For Graeme McDowell, the emotion of a decade ago along the Pacific Ocean shoreline at Pebble Beach will be vastly different to what he will feel when he steps onto the tee for this week’s U.S. Open venue laid out on the opposite side of the country at Long Island, facing the Atlantic Ocean.
This week’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot also officially marks the 10th anniversary of McDowell’s 2010 U.S. Open triumph at Pebble Beach.
The 120th staging of the U.S. Open is taking place some three months after being initially scheduled for mid-June and it will tee-off Thursday without the noisiest and more raucous spectators in golf who have been stopped under continuing COVID-19 guidelines from making their way onto the famed AW Tillinghast-designed gem.
The fans can be so obnoxious in this corner of the States that when the 2002 U.S. Open was played on close-by Bethpage Park, a U.S. golf magazine had 25,000 badges made with the message ‘Be Nice To Monty’, given the tirade of abuse Colin Montgomerie endured during the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
Not that McDowell has ever had any trouble with U.S. fans. He married an American and Orlando has long been his home.
McDowell can tee-up this week boasting being one of just a handful who also competed in the 2006 U.S. Open when last staged at Winged Foot. It was the year Aussie Geoff Ogilvy won with a five-over par tally. Padraig Harrington was fifth at seven-over while McDowell managed just seven birdies over the four days, including one in the final round, in shooting 79 to share 32nd place at 17-over par, in just his second U.S. Open.
Fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke also finished with a 79 to be a further shot back at 18-over.
Four years later at Pebble Beach, McDowell would be the only player to finish on level par after four rounds in being handed the gleaming U.S. Open trophy to become the second Irishman in the ‘modern era’ after Harrington to win a major.
Rory McIlroy followed exactly a year later in capturing the 2011 U.S. Open and so too Clarke when winning The Open at Royal St. George’s later that year while Shane Lowry tees-up this week ‘still’ as the reigning Open Champion.
Photos from the 2006 U.S. Open show a then 27-year old trim-looking, clean-shaven McDowell decked out in tight-fitting attire and wearing those ‘no collar’ and no buttons pull on tops Tiger Woods made popular. McDowell also wore a standout white belt that former European Tour player, Simon Hurd in those days had on sale at tour stops in Europe.
McDowell was then being managed by Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management. He sported a TaylorMade cap and had just one sponsor on the front of his shirt – Goodbody Stockbrokers, still based in the Irish capital.
Heading to Winged Foot, ‘G Mac’ had won twice in his pro career with his last victory before heading to the 2006 U.S. Open being a play-off success at the 2004 Italian Open where another of his prizes was a 40 kilogram ‘wheel’ of Parmesan cheese.
He qualified for the 2006 U.S. Open by virtue of the Monday 36-hole qualifier at Walton Heath. He was full-time on the European Tour and it was not until his 2010 U.S. Open victory that he would join the PGA Tour.
Playing in what then was only his seventh of what this week will be his 53rd major, McDowell admits he was still learning what made the four majors different from a regular 20-plus regular season schedule.
“When I think back on my win at Pebble a big key was keeping my emotions in check, that’s for sure,” said McDowell.
“Compared to weekends where I had been semi in the mix, say in ’05 in The Open at St. Andrews on Saturday, when I made a few bogeys and just panicked big time (shot 3rd round 74 to then shoot last day 67 for T11th).
“And maybe also at Winged Foot in that 2006 U.S. Open. It was just my second U.S. Open. I’d finished well down the year before at Pinehurst. I didn’t play Augusta that year in ’06, so Winged Foot was my first major of the year.
“I remember I was in a decent position there and played with (Phil) Mickelson on Saturday close to the final groups and, again, I also just panicked and… turned a 72 into 75.
“So, when I went to Pebble a couple of years later, I had learned from my mistakes and realised that a couple of bogeys at a U.S. Open is not the end of the world. You just have to stay patient and stay in control and stick to your game plan.
“I learned from some tough weekends. I definitely realised that controlling things and not panicking when you get out of position is key.”
Of course, McDowell celebrated his return to Pebble Beach last year, the first occasion the U.S. Open had been held on the course since 2010 but this week now marks 10-years since those emotional scenes 10 years and three months ago.
“It’s hard to believe ten years has gone so quickly but in saying that I still vividly remember that very special week in 2010, “ said McDowell.
“Though it’s not going to get any better than how I felt ten years ago. It is pretty tough to top that experience that weekend – the emotions, my dad being with me, it being also Father’s Day, winning my first major championship.
“They don’t come any better than that. Though I guess, it was probably why I did not return to Pebble and the AT&T for four years as I wasn’t in a rush.
“Emotionally, I don’t think that moment will be beaten in my career. But in saying that I’m not going to Winged Foot this week up there on a pedestal and saying: That is the highlight of my career, because I still want more. I want more Pebbles’.
“I want my name on another Major Championship trophy and second U.S. Open trophy would sit nicely beside the one back at home.”
McDOWELL’S US OPEN STATS – 2005 TO 2019
Debut – 2005 Pinehurst #2 (T80th)
Appearances – 14
Best Finish – 2010 1st Pebble Beach
Lowest score – 68 (1st round 2014, 2nd round 2010, 3rd round 2012
Highest score – 81 (4th round 2005)
Total number of rounds – 52
Number of rounds in 60s, 70s & 80s – 9 (60s), 42 (70s), 1 (80s)
Lowest four round total – 3-under, 2019
Highest four round total – 21-over, 2005 Pinehurst #2
Missed cut – 4 times (2013, 2015, 2017 & 2018)