It might sound absurd to think that a fit 41-year old Graeme McDowell would consider walking away from the game of golf but such has been the trajectory of his form of late, the Northern Irishman admits it’s dragged him into some pretty dark places.
This week’s tournament host at Mount Juliet has been doing a lot of soul searching in his bid to recapture his winning form of February last year but try as he might, progress has been hard to come by, prompting McDowell to surprise the attending media when revealing:
“At this point, I really should be out here playing golf tournaments, enjoying myself, everything else is gravy from here. If I wasn’t to hit another shot here, it’s been a great run. It’s been a great career,” McDowell said.
“But I’m not ready to walk away. I’ve got things that I want to achieve, and it’s about kind of just refocusing on what does success look like for me now. It’s different from what it looked like ten years ago and just making sure that I do a better job and give myself the ability to go on the golf course, relax, enjoy, the old cliche, get out of my own way. That’s kind of where I’m at right now. The game is probably closer than it looks on paper. Just not really putting numbers on the board, but I don’t really feel like I’m miles away.”
Even the thought of someone of McDowell’s ability, still in the prime of his golfing life, saying something about potentially stepping away raised more than a few eyebrows in the media centre. The 2010 US Open champion was asked to clarify if downing tools is something he had ever really considered.
“I think on your darkest day, you think, you know, is this it?” he said. “I think that’s where I’m coming from. It goes without saying, I’m exempt on the PGA Tour through the end of next year. I’m exempt on this tour for the next four or five years. If I continue to play the way I’m playing, it’s not like my playing privileges are going to go away. I have the ability to continue playing.
“I guess when I say it like that, “I’m not ready to walk away,” I’m not ready to walk away like this. I’m not ready to finish my career like this. I feel like I have the ability to continue to compete and play at a high level again. So I’m probably not sort of verbalising that correctly.
“But it’s more like I don’t want to, the last 12 months is not how I want — whether it be two years or five years, this is not how I want the next two to five years to go. There has to be a better mental approach and there has to be a better physical approach so that I can at least when it’s over, I can have a smile on my face and think, you know, that was a good time rather than grimacing and frustrating myself into the end.”
First up in this road to redemption is this week’s test at Mount Juliet where he’ll play in the company of Thomas Pieters and Richard Bland for the first two days; the latter at least proving that McDowell has more than enough time on his side to arrest his fairway woes and return to the heights of yesteryear.
“Being in marquee groups, being in the TV slots, having people watching you, feeling like you’re one of the key players in the tournament, those are all the little psyche things that are really important to a player,” McDowell said of his draw.
“When you’re not getting those nice draws and you’re on the other side of the golf course from the big draws and stuff like that and you’re playing first off or last off, I mean, you just feel like sort of an also-ran in the tournament. It’s just the small little mental edges that are really important.
“I’ll be enjoying the atmosphere, enjoying the environment being out there tomorrow, and hopefully hit some good shots. Just start kind of building it all back up together again. Like I say, having some fun, just enjoying being here.”