TOUR Insider: Back to the beach
Graeme McDowell returns to Pebble Beach for first time since 2010 U.S. Open win
- It's been four years since Graeme McDowell has competed at Pebble Beach, and he's looking forward to it. (Petersen/Getty Images)
Jack Nicklaus famously said of Pebble Beach that if he had one more round to play, it would be there.
This week, Graeme McDowell returns to the Monterey Peninsula for the first time since winning the U.S. Open on America’s most famous links four years ago.
It might seem odd that McDowell would wait a quadrennial -- or the length of a Presidential term -- to return to the scene of what he called at the time the greatest moment of his life. But there was a sort of frozen-in-time reason behind the decision.
"A lot of people ask me, 'How come you never been back since 2010,' " McDowell said from this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. "I kind of said 'Well, what's the point of coming back?' It's not going to get any better than how it felt last time I was here.
"It was pretty tough to top the experience that weekend, the emotions, my dad, winning my first major championship, and it doesn't get any better than that. It's a special place."
It’s also where McDowell will end his 10-week hiatus.
A year ago, McDowell began the season a few hours down the California coast at Riviera. The result wasn’t exactly what he was looking for -- rounds of 73 and 72, followed by a weekend off.
"Riviera was quite a tricky place to start my season," he said. "Coming in with the rust on my game, which is inevitable, you're just not game sharp, you're not competitively sharp.
"So I thought why not come to the pro-am here, have some fun, play golf courses which are maybe not setup as tough as regular tournaments would be. You get three rounds under your belt minimum. At least by the end of the week I'll know where I'm at."
It is indeed an important year for McDowell, and it has little to do with the success of the restaurant he opened last year outside Orlando, or adjusting to married life after tying the knot last fall.
It is a Ryder Cup year, and McDowell has proven to be incredibly important for Europe with five wins and two halves in 12 matches -- which included going unbeaten in three singles matches.
But we’re a quarter of the way into the PGA TOUR season and the Northern Irishman is pulling the sticks out of the Club Glove for the first time in more than two months. His name is also well down the Ryder Cup standings -- 25th on the European Points list and 21st on the World Points list.
Some of the names ahead of him? Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson, Joost Luiten, Julien Quesne, Morten Orum Madsen, to name a handful.
Combined, they have as much experience playing in the Ryder Cup as I do. Not that McDowell is too concerned. After all, it’s only February.
"I'm not going to get too obsessed by what numbers I need, what I need to do," he said. "I know what I need to do. I need to play well in the WGC's and the majors, get some consistency going this year and play the type of golf that I know I can."
Part of that means cutting back on his schedule, particularly away from the course.
Last year, McDowell won three times -- twice in Europe, once on the PGA TOUR -- but earlier this week admitted that 2013 was a "crazy year" and that he "hit the wall" following the U.S. Open in mid-June.
He had a string of shaky performances and other times flat out missed the cut as he grinded through the second half of the year.
"While my heart was beating, the body wasn’t responding," McDowell told the BBC recently.
This year, he has put in extra time with coach Pete Cowen in search of a "consistent path" in his swing, has focused more on fitness, and is turning his attention to majors, title defenses, the FedExCup Playoffs and of course the Ryder Cup.
Said McDowell: "Just really trying to put the emphasis back on my golf."
Pebble Beach is a pretty good place to start.
Though the course is set up much differently than it was for the U.S. Open four years ago, being back ought to stir some memories. Few places like Pebble do.
But McDowell also doesn’t want his last win there to be the defining moment of a career that still has a long way to go.
"I'm not going to put Pebble up there on a pedestal and say that is the highlight of my career, because I want more," he said. "I want more Pebbles, I want more major championships, I want more things.
"There's a fine balance between getting too obsessed by it emotionally. It's fun, fun to be out there and, like I say, just reconnect a little bit with my thoughts and feelings that day."
When he won that Father’s Day four years ago, his world quickly became a blur -- McDowell couldn’t even recall the conversation he had with his dad as they embraced on the green that afternoon.
Kenny McDowell is back, too, this time as his son’s pro-am partner in what should be a decidedly less hectic week on the course and off it.
Said McDowell: "I feel like I’m in a better place to play golf now."
And what better place than Pebble Beach.