Graeme McDowell spoke confidently to Irish Golfer Magazine when teeing-up in last month’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am there was still many roads he could take that could lead to him qualifying automatically for July’s Open Championship at his beloved Royal Portrush.
Though bizarrely, at the start of this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Portrush native was unaware one of those roads was at the golf course closest to his now palatial Lake Nona abode in suburban Orlando.
It wasn’t until he was sitting down with now manager, Angela Jones looking at his schedule when she brought up the fact that this week’s event is now a qualifying event for The Open.
So, after posting an opening round 68, the ‘Road to Royal Portrush’ looks that much closer for McDowell with the top-3 Bay Hill place-getters inside the top-10, and otherwise non-exempt into golf’s oldest major, earning exemption into the 148th Open Championship.
“I only found that out on Tuesday, to be honest with you,” said McDowell.
“My agent and I were just looking through the schedule and we were talking about ways into The Open Championship and she said, oh, there’s three spots up for grabs this week at Bay Hill.
“And I’m like, really, okay. So, I didn’t know that and obviously with Mastercard’s relationship with the Open Championship, it kind of makes sense and I think it’s a great thing that we have the spots here.
“It really kind of solidifies their relationship with that tournament, but listen, I got a lot of work to do this week, got a lot of work to do tomorrow, just trying to like I say, look at the big picture, take the pressure off myself, it’s hard to do.
“It’s hard to do because I want it really badly, I want to be back up there competing with these guys and I do feel like I have some good stuff in me
“Of course, the big goal this year is to be at Portrush and to play The Open Championship in my hometown six weeks after Pebble, the U.S. Open.
“So, it’s going to be a special summer, if I can get myself there. And the game’s there right now, I just got to get out of my own way and have a little fun with it and not have things like that rattle around in my head too much.
“But thanks for reminding me!”
McDowell has not contested The Open since finishing well down the field in 2016 while his best finish was T5th behind Ernie Els in 2012 at Royal Lytham.
It led GMac to be asked the importance of not letting thoughts of qualifying for The Open get in the way of the bigger picture of regaining his Tour card.
“It’s tricky because if I let Portrush get into my mind like you said, the balance will become imbalance,” he said.
“I haven’t played very well historically with a gun to my head, if you like, I’m more of a guy who likes to try and look at the big picture and let things happen.
“I haven’t done a good job the last couple years of just trying to get certain things out of my head. Like trying to get into the top-125 in the FedEx Cup and get myself back up in the top-100 in the world.
“So, I’m trying to do the opposite right now. I’m just trying to take a little pressure off myself and just realise that I love this game, I love being out there and I love doing what I do.
“Like I mentioned, trying to get out of my own way, it’s one of those great clichés in golf that can mean a lot of things but for me it’s just trying to understand that I’ve got to take the pressure off my shoulders a little bit. My career so far has been pretty solid. If it ends now, so be it, but I’m going to enjoy what I have while I have it because if it was gone tomorrow, I would miss it.
“I’m trying to embrace the challenge right now and enjoy the process of turning it out of the little hole I’ve dug myself into and I’m starting to play some good golf, I’m starting to like the way I’m hitting it and I would love to have a great year and obviously get myself to Portrush at the end of that road.”