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‘We were all playing for second’: How McDowell opened the floodgates at the US Open

The UK’s long wait for a major champion – and an even longer wait for a US Open champion – ended at Pebble Beach in 2010. Graeme McDowell talks Alex Perry through that fateful week

It’s one of the most moving images in major championship history. Graeme McDowell, in his pink shirt and grey cardigan, holds his putter aloft and lifts his head to the sky. The relief etched across his face soon replaced by unbridled joy as caddie Ken Comboy grips him in a vice-like bear hug. The tears flow as McDowell’s father, also Ken, embraces golf’s newest major champion.   

“It’s definitely one of the more special…” McDowell starts telling NCG before stopping mid-sentence. “It’s tough to talk about emotionally.”  

Even the crackly video call between my home in Yorkshire and Dubai, where McDowell is preparing for that week’s Desert Classic, doesn’t spoil what is clearly a special moment on which to reflect. 

“I’ve won the US Open at Pebble Beach, on Father’s Day, with my dad at the back of the green,” he says, straightening himself up. “That’s pretty cool stuff.” 

McDowell would be the first to admit he was something of a surprise winner. He had played in 18 major championships before that week on the California coast with a couple of top 15s in the PGA Championship and a tie for 11th at the Open to write home about.   

“I was at a point in my career where I was still working out how to do it,” he explains. “I believed I was good enough to win a major championship, but I didn’t think I was ready. It was simmering, but I didn’t think Pebble was going to be my week.  

“Pete Cowen, my coach at the time, will always say to you that I looked him in the eye and told him I was going to win a major championship. I didn’t say that to him that week. It just came out of nowhere.” 

McDowell carded an even-par 71 on the opening day to sit two back, and was one of just five players to break 70 in the second round in favourable morning conditions. His lead going into the weekend was two.  

“I played really well on Thursday, I played fantastic on Friday and I was like, ‘Whoa! OK. This has happened and this is my chance.’ It was a good setup for me that week. It was firm and fast, the greens were tricky to putt – and I was in a strong vein of putting around that time.   

“Saturday was a strange day for me because I had all the pressure on me. My tee time on Saturday was something like 3.50 in the afternoon, and I’d finished early on Friday so I’ve never had a wait like that while leading a major championship.  

“The anticipation building, as I remember, was with Dustin Johnson. He’d won the [Pebble Beach Pro-Am] earlier that season but it was a tricky afternoon and he shot 66. It was just so impressive. On the fourth, a par four, he hit a two-iron to the front edge and I was thinking to myself, ‘Holy shit, how good is this guy?’ All of a sudden it was role reversal.  

“I feel like I ground out a really good level par, but I remember thinking to myself on Saturday night that the pressure was off because if the Dustin Johnson of Saturday showed up on Sunday then we were all playing for second anyway.  

“So in a funny way Saturday was my nervous day, the character-building day, and Sunday fell slightly easier in comparison because I was the chaser again.” 

We all know what happened next. Johnson dropped five shots over the third and fourth holes to play himself out of contention and a few hours later McDowell found himself on the 18th tee knowing a par five was enough for victory. 

Cue those scenes.

Lost in all the emotion was the fact that McDowell had done something quite remarkable. No one from the United Kingdom had won the US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970. Before that you have to go back to Tommy Armour in 1927. No one from Ireland had ever won it.   

Not that McDowell was aware of this. 

“The whole history and the 40-year thing didn’t really strike me until afterwards. But, wow, it’s pretty special.  

“And to break that European player curse opened the floodgates. Rory [McIlroy], Justin [Rose] and [Martin] Kaymer – they just kept coming after me and it was fantastic.”  

2019 US Open (Golf)

And the celebrations must have been up there with the very best? 

“They tell me it was a great night!” McDowell jokes. “There’s an Irish bar in Carmel called Brophy’s but the tee times are so late – for prime time on the east coast – that by the time I’d got done with all the media I think it was around 10 o’clock before I got there.  

“I got a couple of glasses of champagne and it was like putting petrol on a fire that was already starting to burn inside me. The adrenaline, the fatigue, and the emotions that go with something like that, it doesn’t require a lot of alcohol to get you to a pretty happy place. Padraig Harrington was there, my caddie, my dad, and a whole bunch of people.

“It was fun.” 

Want more from Graeme McDowell?

Graeme McDowell was talking to Alex Perry on The Slam podcast from NCG. Listen in the player below or ‘The NCG Podcast’ on your preferred platform

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Source: National Club Golf