By Bernie McGuire, Royal Greens GC, Saudi Arabia.
Graeme McDowell has every reason to be excited ahead of the start of celebrating a 21st pro season along the stunning Red Sea shoreline in Saudi Arabia.
McDowell, 43, joins 11 other major champions in one of the strongest fields this new year competing in the $5m PIF Saudi International, again being hosted on the Royal Greens course.
The event is special for McDowell having won the then European Tour event in 2020, and for this year it is the second hosting under the Asian Tour.
This week’s tournament is also the start of the 2023 Asian Tour season with McDowell also heading to Oman next week to compete in the Asian Tour’s $US2m International Series Oman.
The golfer affectionately known as ‘G Mac’ then takes a week’s break ahead of the start 2023 LIV Series, featuring 14 events in seven countries, and starting 24th February at Mayakoba in Mexico.
It means for McDowell, it’s a new season teeing-up on two of three courses where he’s tasted success, including winning the 2015 PGA Tour’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba.
“It’s always great coming back to a venue where you have won and though a lot’s changed since 2020, at the time it was a very important victory for me,” he said.
“The win here in 2020 got me back inside the World’s top-50 (104th to 47th) that ensured my invitation into the Masters, so I was kind of getting a little bit of momentum in my game again.”
However the PGA Tour came to a halt on the morning of Friday the 13th of March, 2020 in announcing it was going into lockdown mode as the Covid-19 pandemic worsened.
“It was amazing when the Tour did restart in June of that year, I probably played the worst golf of my career for the ensuing 18 months or so,” he said.
“I tried a new coach. I picked-up an injury from trying new things and I got a little frustrated with the game, so in many ways winning here in 2020 was exciting and that kind of helped me with the contrast of what would come next.
“Like I said, I just struggled for 18 months and wondered what happened whether it was the lack of fans, the new environment or the new Covid-related protocols.
“It was strange as I used the three months to train hard, ride my bike, lose weight and I was feeling great and looking back there were no reasons why I should not have played well.”
In May 2022, McDowell was named among those joining LIV, teeing-up to the north of London in the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series at the Centurion Club.
McDowell played in seven LIV events in 2022, including last October’s final inaugural season event here at Royal Greens with a best individual result of eighth here while his best team finish was third in Bangkok.
“It was a huge turning point in the sport when LIV came along, offering the opportunity to players that wanted to take it,” he said.
“For a player of my age and my position in the game, having had a frustrating couple of years, it was an opportunity in my career that came with positives and negatives.
“So, I decided it was right for me and my family, and it was where I kind of wanted to go with my career and now moving into a New Year I am hoping that the ‘product’ can do the talking, the golf can do the talking and we can get more eyeballs on the product.
“I think the product is good. It has a lot of things that are different about it with a 54-hole format, a team element and being 14 events, a sprint element about it.
“It means having all the guys on the golf course at the same time which is better for fans and with phenomenal fields, and with the guys wanting to go out and play well.”
And what has been evident this week, and in mixing with the Asian Tour, is the clear camaraderie among the LIV players competing this week here in Saudi.
It’s something that McDowell says also adds to his rekindled enjoyment for the game.
“Everyone playing the LIV tour has kind of been forged together by the negativity we have had as a great group of guys and, as I say, I hope golf can now do all the talking.”
PIF Saudi International – Irish tee times (Irish time)
4.25am – Graeme McDowell
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