Graeme McDowell feared it might be time to quit

Graeme McDowell feared it might be time to quit before upturn in form that saw him qualify for The Open: ‘I have been facing the demons of mortality’

  • Graeme McDowell’s slide down the rankings threatened his place at The Open
  • He only earned his spot with a top-10 finish at the Canadian Open back in June 
  • McDowell admitted he had started to consider a future without playing golf 
  • He will begin on Thursday alongside Henrik Stenson and Xander Schauffele

Graeme McDowell would have been in Portrush earlier this week, whatever the state of his golf game. Whether he would have stuck around long had he not qualified for the biggest event ever to take place in his home town is another matter entirely.

‘We had an RNLI charity fundraiser on Monday which was fantastic,’ said McDowell on Wednesday. ‘I had committed to that. My mom had arranged it so that’s one of those you can’t say no to. Yes, boss, I will be there.

‘I had other small commitments but my plan was to do those and get out of here because it would have been too bittersweet to watch the guys go out and compete on this course where I learned the game.’

Graeme McDowell begins The Open alongside Henrik Stenson and Xander Schauffele

McDowell’s slide down the world rankings threatened his place in this year’s Open and he only earned his spot with a top-10 finish at the Canadian Open in June.

Prior to a return to form that also included a strong US Open finish at Pebble Beach this year, McDowell’s struggles had been such that he admitted on Wednesday that he had started to consider a future without the game he loved.

‘I have been facing the demons of mortality, you know,’ he said.

‘When you are top 20 in the world for years and years the game feels easy. You turned up at World Golf Championship events and majors ready to compete most weeks.

‘Then all of a sudden you are battling to get back in to the big events and you’re missing cuts and finishing 133rd in the FedEx (rankings) and you are thinking: “What happened?”.

‘You realise that if you continue down that road the game of golf is going to disappear quickly.

McDowell only earned his spot at Portrush with a top-10 finish at the Canadian Open in June

‘As soon as this tournament was announced I wanted to be here. I have missed the last couple of Opens and it’s never easy. It makes you realise that if the game was gone tomorrow you would miss it pretty badly.

‘In the middle of last season I had that conversation with myself. I realised the game was going to be gone a hell of a lot quicker than I thought and that realisation helped me embrace the challenge a little bit more.

‘It’s weird but the fog started to lift a little bit. I finished the year pretty strongly and came out pretty strongly this year.’

McDowell will begin his challenge on Thursday at 9.14am alongside 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson and Xander Schauffele.

Having campaigned hard over the years to bring the Open back to Northern Ireland, he must find a way to set aside his emotions and find his best game.

‘I was on the first tee for Tuesday practice and it felt like there were 10,000 people there,’ he said. ‘It was an amazing atmosphere and I was actually a little nervous for a Tuesday. I couldn’t believe it.

McDowell, born in Portrush, believes there will be a great atmosphere at The Open this week

‘Pebble Beach was a dry run for me. Going there as defending Pebble US Open champion, if you like. But it was nothing of this magnitude. This has been epic.

‘The visual I have is the Ryder Cup. I am trying to picture the crowd as a Ryder Cup crowd in that they are all going to support me in a positive way. I can feel the juices flowing already.’

Portrush’s Dunluce Links have changed a little since a teenage McDowell was competing in this area. Rory McIlroy holds the course record with a 61 while his compatriot, 40 later this month, believes his best score over the years is 63.

‘I remember when Rory shot the 61,’ he smiled. ‘We had heard the rumours of this young kid. I was like: “Hold on a minute, that’s a serious score”. I shot 63 a couple of times but not in the north of Ireland qualifier, which is when Rory did his.

‘When you’ve got a card in your pocket and playing the competition pins, a score like that is a real score. Not when you’re out maybe having a cider on the tenth tee with the lads. That’s not a real 63, is it? Or maybe it’s a better one — who knows?’

THURSDAY’S OPEN TEE-TIMES

6.35am: D Clarke, *J Sugrue, C Hoffman (US).

6.46: E Grillo (Arg), Sung Kang (Kor), *T Thurloway.

6.57: A Sullivan, C Bezuidenhout (SA), A Levy (F).

7.08: C Kim (US), Z Lombard (SA), *B Wu (US).

7.19: R Sterne (SA), R Langasque (F), *M Schmid (G).

7.30: P Harrington, M Fitzpatrick, A Putnam (US).

7.41: B Watson (US), E Pepperell, R Cabrera Bello (Sp).

7.52: P Mickelson (US), S Lowry, B Grace (SA).

8.03: A Noren (Swe), M Lorenzo-Vera (F), S Locke.

8.14: W Simpson (US), S Garcia (Sp), CT Pan (Tpe).

8.25: R Palmer (US), A Pavan (It), D Frittelli (SA).

8.36: K Stanley (US), R MacIntyre, A Johnston.

8.47: M Korhonen (Fin), O Wilson, *C Knipes.

9.03: I Poulter, Sunjae Im (Kor), K Aphibarnrat (Tha).

9.14: H Stenson (Swe), X Schauffele (US), G McDowell.

9.25: Li Haotong (Chn), R Knox, B Wiesberger (Au).

9.36: J Kokrak (US), C Syme, A Connelly (Can).

9.47: Z Johnson (US), D Duval (US), C Conners (Can).

9.58: F Molinari (It), A Scott (A), B DeChambeau (US).

10.09: R McIlroy, P Casey, G Woodland (US).

10.20: H Matsuyama (Jpn), R Fowler (US), K Kisner (US).

10.31: J Furyk (US), Si Woo Kim (Kor), J Walker (US).

10.42: L List (US), A Bjork (Swe), P Waring.

10.53: S Imahara (Jpn), N Lashley (US), B Hebert (Fra).

11.04: M Horikawa (Jpn), C Shinkwin, G Porteous.

11.15: P Meesawat (Tha), M Baldwin, J Senior. 

11.36: T Lehman (US), J Niemann (Chl), MA Jimenez (Sp).

11.47: Byeong Hun An (Kor), J Campillo (Sp), C Wood.

11.58: J Dahmen (US), A Arnaus (Sp), D Papadatos (Aus).

12.09pm: S Cink (US), R Sabbatini (Svk), Innchoon Hwang (Kor).

12.20: E Van Rooyen (SA), K Kitayama (US), J McLeod (A).

12.31: R Fox (NZ), S Norris (SA), Dongkyu Jang (Kor).

12.42: T Hatton, K Mitchell (US), T Pieters (Bel).

12.53: T Fleetwood, J Thomas (US), T Olesen (Den).

1.04: B Koepka (US), L Oosthuizen (SA), S Sharma (Ind).

1.15: B Horschel (US), A Wise (US), J Janewattananond (Tha).

1.26: J Spieth (US), M Leishman (A), D Willett.

1.37: C Smith (A), A Hadwin (Can), D Lipsky (US).

1.48: P Lawrie, C Reavie (US), J Harding (SA).

2.04: *T Kanaya (Jpn), T Lewis, B Stone (SA).

2.15: L Glover (US), J Luiten (Hol), N Bertasio (It).

2.26: E Els (SA), JB Holmes (US), A Ancer (Mex).

2.37: B Snedeker (US), L Westwood, B Harman (US).

2.48: T Finau (US), L Bjerregaard (Den), J Rose.

2.59: D Johnson (US), J Day (A), K Bradley (US).

3.10: T Woods (US), M Wallace, P Reed (US).

3.21: J Rahm (Sp), M Kuchar (US), P Cantlay (US).

3.32: K Streelman (US), D Redman (US), R Rock.

3.43: A Otaegui (Sp), Y Ikeda (Jpn), I Benitez (Mex).

3.54: P Kizzire (US), Sang Hyun Park (Kor), Y Inamori (Jpn).

4.05: Y Fujimoto (Jpn), Doyeob Mun (Kor), A Wilson.

4.16: G Charoenkul (Tha), Y Asaji (Jpn), A Turner

GB & Ireland unless stated. All times BST — *denotes amateur




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