What they said: Graeme McDowell

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March 23, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

Courtesy ASAP Sports.

Arnold Palmer Invitational transcript archive

MARK STEVENS: Like to welcome Graeme McDowell into the interview room here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Awesome round today, you got to within one of the course record, shot a 63 today. If you want to talk about your round today and then we'll take some questions.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I said to my caddie walking on to the last green, I said, I wonder what the course record is here today. So you answered my question for me.

Yeah, I mean, you know, funnily my even par yesterday, I felt like I played a lot better than that. I hit a lot of greens yesterday. It was tough out there yesterday afternoon. The greens were really firm and crusty, and nearly kind of like a Thursday afternoon at a Major Championship. They were very firm. The pins were tucked away and you had to play smart. This morning, conditions are a little better, the greens are a little bit more receptive and I had some better looks at it.

Got off to quite a slow start actually with the putter. Hit it close a couple times and missed, and then kind of got going a little bit. Made a nice putt on 7 and a nice putt on 8, and that kind of got me off and running for the day. I played some really solid golf today. I think I hit 17 greens, really hitting my irons where I want to hit them, shaping them correctly, and like I say, give myself a lot of looks and managed to make a few putts today.

Shooting 63 on a golf course like this is always a lot of fun, and this is always an event that I like to put in my schedule. It's a golf course that I feel like I can get it around, and like I say, Mr. Palmer is our host this week, it always has that special feel to it. Finishing second here in 2005, it's always had some good memories for me.

My record has not been very good here the last few years, but still I had that belief that I knew I could always come and compete here if I got it all together. Nice to be in the mix. It's going to be a pretty quality leaderboard and nice to be in the mix going into the weekend at a great event.

Q. Could you compare and contrast your energy levels of when you were here last year and you were almost at a crash-and-burn point with all of the golf you had played and wins you had piled up and interviews you had done; you didn't even make it to the weekend, versus the pacing this year, making sure you're peaking now versus the other direction.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I think it was probably this week last year that I kind of hit the panic button to be honest with you. I realized that something was wrong with me. I realized that something was wrong with the way I was preparing and the way I was thinking. I remember doing a bunch of stuff here the start of this week last year. I was doing a PGA TOUR commercial and I was shooting this thing and that thing and doing this interview; my preparation for a golf tournament that's 20 minutes down the road for me was just horrific.

I remember playing last in the pro-am on the Wednesday last year, and being on the range at 7:30 with my caddie just searching for a golf swing because I was off at 8:00 the next morning. I just wasn't ready.

Like I say, I think I had the week off before and there was no reason why I shouldn't have been prepared. But it was just a head space I was in. I really wasn't thinking -- golf was kind of slipping down the priority list. The rest of the stuff that I was trying to take care of was getting in the way. And like I say, the panic button got flicked here last year and it took four or five months to get over that.

There's no doubt, the difference is this year I've paced myself coming into a week like this. I'm playing the next three weeks now and I'm mentally and physically fresher than I've been for a long time. It's nice to be kind of back under the radar I suppose a little bit. This time last year, I was certainly in the limelight and the spotlight a little bit having to tell everybody what I was going to do every week. And that takes a little bit of getting used to for a guy who has never really had to do that before.

I guess it's nice to be slipping into a week like this and just being able to concentrate on my golf. In a funny way, the Tavistock this week was a nice competitive little sharpener for me, as well, and meant that I was into this event feeling nice and competitively sharp and ready to go. Like I say, this is always a golf course that I've liked. So I'd say, chalk and cheese this year to last year. I'm definitely in a different frame of mind, shall we say.

Q. When you have a year like you had a couple of years ago, and where everything just goes so well for you, and obviously you played well; but just things go your way, and everything looks great, and then you come down from that, is it difficult -- do you look that and say, I need to get back there; can I get back there; do you get self doubts what do you have to do to get yourself back into that position to say, I can get back there again??

GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, you have to get back into the state of mind that I was in in 2010. I mean, just try -- wish you could bottle up the way you feel when golf is easy, because when golf is difficult, it's very difficult. Like I say, I guess I learned a lot of lessons from my 2011 season. I felt like I did a lot of growing up and I went through a process where, you know, I acclimatized to being one of the best players in the world, and it was a difficult process to go to.

Like I said, I was not focused enough on golf and I was not focused enough on the things that make me tick on a tournament week. I've really got to go out there and kind of nearly not care a little bit. I've got to be well prepared and then prepared to let anything happen that's going to happen.

I guess last year I was a little bit too -- my expectations were way too high. I was expecting to go in every week and shoot 66 every day and you just can't do that. I remember reading Rotella's book, it's one of his first books, when he talks about one of the lady pros winning the U.S. Open, and rating every shot she hit after that. Every good shot was like, a U.S. Open Champion should do that; and every bad shot she hit was ten times worse because she was a U.S. Open Champion. That's kind of how it is, your expectation levels crank up and your patience levels crank down, and you have to balance those out.

So like I say, state of mind and getting in a position to prepare well and accept whatever happens. I didn't accept kind of my mistakes last year. I didn't accept hitting bad shots.

Like I say, it's all in the old six inches between the ears. Never truer a word spoken; it's a game played in the head for sure.

Q. I'm trying to get some idea of how important World Rankings are to players, and was it much of a conversation piece between you and your buddy, Rory when he got to No. 1, and is that a big goal for you personally??

GRAEME McDOWELL: Yes, I would like to be the No. 1 ranked player in the world at some point or another. You know, I don't think it's a defining moment, like perhaps winning a major championship or winning the big events in the world. I think it's a result of great and consistent golf, and that's what we all strive for. It's just kind of -- it's a prestige.

Yeah, if I could be No. 1 in the world for one week, that would do me, just to kind of chalk that off. Of course, we strive to be the best we can be and we strive to be the best players in the world. But to be honest with you, the World Rankings, once you get inside the top 50 in the world, that opens all the doors, the tournaments like this, the majors, the WGCs, all the big ones which self-perpetuates a little bit, because you're playing against the best players every week and if you play well, you keep getting further and further up in the World Rankings.

So of course, we pay attention to them. But you know, they are also very volatile. I haven't done a lot wrong this year, and I think I've slipped from 11th to 17th or 18th in the World Rankings, playing some okay golf, two or three top 10s. You've just got to accept them for what they are.

Of course, I would love to be back up in the World Rankings top 10 and higher and higher, but it certainly is just something you look at the Monday morning and then you forget about it. But definitely goals are to become consistent and to become the best you can be and let the World Rankings take care of themselves.

Q. From a fan standpoint, do you think that's more important to your constituency back home than it would be, say, in this country??

GRAEME McDOWELL: Do you mean do our fans back home care about the World Rankings more than they do over here?

Q. Exactly.

GRAEME McDOWELL: No, I think that would be unfair to say really. There's a little ticker tape that runs every 15 minutes on the Golf Channel with the top 20 players in the world. You know, we don't really have a channel like that back home.

I think the attention on golf is much much bigger out here, so I would say people are more into the World Rankings over here. Just so happens that back home in the U.K. and Ireland, we just so happen to have a few world No. 1s here in the last couple of years, which has been a lot of fun for us. To have Lee and Luke and Rory playing as well as they have been playing, it's been amazing for British and Irish golf.

Q. A 66 today, and 80 in the opening round here last year. You described that round at the time as a wake-up call. Do you see it as a bit of a watershed, and were you thinking today about how that round had made you feel and what you had resolved to learn from it.

GRAEME McDOWELL: For sure, my performance here last year was not lost on me this week coming in here.

Like I say, I feel like I'm a different person 12 months on. I've learned a lot from my experiences last year, and you know, yeah, that 80 was a wake-up call but I didn't wake up for another four months or so. Like I say, it was more of the panic button; little did I know at the time how my next -- I would go onto obviously self-destruct at THE PLAYERS Championship, self-destruct at the Wales Open; British Open was really the low point, end of the US PGA before I kind of hit rock bottom and started to bounce up again.

It was a pretty awful four or five months for me. But like I say, I feel like you learn more from those types of experiences than you do from shooting 63 at Bay Hill. There's not much to learn out there except that if you play great and hole some putts, you can go low. But you learn a lot from days like 80s and just tough beats in your career. I feel as though I've learned more from those than anything else.

I guess I'll look back hopefully on those 10, 15, 20 years' time where I got to grips with the spotlight and becoming Major Champion and top player in the world, because I want to be back there again, of course. I want to win more majors, and the World Ranking, I want to be the best player I can be.

Q. How important was it for you to play well this week leading into the Masters and what are your preparation plans for Augusta??

GRAEME McDOWELL: Always important, I'm playing these next three weeks. I'm playing Houston next week. I haven't played Houston since 2006. I've taken a week off before Augusta the last few years, flown up there the week before, and with a couple of bud dies and played 27 holes and did that whole thing, which is fun.

It's such a blast to fly into Augusta. But I really feel like I learn so little by flying up the week before when the golf course is two feet slower on the greens and soft around the greens. And then all of a sudden, you fly back in there for the week of the tournament and this golf course has been shaved down; it's faster.

So I've decided to give that a miss this year. I've decided to be competitively sharp going into Augusta this year. Heard so many things about what the Shell Houston Open have done with their event, setting the golf course up to prepare us for Augusta. That's my schedule. Decided to be in the mix. You always want to put your game under pressure going into a major just to see where you're really at, and I'm starting to learn that I'm that type of player. I'm the type of guy who needs to get a card in my pocket and see where my game is really at. I'm not the kind of guy who can ready myself on a practice range. I need to go and see where I'm at under tournament environments.

Q. There are opposing camps on what players prefer, whether they want to play a week before or take a week off before a major; it sounds like you sort of changed your tune on which one you would prefer??

GRAEME McDOWELL: For sure. I mean, you know, I took the week off before winning at Pebble. But the difference there was I just won the week before in Wales. So I had a little bit of partying to do and I needed a week off to do that. I was competitively sharp; I knew my game was there, and typically I play the week before the British and I play the week before the US PGA.

You know, this year, I'm going to play the week before every major. I'm playing Houston, I'm playing Memphis, I'm playing the Scottish and I'm playing Firestone again. So like I say, I'm the type of animal who needs to know where I'm at and putting a card in my pocket is the only way I can do that.

Q. But if you win this week, you'll have more partying to do next week??

GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, but I can do that quickly on Sunday night, it's no problems. My local is only 20 minutes away. (Smiling).

Q. Where would you rank this round amongst the best you've played? Would it make the top 10, for example?

GRAEME McDOWELL: It's right up there. I think my 61 -- did I shoot 61 at St. Andrews or 62? That was a lot of fun. Like I say, an iconic golf course like Bay Hill, and I think the setup is tougher now than it was maybe three or four years ago, the changes in the way the greens are shaped. It's a tough track and a good test now, so it's right up there.

Q. And watching all of your U.K. golfing mates win and dominate the World Ranking, Poulter was just saying it acts like a motivational kick in the backside; would it be same for you??

GRAEME McDOWELL: Definitely. I think any time we can have great players who are our friends and colleagues and guys we play practice rounds with all the time; I think the belief level goes up all the time, and you know, it takes the attention off us a little bit, which allows us to go about our business, and yeah, there's no doubt, there's a subliminal motivation there for sure. Having Rory in the same management company the last six or seven months and just seeing what he's doing right now and how focused and how good he is, that's certainly been motivation for me.

Q. A little bit off the beaten path; there's been a trend this year, we are only halfway through this event, but a lot of guys have not been able to hold leads on Sundays.

GRAEME McDOWELL: Thanks for pointing that out. Try not to be leading tomorrow night.

Q. I'm not going to point it out tomorrow if you're here; how about that.

GRAEME McDOWELL: That would be nice, thanks.

Q. How difficult is it to close out? Obviously at the U.S. Open, you came charging from behind in that situation, and so it was a different mindset, but how difficult is that? I'm sure you've noticed the trend.

GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, I have to say, talking about the U.S. Open, I didn't really do much charging from behind, as opposed to the guy in front coming charging backwards. That was that type of golf course.

You look at how difficult it is to win golf tournaments; you look at Rory McIlroy at The Honda Classic. You've got Tiger going out and shooting 63 or whatever he shot, it was just ridiculous. I think the standard level nowadays, Scott Piercy going out in the last round in Transitions last week and just going crazy.

Guys can go so ridiculously low nowadays, they are hitting it so long and playing so aggressively, I think it's harder and harder to win golf tournaments, because the 66s and 65s every day now, the scoring has blew me away the last few weeks. At the Honda, like I say, the scoring was ridiculously low; 61 on Friday; at Doral, always scares me how low they go there, as well.

I think that says a lot about how difficult it is to win tournaments out here, and you've just got to be very accepting that if you've got a one -, two-, three-shot lead going into the Sunday, you can't look behind you, you can only just hit the golf shots and try to keep the pedal down as much as you can. Because you never really know who is going to go low. You've just got to try and take your opportunities when they come along, and feel lucky if you've got the trophy in your hand at the end of the day.

MARK STEVENS: Thanks a lot, good luck tomorrow.

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