IT’s fair to say that Graeme McDowell hasn’t really done himself justice since joining LIV Golf back in mid 2022, but he answered a lot of critics with his performance in Las Vegas this week, finishing tied for fifth – comfortably his best overall result on the circuit – and driving his Smash GC side to team victory with a closing 65 that was two better than any of the other 51 contestants could manage on the day.
“Yeah, they keep handing me the trophy because I’ve never had one before,” he joked when joining team captain Brooks Koepka, Talor Gooch and Jason Kokrak for a collective interview after being crowned team champions. “No, obviously proud to be part of this unit. I appreciate Brooks putting the trust in me to have me on the roster this year. Sundays are always difficult at any event. There’s an expectation level that you have for yourself.
“But with four scores to count here on LIV on Sundays this year, the expectation levels for the whole team, you want to play well for your guys. There’s a lot of extra pressure out there. I think it’s a phenomenal format.
“I think what people don’t realize at home, what we have here in LIV, the team dynamic is so important. The people you surround yourself with, you’re preparing together, you’re playing for each other. Being with these guys just kind of lit the fire for me, and that’s really what I needed at this point in my career, and I still feel like I’m good enough to win golf tournaments, and that’s the key for me.
“Today personally was a big day. I kind of need that, that little bit of belief in myself as we move into the season because we want to be on the podium many, many times. I think the expectation levels are very high for Smash GC this season.”
As the wind whipped around a very cold Las Vegas Country Club, the Portrush man was in his element, going bogey-free for the day – the only man in the field to do so – and made five birdies, including three-in-a-row from the 16th after starting his day on number seven in the shotgun start format.
“I’ve been living in Florida for about 15 years, but thankfully I still remember how to play in the wind,” he said, with an obvious nod to his links uprbringing. “The game has really been trending for the last six months. I kind of alluded to it earlier, the belief level. It’s that little X-factor that’s hard to find. You can’t coach that. You can’t learn that. You just have to go out there and kind of get it done.
“Being around this squad and, like I say, the accountability level and the work rate, the culture, I think all of those things kind of just drives us all forward, and like I said, at this point in my career, I want to be held accountable. I want to push myself and see what I have left in the tank.
“Like I say, I feel like today was a big day, and as we continue moving forward into the season, there’s going to be lots of situations on Sundays, but we can get this done. Looking forward to more of the same.”
Though he’s not really contended at LIV, the four-time Ryder Cup star and winner of 16 professional tournaments worldwide has saw considerable improvement since the 2023 season ended, putting in good performances but coming up shy at several of the Asian Tour’s International Series events.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he replied when asked if the faith place in him by Koepka in extending a contract offer had played its part in that. “And I mean, you know, I’m 44 years old. I still believe I can still win golf tournaments and, you know, big goals for this year being surrounded with these guys, they light a fire under you.
“So, like I said, I couldn’t be more proud to be on this team first and foremost. But obviously, Brooks has a lot of belief in me putting you on this team and it was nice to show up today play well, but, you know, a big year ahead, like I say, a lot of expectation for our team.”