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McDowell Earns Long Vacation
It wasn't for a lack of trying. But Graeme McDowell - who's not hesitant about teeing it up on any continent - had been in the midst of a long dry spell before coming to Southern California and playing in Tiger Woods' World Challenge.
The 33-year-old Northern Irishman hadn't been victorious since the European Tour's Andalucia Valderrama Masters in October 2010, four months after he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. That was also the year he won his first World Challenge.
Well, lo and behold, McDowell took his second World Challenge title Sunday, shooting four rounds in the 60s at a rain-soaked Sherwood Country Club and winning by three strokes over Keegan Bradley.
The likable Ulsterman sounded relieved after accepting the hardware and $1.2 million winner's share from the tournament's host. "It's been a hell of a two years since I sat here as a winner," said McDowell, a member of the victorious 2012 European Ryder Cup team.
"And we all put winning kind of up on a pedestal of the ultimate goal. We like to say that it's all about the processes and going through the motions and trying to get better. But let's be honest, we all measure ourselves by the wins. I can say that now.
"For two years I've been saying things like processes and trying to get better and be patient and hopefully the wins will come. So I'm just relieved really to have - so I guess I got fed up with telling everybody that I'm playing well, playing well. I guess I'm relieved to get across the line and take some nice confidence into this little off-period I've got coming up."
That "little period" is actually quite extended; McDowell plans to travel to Northern Ireland for a few days and then take a 10-week break from competitive golf at his new house in Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla. He's also opening a tavern near his new digs, called "Nona Blue," and will spend more time with his fiancée, Kristen Stape.
McDowell proposed to his future wife in Dubai just a few weeks ago. He met the 33-year-old Stape, an Orlando interior designer, when he hired her to decorate his four-bedroom home. The marriage may take place by the end of 2013.
"Hopefully, she's built a house she likes because it'll cost me a lot of money to change it," he quipped when the engagement was announced.
On Sunday evening, G-Mac talked about what the latest victory meant to him and the future. Stape flew in from Florida to support her husband-to-be, and McDowell was thankful she was there. "Getting engaged three or four weeks ago was a huge step in my life, and this is really kind of made it a lot of fun.
"I certainly enter a new chapter in my life, which I feel is going to bring a lot of solidity and support to my golf career and this is a great way to begin it. She's in support of what I do and loves to try and get out when she can. She flew in Friday night, and thankfully it was worth the trip."
In a wide-ranging conversation, McDowell talked about Woods and his support of the tournament; his thoughts on the proposed ban on anchored putters and the stress it's putting on the players who use them; and a new tradition he hopes to instill at Nona Blue, where he'll buy the first rounds of drinks for future wins. Here's what he had to say.
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Graeme McDowell into the interview room, the winner of the 2012 World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual. Graeme, you took control of this tournament early in the week and held onto it. Great playing all week. If we could just get some comments.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah. Obviously it's been a very fun week. It's always a very relaxed atmosphere until we get down to the nitty gritty on the weekend. The start today was incredibly difficult. The ball was going nowhere. You know, I thought if we had to play 18 holes in those type of conditions today it was really going to be a hard grind. We really got lucky every day with the weather. It really brightened up for a couple of hours today and gave us an opportunity to play golf.
Keegan really pushed me today. He played great, and we really separated ourselves from the field and kind of made it the Match Play type vibe. Just over the moon to kind of get the job done. It's been too long. It's been a hell of a two years since I sat here as a winner. And we all put winning kind of up on a pedestal of the ultimate goal. We like to say that it's all about the processes and going through the motions and trying to get better. But let's be honest, we all measure ourselves by the wins. I can say that now.
For two years I've been saying things like processes and trying to get better and be patient and hopefully the wins will come. So I'm just relieved really to have so I guess I got fed up with telling everybody that I'm playing well, playing well. I guess I'm relieved to get across the line and take some nice confidence into this little off period I've got coming up.
MODERATOR: All right. Questions.
Q. Were you lying to us all that time or were you really playing well?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah. I wasn't lying to you. I'm just trying to say what I should be saying, I suppose. We pay sports psychologists a lot of money to tell us to say that. You know, it really is about the processes, but listen, we need to win. That's why we're out here. That's what winning breeds winning, and you know, it's a long career if you can't pick up a few trophies, that's for sure, and well, it can be a short career as well.
But you know, I know I'm good enough. I think when you know you're good enough, it gets even more frustrating. That's when you gotta tell yourself I guess when I said to you guys it's a process, I'm telling myself that. I'm just trying to stay in the present, stay patient, and hopefully days like today will come.
Q. I just wanted to ask you, when you got a little bit tight on the last five holes or so what you thought was the more important shot, the lag putt from 75 feet on 14 or the chip on 17?
GRAEME McDOWELL: They were both huge, but I think 14 was big because, you know, coming off the back of three putts on 13, kind of from nowhere, two shot swing from nowhere on 13. I had my first real bad swing of the day and missed it in the rough right there, could only lay it up to 150 yards and it was a tough 2 putt. And Keegan makes birdie, and all of a sudden it's game on. I pulled my driver in the trees on 14. I had a really great chip out there on to the front edge of the green, and that lag putt was huge. If I go 3 putting there, the question marks start coming, but great 2 putt there. And made some solid swings coming down the stretch.
The putt on 16 was massive. 17, I wasn't going to miss that long left again, so I thought let's try long right, and it wasn't very pretty either. My ball had literally just came out of its plug mark and left myself a nasty little chip. It was an inch away from sticking in the fringe, and obviously about a 16th of an inch away from going in the hole, and that was a little key up and done. But I would say 14 was probably the turning point that kept me in there really.
Q. Graeme, when we saw you at the Ryder Cup, I think you probably agree it was not your best; you weren't playing your best. What's happened between now and then to get you back to where, you know, obviously where you could win this today?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I think it's fair to say I was not my best at the Ryder Cup. I was burned out. I was tired. I was running on fumes. I had two weeks off between the FedEx Playoffs and the Ryder Cup, and it wasn't enough. I needed to switch off completely. I took three weeks off after the Ryder Cup, and really two and a half of those were no golf; complete relaxation, and I came into this run of events a lot fresher, a little bit more up for it. Apart from hurting my hand in China, I've actually played some decent golf, despite my 52nd place in Dubai or 53 or whatever it was last week. I knew in my heart of hearts that I actually swung the clubs pretty good last week. I just needed to get hot on the greens. And the belief was there.
It's energy levels, though. I made a mistake this summer. I played too much golf. Probably in hindsight I shouldn't have played the first FedEx Cup playoff event in Barclays. But I played it. It was too late to start withdrawing. I was in too deep. And then the Ryder Cup, you go there and you're not going to find any energy there. That's a big week. It's a draining week, and I didn't have it in the tank. And that three weeks off was huge for me.
Q. Graeme, I don't know if you consider yourself having been a mentor to Rory, but you have been asked about him a lot and seem to have guided him some. Just curious if you've taken any motivation from what he's done. Does it have any effect on you seeing the success he's had of late and obviously being from the same place in the world and all?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, for sure. I mean I always talked a couple of years ago about kind of Rory being my little radar blocker. Let him take all the press and accolades and I just kind of slipped under the radar. I won the U. S. Open kind of doing that. I kind of got thrust back into the limelight a little bit for the year and a half after that. But what he's doing, you know, it's tough not to be inspired by that. I'm not quite sure if I've got that type of game inside me that he's playing right now because he's on another stratosphere from everyone else right now. But certainly he inspires me to see how good someone can be and how focused someone can be.
And I guess in my career I've sort of rubbed shoulders with players better than me, players I feel like I can learn things from and people that can motivate me. I'm not sure what small part I've had in his career of motivating and mentoring him. It's very small. But I'm sure it's kind of it's there. It's tangible in some shape or form. But he certainly motivates me for sure. I'd love to see him down the stretch somewhere, some Sunday afternoon. Hopefully it's in California. That's all I can say.
Q. Just a couple things. I don't know if it was mentioned yet, but that little chip on the fringe at number 14 on the par 3, take us through that shot. It seemed like it was a really important shot?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Are we talking about 17 here?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah. You know, tough shot. The ball had just kind of fallen out of its plug mark. Not a lot of green to work with. Very fast. I was kind of chipping it sideways, taking six feet kind of as a good shot. Played it kind of perfect. Nearly played it too well. It nearly stuck in the fringe, you know. It was kind of one of those heart in the mud for just a millisecond. And then all of a sudden I thought it was going to go in. But I played the pitch well. Worked hard on my short game the last few months. Made some changes. Got a little bit of confidence back around the greens, chipping and pitching, which is probably a little bit of a weakness that I've tried to work on this season. And that chip was something I had to commit to. It was a little tough shot and it was nearly disastrous, but it was nearly magical as well. So it was one of those ones.
Q. You mentioned the free drinks that we're all entitled to at your bar when it opens. Can you take this opportunity to tell us the name of it? How much are you going to be working on that here during your off time, and have you thought of a tradition that the bar might have when you actually win a tournament?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah. The bar's called Nona Blue. It's a tavern restaurant. It's just outside the gates of Lake Nona. Free bars are with PGA Tour media credentials only. Traditionally when I win an event I call home to my home golf club. Lake Nona has kind of become my second home golf club, and I typically have a free bar for the members for a defined period of time, obviously. I always call Rathmore, my home golf course. It's a bit late there now. What is it, 11:35. I was going to say it's not too early for those boys, believe me. Hopefully my dad will make a phone call and we'll shed the boys a few drinks and shed the boys a few drinks at Lake Nona. But I think traditionally it may be drinks on the house at Nona Blue when I win a tournament. So thankfully it's not open yet. So I'll save a few dollars this time around. I'll be working on it obviously my next 10 weeks. We're hoping for mid to late January. So I'll be putting my January dad on hold for the opening. But looking forward to it.
Q. Keegan was talking about waiting for you to make that one or two bad swings to give him an opportunity. He said they really never came. With what you said about the conditions, how good a round was this today for you?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, first, I look at the beginning of the round. Some key swings, good up and down on 1. I had a great 3 wood at 2. You know, I was playing nice and disciplined golf. 4 was I couldn't believe how far I had left on 4. Had an okay drive and it kind of fell out of the sky with a little bit of rain on it. I literally considered hitting 3 wood in there. I'd been going in there with an 8 iron this week. I hit 5 wood. That was a key up and down there on. Going with a 4 iron for my third to 5, and that's a hole that you can get up in two in the right conditions. So it was just playing brutally long. My ball flight in the rain, I don't spin the ball very much, so when I get in the rain, I spin it less and it doesn't fly very good. That's something I gotta look at for sure.
Keegan was playing better than me. I thought to myself I had a real fight on my hands if it's going 18 holes in those type of conditions. Some of those swings, the 4 iron to 5, the 3 iron to 6, which is probably one of my best swings of the day, those swings kept me in there. I knew I was swinging better than Keegan. He was kind of a little loose on the front nine. But I also knew he wasn't going away. He's a gutsy player. He holed that on 10. I follow him thankfully and birdie 11. He hits two rippers at the 13 and makes birdie there, and I knew it wasn't going to be easy, and thankfully I was able to find something to get the job done.
Q. First of all, do you and Tiger have sort of a running joke about how well you've done here?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah. He came off the course there on Friday and walked past me and said good playing, bleep. (Laughs). So you know, joke with a jab, I'm sure. You know, it's I don't know Tiger particularly well. I always enjoy playing with him. He's very sociable at this event. You know, huge respect, huge kudos for what he's done here this week. I know he's put a lot of his own cash into the pot this week, and he's really kept this thing alive and huge amount of respect for what he does this week and Woods Foundation in general. He's a great host and done great things for this week.
Q. And your fiancée was with you for your first win. What did that mean to you? You made mention of that out there.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah. She's sitting right there. Obviously just a huge amount of fun for us both really. Hopefully this is the first of many. You know, getting engaged three or four weeks ago was a huge step in my life, and this is really kind of made it a lot of fun. I certainly enter a new chapter in my life which I feel is going to bring a lot of solidity and support to my golf career and this is a great way to begin it. She's in support of what I do and loves to try and get out when she can. She flew in Friday night, and thankfully it was worth the trip.
Q. How would you kind of characterize the two years with four wins? Was there a turning point, maybe some points this year in terms of where you're playing? And secondly, you said the other day you weren't really looking for a victory here to springboard maybe into next year. Were you lying to us or now that you've won, was that kind of maybe it is a springboard?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, I characterize these last two years, the first eight months just an absolute write-off. Just haven't been myself. Frustration. Dealing with my new status, I guess, within the game. And really for the last 15, 16 months I've been on that path or process I was talking about, you know. Just really trying to get myself back together and get myself back to winning ways, and I guess this year has been frustrating born out of some great golf. Getting in the last group of some major championships, which is what I dream of.
Yes, I'd like to win those, but you can't win them all and it is frustrating at this point in time. The game wasn't giving me a huge amount this year. I've really got a lot to show for myself. You never deserve things in this game, you know. The second that you think you deserve something, that's the last you're not going to get it at that point in your life. You gotta just try and stay in there and try and keep doing it. It hasn't really given me a lot of love this year, but this will certainly give me something nice to think about in the off season. We'll put a little turkey on the table in a few weeks time. This 10 weeks is huge for me really just from a resetting and recharging and resetting my goals and getting ready for a big year next year. This will give me some nice momentum going into the off season.
Springboard, I don't know. I'm going to shut her down here for a few weeks and certainly I will draw on the confidence this has given me this week.
Q. Will the majority of the winner's check today go towards the bar, your new house or your fiancée?
GRAEME McDOWELL: A mixture of both. A mixture of both. All of the above. Let's just say the house has been quite the draw on my resources the last couple of years, and I'm looking forward to definitely throwing a little bit of this purse into finishing the house. And you never know, Christmas presents might get a little nicer. They were going to be nice anyway.
MODERATOR: Anything for yourself?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I might. I might. This house has kind of been the present to myself. You know, it's the house I've always dreamt of building and Christmas kind of helped me do that the last couple of years and very proud of it and that's kind of been the present to myself the last couple years. But you never know. Might be an extra Christmas present in there.
Q. You mentioned how tough it was starting out, especially the first few holes with the ball hardly going anywhere. You and Keegan weren't put on the clock, but you were told to pick up the pace just coming off 13. Was that a distraction or not at all?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, Keegan and I are both fairly deliberate type players, I guess you could say. Those first six or seven holes were brutal. They were playing so long. Every shot it was glove on, drying your glove, drying the club, drying the ball, trying to stay dry. It was brutal. Golf in that type atmosphere is no fun for anyone. Certainly no fun for spectators, no fun to watch on TV. No fun for us. But it is what it is and you just gotta keep grinding. I knew we were going to be put on the clock at some point today. Like I said, we're both fairly deliberate type players. We got out of position two ball paces pretty rapidly. And we got put on the clock on the 14th, around the 13th, 14th. I was kind of fully expecting that. We had to pick up the pace and make sure we got finished for TV. But we're both fairly experienced players, and like I say, the fact we're maybe not the fastest players in the world we gotta expect we're going to go on the clock from time to time.
Q. You said you're inspired by what Rory is doing, but when you're not getting a lot out of the game and you have this guy who you consider yourself competitive with who the game is giving quite a bit to, was it hard to not get more frustrated or how did that affect the frustration?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, when you see a guy like Rory McIlory doing what he's doing right now, yeah, it's tough to not have that little bit of envy. You know, I always envy his game and I know I'll never have a game like that. I guess I've pretty much kind of come to terms with the fact I'll not be able to hit 350 through the air any time soon. And like I say, he's overly impressive. I've just gotta beat the golf course with other things, wedge play and putting and short game. And yeah, there's no doubt. I've been envious of what he's achieved the last four or five months. I'm sure every player on the planet is. But it's just like motivated me, showed me what's possible.
You know, proud of what he's achieved, you know, just proud to call him a friend, and I've seen his career develop the last four or five years. And he's awesome. You know, I can never really be too envious because like I say, he's got a game with which I'm not really familiar and I've gotta go about things a different way from him. But that's cool. I'm cool with that.
Q. Graeme, just sort of off the pace a little bit, yesterday there was some heckling of Keegan. And you know in the next three years I'm sure there's going to be more heckling of guys with the anchor putter. Do you feel for them in the situation that they're in right now and is it fair? I know the USGA came out today and said this shouldn't be happening to anyone using an anchored putter because it is legal for the next three years. But it's obviously a quandary.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah. I mean there's been such a big deal made of this. It's a huge decision. It's a massive rule change. 2016 is a long way away. That's three more seasons. I feel for the guys, no doubt about it. You know, being called a cheater when you're obviously not cheating is not a lot of fun, you know. Yeah, I feel for the guys, no doubt about it. I hope it's just fresh in everyone's mind right now as well, though, you know, so hopefully it'll go away a little bit. The PGA Tour, European Tour, tours around the world will make their decision. Hopefully they will align themselves with the USGA and the R & A and let the lads get after it for a few years and start to make the change.
They're well within their rights to keep using the long putter. I have no problem with it, and like I said, it's fresh in everyone's mind. And let's hope there's not too much more of that going on out there. I'm kind of fed up with all this "mashed potatoes" and all this rubbish that the crowd are kind of enjoying shouting right now. Keegan had a guy out there who was after every shot he was yabba dabba doing and it was just stupid. It's something for the players, it's not a lot of fun and it's kind of becoming a little bit of a cool thing to do for the spectators. It kind of gives them their two or three seconds of fame. But it gets a little frustrating for everyone.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah. It was Dubai. That was a geographical decision. I had to go to Dubai the week after this event. So I'd been in China the week before. Not that Sun City and back to Dubai was an easy journey, but it was an easier journey than coming here to LA and back to Dubai. So I apologize to Tiger, the Tiger Woods Foundation. I couldn't come defend, and he understood. So nice to be back this year.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah. I mean you know, my dollar average, my world ranking average around this country club is fairly high. I think I'm I'm probably right up there in the top five in the world in California, no doubt about it. We'll have to look at playing a little bit more here on the West Coast.
MODERATOR: All right. Graeme McDowell, congratulations.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.