After a four year absence, Graeme McDowell insists he resumes his love/hate relationship with a ‘fresh feeling’ heading into next week’s Masters at Augusta National.
McDowell has not teed-up in a Masters since missing the halfway cut in 2016 and he’ll also make his way up Magnolia Lane for a 10th occasion but having driven back out the front gates of the Georgia club having played all four rounds on only three occasions. One of those was a best result of T12th in 2012 ahead of finishing runner-up in the following U.S. Open and then a best Open Championship result that same year of a T5th at Muirfield before ending the year with a second highest showing of a T11th place result at the PGA Championship.
McDowell brilliantly earned his return to next week’s rescheduled 84th hosting of the Masters in capturing the Saudi International. It was a win that saw McDowell jump from 104th to 47th on the World Rankings and when Augusta announced in mid-March a rescheduling of the Masters to November, the Ulster golfer was lying 49th to secure his return to the hallowed Georgia golfing gem.
“I think not having been there for a few years, there is a love/hate relationship with Augusta for me,” he said. “The hate side of it has probably gone away because I haven’t been there for a while but then it is still my favourite golf course in the world. There are very few courses in the world where there’s just not a bad hole and to me there’s just not a bad golf hole at Augusta. It’s a phenomenal test from beginning to end. There are so many great shots, tee-shots and second shots out there.
“I think there’s a certain complacency when you’ve been in the top 50 in the world for five, six, seven years in a row and these major championships are just part of your schedule. You kind of forget to appreciate them as much as you should, that they’re phenomenal opportunities and that you’re one of the best players in the world going into a major championship with a chance to win.
“That’s a special opportunity. When it’s taken away from you due to some bad golf from my point of view, when you start fighting and scrambling for starts and trying to get yourself exempt. Take the Open at Royal Portrush for example, having to get through the Canadian Open to get there, it makes you appreciate the opportunity a lot more than you did when they were just there all the time.
“I’m going there next week and I’m very excited about it. There’s a fresh feeling. I’m looking forward to being back out at one of the most historic major championships there is. The history and tradition there, because you go back there every year, there is something very special about Augusta. I do love the course and I’m starting to putt the ball probably the best I have this year.”
The June 11th lifting of the PGA Tour lockdown had not been kind to McDowell, missing six of eight halfway up to the close in August of the 2019/20 season. There was also dealing with his long-time caddy, Kenny Comboy testing positive for the COVID-19 virus and having to withdraw from the second event at Hilton Head. McDowell then went into the start of the 2021/22 year missing two of two cuts, including the defence of his Dominican Republic title that meant turning down hosting the rescheduled Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
It was returning to Europe at the recent BMW PGA where McDowell began to find some much-needed form with a top-25 showing. In jetting back home to his family in Florida he was reminded of one of the many Masters activities cut from next week’s Masters.
“The kids got dressed up for Halloween and it was a lot of fun with my son being a helicopter pilot,” said McDowell. “So, we used his Masters ‘Par-3 Contest’ white uniform and we dyed it grey and he had these patches on it. We had all their little outfits ready for the Masters Par-3 tournament which sadly we can’t do this year.”
Also cut has been the ‘Drive, Chip and Putt’ contest and the ‘Women’s Amateur’ while there will be no patrons, with the merchandise outlets closed. As well, the usually 1,500 worldwide media who make their way each year to the Masters has been cut to just a combined- 300 TV, radio, newspaper/magazine and photographers.
“On the flipside of the coin of no spectators, it’s still very exciting as people are talking about golf,” said McDowell. “It’s a hot subject. Very interesting. Golf has coped very well through pandemic. It’s a safe and healthy sport. I know Ireland is in a golfing shut down and also England but golf is a reasonably safe pastime. It’s very exciting for the sport right now. There will be a lot of people watching Augusta next week very interested to see what these guys can do.”
So, what is it going to be like for McDowell and his 95 colleagues teeing-up on Thursday?
“It is going to look very different and Augusta being who they are, I’m sure they’ll do their best to try and make the TV experience as great as it can possibly be. They do a fantastic job with it. It’s going to be quiet out there. On Sunday afternoon, Augusta has a certain sound to it. You know when you’re watching the coverage and you hear a bomb going off, you pretty much know that’s an eagle on 13 or a big putt on 15 or maybe a hole-in-one on 16. Not having those sounds is going to be very different for the viewer.
“I’m sure the golf course is going to look very different on TV. Will it play a bit longer, just with the temperatures being a little colder and with the overseed – it requires a lot of water and typically can be quite soft? For the viewer, I think they’re going to get some unique looks at Augusta they’ve never seen before, which will be cool as well. There’s no point trying to ice it – it’s going to be different without the people out there but in being honest, we won’t miss the spectators on a Tuesday and Wednesday because it really does give you an opportunity to get your job done in peace and quiet.
“Some of the major championships can be very demanding from the point of view of signing autographs during your round, which is something you want to do. I’m not the Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson that can say to 10,000 people on the way round ‘I’ll sign at the end of the round’. It’s kind of your duty to look after the people that are there and sign for them. That can be very demanding from a preparation point of view so not having fans there Tuesday and Wednesday helps you have more time to get your job done, which is great. There’s no getting away from it, when the gun goes off on a Thursday, that the atmosphere, energy and intensity that is brought by fans is certainly something that I miss. I’m just looking forward to getting that back.”
McDOWELL’S MASTERS FILE
- Debut – 2005
- Number of appearances – 9 (Last in 2016)
- Best finish – T12th (2012)
- Lowest round – 68 (Day 4, 2012)
- Highest score – 81 (Day 2, 2016)
- Average score – 73.37 strokes/round