a top 10 last week. Of course I'd swap it for a green jacket, but I wouldn't swap it for anything less than the win last week. In many ways the missed cut was the best thing that happened for this week. So it's amazing how things happen.
Q. Can you describe your save at 13, you were in the bunker.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, forget about that save. 13 was a big save for me. I tugged my tee shot and I left myself a very difficult second shot, which kind of got a little unlucky. I flipped the bottom, bottom branch of a little window that was trying to hit it through. I really had no shot there. I flipped the bottom of a branch, left myself a difficult enough trap shot, which I played very mediocrely. Is that a word? But a great par saving putt from 25 feet down the hill.
That was big. That was a really big moment. Like I say, didn't putt my best this week. But it seemed like the par saves were really when I started to roll putts in. That was a big par. Looking back, it really set me up with the opportunity to make a good par on the next two holes and then birdie 16 and play as well as I did coming in.
Q. After you missed the putt on the last hole for par, I think you headed off to the range. Take me through the time between that putt and going to the playoff in your mindset, and anything that was pivotal to get you on the right track again?
GRAEME McDOWELL: When you've signed your scorecard and I think Webb was literally just hitting his tee shot on 18 it's pretty chaotic back there. There was a lot of people, a lot of fans. It was kind of chilly as well. So there's no real recipe. What do you do? No one really tells you what to do in those moments. That's when I've got a good caddie and good support network around you. It's a case of let's get out of the chaos here.
He could make 3, he could make 5, who knows? Let's be prepared as mentally as we possibly can. I went up to the range and kept loose and kept warm. Listened to it over one of the rules' officials radio. And he hit a good shot 20, 25 feet. He missed it, I dodged a bullet and had a chance to get in the playoff. So I stayed mentally fresh and physically kind of warm, and I really made two great swings in the playoff. Like I said, there's no recipe to prepare yourself for those kind of things. All you know is you need to keep open mind. I could lose it right there now. I could win it right there now. More than likely there's a playoff, and I tried to prepare myself for that.
Q. Could you talk about the pairing with Jerry Kelly. It seems like you have similar demeanors. You both were smiling and laughing. You mentioned the save at 13. He actually gave you a hand out of the sand trap after you made that 20 footer?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I think I said to my caddie, Jerry Kelly is the guy you'd like to play with every Sunday afternoon. He's got a great demeanor, very happy go lucky kind of guy. He's got a good attitude for the game of golf. He's the kind of guy you like to play beside. He's the kind of guy that I certainly try to make my personality and demeanor like that, as well; just kind of carefree, enjoy the good stuff, shake off the bad stuff. And like I said, I'd love to play with a guy like him every Sunday afternoon.
He's a good player, he's been around the block. He understands the game. We had a pretty good little kind of rapport going on out there. We're kind of fellow Cleveland/Srixon staff players. I played with him many times. He's an enjoyable guy to play with. It really makes a difference, the guy you're playing with, the rapport, the way you feel, it can really make a difference out there. And he was a good guy to have beside me when it was so tricky and difficult out there. You certainly had to keep open mind.
Q. On 18, what did you hit in?
GRAEME McDOWELL: In regulation or the playoff?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Kind of missed my tee shot a little bit in regulation. I was trying to hit a hard one down to the left and I kind of hung it up in the wind a little bit. And I had 187 in regulation. I hit 4 iron and just knotted it, just kind of long. I hit the tee shot that I meant to hit in regulation, I hit that in playoff. I took it down the left side but shorter, used the wind a little bit and I had 164 in the playoff. And that was a little 6 iron. I had two great swings. The crowd's reaction, I thought it was a little closer than it was. It was a similar type putt to the one I had in regulation, as well. The wind was gusting, I just couldn't get the thing there.
I have to mention Webb's putt in the playoff; he had a great first putt. He really got extremely unlucky. I don't think the putt deserved to be any further away than four or five feet maximum. And it got a terrible gust and landed three or four feet. I didn't expect the guy to miss it. He really got unlucky there. Congratulations to him, he's a great player.
Q. Did you get a gust a little bit on that first approach on regulation? Was it adrenaline?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Like I say, just a better tee shot. Just took it down the left side and made the hole a little shorter. It was tough out there today. You really had to at times - I stood over my tee shot on 5, the par 5. I must have stood over that tee shot for two minutes trying to get a little lull in the wind because it was pumping. And you really had to try and time it. Your routine had to be fluid out there today. You had to be patient and wait for the wind to subside at times. When it did subside, you had to jump in there and it hit it before it got gusted back up again. You had to be fluid with your routines today. And I felt like I did it well. And really controlled my ball flight well. Hit a lot of fairways. Was very rarely in trouble around this very tricky course.
Q. You mentioned your first authentic PGA Tour win. You actually had one in three years, if you don't count Tiger's small field event. With your ability and your résumé otherwise, have you gotten disheartened at all by not being able to victories in three years?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Like you say, the first real win in three years. The first time, for those statisticians out there, it's the first time I've won in odd number years, as well. It's nice to break that, as well. Not that I'm being paying any attention. My wins came in '02, '04, '08, '10 and '12. So here we are in an odd number year, so thank goodness for that.
To win Tiger's event end of last year, unofficial, small field, blah, blah, I took a lot of confidence from that, also, because I had a solid season last year and got nothing from it. My best weeks were often my most disappointing weeks; finish 5th at the Open from the last group. Didn't get a lot out of my year last year in many ways, but knew in the bottom of my heart that my game was getting better and better all the time. And really being optimistic about the start to this season, you know, some good golf, some solid stuff, really put myself in the heat a couple of times. We'll all sit here and say you can't measure yourself by wins. It's not about the wins, it's about the upper curve and getting better and all these things. What it really boils down to it, wins are very, very important to us personally. And you take a huge amount of confidence and belief and momentum from those. So this is probably one of the more special ones in my career because it feels right. It feels good. My first real win on this side of the pond as a PGA Tour player. I feel this is building blocks for something good this year and beyond. I'm very excited about this.
Q. Despite your disappointment, you've shown an affinity to handle yourself well in difficult situations. I'm thinking of the Ryder Cup and the U.S. Open. I'm thinking of Tiger's tournament and now here. To what would you attribute this?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, I think talking about personalities and demeanors of a guy like Jerry Kelly, the way you conduct yourself on the golf course. The way you kind of - what am I trying to say - the way you take the pressure off yourself, I suppose, by looking at the bigger picture and realizing that it's not life or death; it's just golf. It's just sport. And, yes, it hurts and, yes, you're nervous and it's disappointing. There's more disappointments in this game than there are successes. That's why you've got to enjoy nights like tonight because this game kicks you more often than it gives you a pat on the back.
It doesn't pay debts, this game. If you feel like you deserve anything, this game certainly doesn't give it back to you. And I feel like I have learned to understand, to keep an open mind, to kind of accept what this game throws at me and learn from my tough experiences and just try and put that back into the greater improvement that I'm on. And I feel like I've learned a lot from this sport. Like I say, it still continues to disappointment me and frustrate me, but I feel like I've got better and better at kind of accepting and going out there today and being patient and understanding what it takes to win more.
And I want to win more often. I'll learn from today and hopefully try and put that back in my game, and make winning more of a habit. It's a great habit to get into. There are so many great players in the world right now it's very difficult. It's hard to do and you've got to savor them.
Q. When on the course today did you start to realize, hey, the groups behind me, the players are not going low, and I have a chance to be in this mix?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Probably when I birdied 11. I hung tough the front nine. I really knew in the back of my mind that if I could hang tough today, right from the first tee, right from the gun - I saw Luke get off to a phenomenal start, so I was aware of that. I knew if I could play patient, take some chances, hang in there, that it was going to come down to the back nine and it was going to be tough.
Oddly, we picked 9 on the range this morning, myself and my caddie. I just hoped I was the guy on 9. We said if we could get to 9 under, we had a great chance to win. I executed my game plan great today. The stars have to align, though, you know. And you never wish any ill on guys, you just have to play your game and see what happens. And like I said, from about 11, I made a good putt on 11 for birdie, and hung in there. Did a great sand save on 13. Birdie on 16. And I played great today. I really controlled my ball well. It would be nice to get the job done in regulation, but ho hum. Who cares?
Q. Can you take us through what goes through the mindset of having to be fully committed to a shot, a swing, a particular club, when you're standing over, getting ready to hit and locked in, and the wind does what it does?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You have to be fluid with your routines and thinking today. Very often you're standing over the shots and you hear the gusts coming. And you really have to be accepting. You really just have to play on some instincts out there. I just made a decision to try to get into the ball, and just hit my shot and try not to get too distracted by what's going on. Like I said, sometimes it took me longer than others to get in the ball. I stood there a few times early on the front nine, thinking to myself I've got to hit this ball at some point as these gusts were ripping through. And other times you're jumping in there quick. You've got a lull in the wind, right. I've got to get in there and hit this thing quick.
So it was very easy for your brain to get distracted by listening for new gusts and new changes in the wind coming through. It took me five or six holes to really get a feel for the greens, because they're probably a foot slower today I thought, just due to the wind forecast, I'm sure, and my pace was very off, the front nine, very off. But I scrambled really well. I holed some really good second putts on the front nine. Speed, putting and holing out is probably one of the most difficult things to do on a day like today.
Q. How often do you get a second chance with the kind of luck you got on 18? You really got another chance to play that hole because he didn't birdie in regulation. But you come back and you get a chance to play it again for the win. How often does that really happen in this game?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, it's difficult to win. How often do you get a second chance? You don't get a second chance very often in this sport. But I guess as I stood there on 18th green, with two putts to finish par, I was controlling the destiny at that point. If you were an oddsmaker selling that 18th tee, Webb Simpson was probably a one-in-10 shot to make birdie. And he was probably more like 50/50 to make bogey or par. And if he had made birdie, my hat's off to him. I was controlling my own destiny. If I two putt there, I'm the winner. But I don't. And yes, I have to dodge a bullet. He's a 22 footer or whatever he had for birdie in the last.
The last was an extremely difficult hole. If you look at the scoring averages, it probably played over 4.5. It was a tough hole. So I don't really feel like I got lucky to be in the playoff. I feel like I could have got the job done in regulation. It wasn't an easy two putt from the back edge, but it was probably an 8 out of 10. You give meten shots, I'll get that done eight or nine times. I just happened to get a little frisky on the first one.
MODERATOR: Graeme, congratulations. We appreciate your time.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.