Graeme McDowell Pre-Championship
BETH MAJOR: Welcome to the 2013 U.S. Open Championship being played this year at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. It's our pleasure to welcome the 2010 U.S. Open winner, who also was the runner up last year. You played the course here last week, can you talk about how you found the course and what you might expect this week?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, as you mentioned, I played the golf course last Wednesday, which has proved kind of invaluable now, I guess. I flew in yesterday lunchtime with the intention of playing 18 holes kind of late last night. But that didn't happen.
So I’m kind of adjusting my plan here at the minute. I'm going to play nine holes this afternoon and nine holes tomorrow. I was lucky enough to play the golf course 12 months ago, right before Olympic Club last year, and getting in last week again and just kind of seeing my way around again. Like I say it's going to prove invaluable from a preparation standpoint this week.
The golf course is going to be obviously wet out there today, hopefully with a chance to dry out somewhat before the weekend. But as some players have already said, it's got a lot of drying out to do and possibly we will be playing a fairly wet golf course for the rest of the week.
What's that going to do to the dynamics of the golf course? I think it remains the same. I think fairways are going to be more key now. From what I hear the rough is going to be thicker than intended. And fairways are going to play wider, but it's still a tough driving golf course. And driving the ball and wedge play are going to be the two keys this week. I think wedge play coming into these soft and fast greens that are pitched back towards the players probably 15, 16 times, controlling the spin, trying to get the back pins, to me those are the two keys to the golf course and am looking forward to getting back this afternoon and looking at the damage the rain has done and how the golf course has changed as far as clubs off tee, et cetera.
Q. Judging from what I've heard over the last week since you were here, this is a golf course you would have particularly fancied your chances, so the U.S. Open seems to suit you here. Does the rain affect your chances in any way?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I don't think so. Like I just kind of mentioned, I think there's more of a premium on accuracy off the tee now. Yes, the fairways are going to play 10, 15 percent wider. Wedge play is going to be key.
Obviously it's not a long golf course by yardage, it doesn't suggest that it's a long golf course. Everyone is saying that it's going to be 62s and 63s on this golf course, which I kind of disagree with at the minute. Obviously I'm going to go out there this afternoon and have a look for myself.
I think there's 10 or 11 of these golf holes on this course are as tough as any U.S. Open I've seen. Driving, rough, green complexes. Par 3s, three of the four par 3s here are all you want. They're very difficult. Very long. A lot of trouble.
So, like I say, I'm hoping it's not going to be a score fest. I don't think it is going to be a score fest. I think it's tough. Like I said about the greens, they're soft and fast, which is a bad combination for Tour players. We'll spend the week trying to take spin off wedges. You'll see guys over the back of the greens to the back pins in massive trouble.
I don't think it reduces my chances much, if at all. So I'm hoping. Like I said, driving the ball, wedge play, those are two of the things I've been working on coming into this week. And the greens are going to be fast. It's going to be a good test of golf.
Q. It seems to lose the intimidation factor if it's not playing hard and fast, and maybe that's not as advantageous to you in this circumstance.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, there's no doubt if this golf course would have been firm and fast, as well, I think it's funny, because when I played it last Wednesday I thought if the greens firmed up it would make it play easier, because everything sits back to front on this golf course. And I felt like the back pins, if it gave you a bounce on the greens, it might have been easier.
I think back pins are going to be very tough to get at now, because of how soft they are. Yes, it's going to make the fairways more hittable, and yes, it's going to allow those medium iron shots. And those shots into the par 3s are going to be easier with the softness of the greens. Yes, it takes a slight intimidation factor out of it, I guess, but the rough is going to be intimidating enough, I think it's going to keep everybody honest.
Like I said, I don't think it's going to be a low scoring U.S. Open. I hope it's not going to be a low scoring U.S. Open. We'll see. I think the golf course has enough defense.
Q. You kind of just said that you don't expect it to be a low scoring U.S. Open. Webb Simpson was in earlier and said through the first 13 holes he expects to hit nine wedges into the greens. You have a course that measures fewer than 7,000 yards, wedges into the greens, is there the potential, knowing the ability of the players, 16 under at Congressional, is there a potential for scores to get really low if the wedge play is on?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, your wedge play is really going to have to be key. Nine wedges in 13 holes. And then you have to hang on for dear life those last five holes. Those last five are as tough a finish… I can't think of a tougher finish that I've seen at a U.S. Open.
14 is an incredibly difficult golf hole. If you miss it left off the tee, it's either lost ball or if you do find it you're going back to the tee box, it's unplayable.
15, you're aiming at the road. Guys are going to be hitting it out of bounds there for fun. The right hand side is deep rough and deep bunkers.
16, with that tier in the green, as soft as it is now, it's going to be tough to find the top portion – that is, if you find the fairway. Very difficult second shot.
17 is all you want. 18, I missed my drive slightly off the back tee last Wednesday, I missed the fairway. They've got all the length there.
I get where he's coming from. Nine wedge shots the first 13. That's if you hit all the fairways. And like I talked about earlier, I think spin is going to be a massive issue coming into these greens. It's going to be quite difficult getting to the back pins. If the pins are middle to the front you've got half a chance.
It's certainly going to be an under par shot, but I don't see 62s or 63s being shot on this golf course. I think I'd certainly take 8 under par right now and take my chances, you know. Yeah, I think 16 under will win, no doubt about it. I hope I'm right.
Q. Obviously Merion is the site of Hogan's famous 1-iron shot. I heard a funny story about Arnold Palmer giving you a 1-iron. Is there some sadness in that that club has dropped out of the sport entirely?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Mr. Palmer, we had some fun at Bay Hill. We were on the range. He had one of his old 1-irons. And he threw me under the bus and threw a ball there on the range and got me to hit this 1-iron with about 15 degrees loft on it, in front of Mr. Palmer, which was pretty nerve wracking. I managed to hit the first one pretty good.
No doubt about it, when I played here 12 months ago I hit a good drive right up beside the Hogan plaque on the last. I didn't hit a 1-iron for my second shot. I hit a 3-hybrid. I remember thinking to myself, I'm sure Mr. Hogan is probably rolling in his grave right now.
It's kind of the way the game of golf has gone. We talk about technology. Obviously the golf ball, but the drivers and hybrids and all the things we have right now. It's certainly leveled the playing field from a skill level point of view. It's certainly increased the excitement level, increased the accessibility and the fun of the game, I suppose. But there's no doubt about it, those guys were pretty skillful guys back in the day.
Q. Where is that 1-iron now?
GRAEME McDOWELL: My 1-iron is now in my special archives in my garage in Orlando.
Q. You were adamant at Congressional that it didn't feel like a U.S. Open because it was so soft. You've gone out west where you've won at Olympic and Torrey, it's more predictable. Do you prefer that, that you know what you're going to get from the beginning of the week and it's going to get harder and faster, rather than the guessing game that's going to go on with the weather?
GRAEME McDOWELL: No doubt about it. A firmer, faster U.S. Open is going to suit a guy like me, who is not the longest off the tee. We get to Congressional, which was a fairly long golf course in places. I liked the way it was set up initially. And then by the time the rains came down and Rory split the fairway 14 times out of 14, 330 down the middle and decimated the place, you know, it was never going to really be my kind of U.S. Open.
I guess you've got to roll with the punches. You have to take what you get. Like I say, I'm merely speculating in here today about the golf course and how it's going to play. I've got to go out there this afternoon and have a look at it and see how it's changed in the six days since I've been here.
But, for sure, a firmer, faster U.S. Open, an Olympic style set up like last year, a Pebble, of course. The East Coast has been battered these last U.S. Opens I've played, the ones I've played, Bethpage, Congressional, here this week. I feel like I'm missing one out there somewhere.
But it's been what it is this time of the year in the northeast, the northeastern states. It's tough. I feel for everyone involved this week, volunteers and maintenance staff, the USGA, really.
Literally I played this golf course 12 months ago; it was phenomenal, ready to go. I played it last Wednesday, it was phenomenal and ready to go. And then we get here and it's disappointing. But someone is going to pick up the trophy hopefully Sunday night. If it's Monday night, so be it. Someone is going to pick it up this week. You've got to get the attitude right. Be one of the contenders.
Like I say, speculating about the course setup, hoping it still plays well for me, and looking forward to getting out there and seeing it.
Q. There's a lot of adjusting to do in a practice round in a course like this, shots and angles. Can you talk us through the 15th hole? You said you're standing there aiming at the road. What does it do in terms of planning, distance, shot and angle in a hole like that where trouble is on both sides?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, when you get a tee shot as difficult as 15. It's funny, I teed up on the tee box last Wednesday and there was a beautiful green fence on the left down the side of the fairway. I thought that makes the aesthetics much more inviting than the first time I saw it 12 months ago, which was just kind of a few little wooden stumps which separated you and the road. And a member was walking with me and he said, "That ain't going to be there next week. That green fence is going to be gone, and it's going to be nothing. It's going to be grass into the pavement."
And it's going to be an intimidating looking tee shot. You really have to try and pick your spot. I kind of saw it as a 3-wood until it softened up. It's maybe going to be driver now for me because it's quite a long hole. You've got to try and pick your spot, like I say. The longer guys maybe will take a bit more of the right side on, blow it over the bunkers and make their target longer. But for the 280 guys, they have to thread a cut down the side and take as much of the road out as possible.
A bad shot is going to be punished. A 285 shot will leave you to about a 6 iron to a steeply pitched green back at you. Fifteen is a very difficult hole.
Q. The USGA is is always about play it as it lies, which is usually a good thing. I'm wondering, this week, we're going to get a lot of mud balls once the sun comes out on the weekend with the rain. Do you feel there will be an element of chance and luck as to who gets the worst mud? The guy that gets the least mud might be the guy that wins.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, I'm kind of split on the issue of ball in hand, lift, clean and place. I think there's a need for it at times. I get the fact that the USGA and the Masters Committee and The R&A, they don't like giving the golf ball in hand, club length, lift, clean and place. Because you can use that rule to your advantage, you can change your angle, you can get putter in your hand, you can get yourself out of interesting scenarios at times.
But I think mud balls are a problem. I think they're unfair. I think golf is designed to be played from a closely mown fairway. If you hit it in that fairway you deserve a great line and a great opportunity to attack the green surface. That's the reward you get for hitting the fairway. I think guys who hit it low, guys who hit it high, guys who have a different spin rate, mud balls affect them differently.
It is an element of chance as to how your ball pitches in the fairway, does it pitch in the upslope, does it pitch in the downslope, are you a low ball hitter or a high ball hitter, how much mud is your ball going to pick up? If it's a long shot, it literally can cost you shots. So it's unfair.
Like you say, it is going to be when the sun comes out and starts to dry these fairways out. When it's wet and skidding, it's not going to pick up mud, it cleans as it goes. But when it bakes and tops a little bit, there's going to be a lot of mud balls.
I hope they make the right call. If it's picking up mud then I think we need to lift, clean and place just for a level playing field. Speaking personally, I'm not a guy that controls the mud ball very well. I'm a low spinner. Every time I get mud on the ball, my deviation gets quite heavy. I'm hoping they make the right call.
Q. On 18 you have such a long area off the tee and a long line in, so potentially you could hit into the upslope and pick up mud, where if you clear the hill, you don't.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, there's always that potential. You never want to see a scenario where a course setup punishes the player unfairly. And sort of outside of the way the game is supposed to be played normally.
I think back to Bay Hill a couple of years ago, I'm not sure why it jumps into my head, the player, somebody tell me who it is, plugged their ball in the traps four or five times in the last round. The bunkers facing the traps were playing extremely soft. I remember plugged balls being a massive issue.
They fixed that problem since. It's not really golf. You know, the ball is not supposed to plug in a one-in-ten slope in the face of a trap. It's not really golf. An unplayable shot. I'm hoping a mud ball doesn't decide the tournament come the weekend.
I think Mike Davis is a very smart guy regarding setting the course up. I think the tee is supposed to be, in the prevailing wind, an up tee. Because literally half the field won't be able to get it up there any farther. He's a smart guy, he really sets a great course up and I'm expecting to see sensibility this week.
Q. It's been 24 years since someone has repeated as the U.S. Open champion. You've had to do it yourself. I'm wondering maybe why it's been so long and maybe what it will take for it to finally happen at some point?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Well, it was Curtis Strange in '88, '89 or '89, '90, something like that. It's hard to win a major championship, let alone repeat a major championship. Webb Simpson is a fantastic player. He's certainly got the abilities to do that.
I think the modern game the last 20 years, talk about technology, talk about kind of more and more great players running around. The dominance that we've seen from Tiger Woods, I mean, it was incredible, considering how many good players are around. It's very difficult to win tournaments these days, there's so much talent, so much ability out there. It's just difficult to win, let alone win majors. And very difficult to repeat. It's a big task, and no surprise it hasn't been done for a while. And obviously Webb is the only man with a chance to do it this week, and he's a great player, so I wish him well.
Q. The changing conditions of the golf course, how would you need to change your game play due to the conditions of the weather?
GRAEME McDOWELL: You know, I've certainly tapered back my practice schedule the next couple of days. I was planning on trying to play 36 holes before Thursday morning. I just feel like the golf course is going to change so much day by day, if we get the weather that's forecast, a little bit of dry weather.
I certainly feel like getting out there this morning and trying to play 18 holes was a waste of time, just because I feel like the golf course will speed up and get faster a little bit. So I'm only going to play 18 holes between now and Thursday morning.
Certainly the game plan, clubs off tees and stuff is going to change a little bit, where that more receptive fairways, perhaps you can go more aggressive off the tees in places. Looking forward to seeing the rough and just the way things are looking.
Like I say, I'm kind of speculating, really, until I get out there and have a look. But game plans will change, for sure.
Q. What kind of instructions are you getting on going from the practice range to the tee? Have you ever played in a tournament where you've warmed up and worried about getting stuck in traffic and missing your tee time?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I don't think I've ever played in a tournament where before the tournament starts they're already saying guys will miss tee times. It's not ideal, obviously.
I wouldn't be the most punctual person in the world, so my caddie is already on my case. It was pretty much the first thing he said to me when I arrived yesterday. If you want 50 minutes hitting golf balls, you're going to have to be getting out of your car literally an hour and 30 before your tee time. Basically giving you 40 minutes of potential messing around, shuttles, traffic, walking to tees. I haven't experienced it yet. Like I say I'm probably going to be a guy whose caddie has a 10 minute buffer. I will not be the guy missing the tee time.
Logistically, speaking to one of the members on Wednesday, if it wasn't for the cooperation of the community, the houses surrounding Merion … literally we're in someone's backyard, so to speak. If it wasn't for the cooperation of the neighborhood here, literally, we wouldn't be able to be here this week.
It's going to be tough, but it's the same for everyone. Just kind of got to get on with it and be ready, I suppose. It's tough. And I'm sure the USGA has got the best possible system in place that it possibly can.
Q. With Sunday being Father's Day, you were fortunate enough to hug your dad after winning the U.S. Open. Talk about your special memories you and your father shared growing up.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, it's always special the Sunday of the U.S. Open being Father's Day. Every guy in this field, well, I speak for most guys in the field I'm sure their dad put a golf club in their hands back when they were kids.
My dad has pretty much watched me make every shot through my kind of 30 handicap days, through to my junior days and through the ranks playing golf for Ireland and playing college golf in America and into my professional career.
So he is certainly is as intense about my game as when I was 15 years old. To share that moment with him at Pebble three years ago was certainly one of the greatest moments of my life from my point of view. He's a special person in my golf career. So to share my first major Championship with him was amazing. And I'm sure a lot of players have had that same experience. It's a lot of fun.
Q. There's a lot of pressure in this game. You seem like a guy that has always enjoyed the moment. Have you always been like that? I guess, how did you learn to enjoy the moment, but also get to work?
GRAEME McDOWELL: No, I mean, I haven't always been like that, I suppose. Pressure is something that you kind of become acclimatized to, hopefully, if you put yourself there enough times. I've certainly had plenty of heartbreaks and plenty of tough breaks in my day, as has every player on that range out there. And it really, I think, the great players in our game have learned a lot from their tough moments, I'm sure. And vowed to never make the same mistakes again. I felt like I've always learned a lot from my disappointing days on the golf course and bad weeks and bad days and bad rounds.
So I guess I'm lucky that I have the kind of personality that reacts well to pressure and I try to make it as fun and as not life and death as I possibly can. It's just something I've worked on over the years.
I think I get it from my mom. She's pretty tough. So I thank her for any tough constitution that I have. She's a pretty tough lady. It's stood me in good stead.
Like I say, it only comes with practice. Hopefully put yourself in that position as often as you possibly can, acclimate and learn to enjoy it, learn to embrace it. It hurts. It still hurts, win, lose or draw. It's tough to win out here. You have to be accepting.
Q. This is obviously a very compact course, without the infrastructure you get elsewhere. It's a wet course and it's a historic course, a bit like Portrush. Do you feel an iconic Open would help a course like Portrush to prove you can do it somewhere without the tented villages and corporate hospitality?
GRAEME McDOWELL: It did cross my mind yesterday logistically speaking this was like taking the British Open to Portrush. It will require a lot of improvising from that point of view. Obviously, corporate hospitality, tented villages, all the things that make these events very financially lucrative to the organizers are sure a big part of what's driving the finances behind the game of golf. So it's a very important week. And there are certain things that you need to do. And they need space to do those.
There's no doubt this will be a successful week, I would imagine, despite Mother Nature. I think the USGA and The R&A and the tournament organizers are pretty adept at improvising when they need to. And they've done as good a job as possible here. And as long as everyone gets to the first tee on time on Thursday and Friday and the weekend, I think, from a spectator’s point of view, I'm sure they'll have some fun out there as well. I know the Philly crowds will be a lot of fun and looking forward to experiencing that.
I think that if they can achieve it here, they can seriously achieve it at Royal Portrush as well.
Q. Just back on the tee times. Did you get something in your welcome packet talking about missing tee times? What advice did it give?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Did we get any advice? I don't know, I didn't read the thing, as usual. Probably should have read.
Like I said, my caddie was waiting for me with his teeth sharpened. He said, you better be here on time. To be honest with you, we've had a lot of communication from the USGA. They've been very good and very open with us. I must have 40 text messages lately. It's open, it's closed. It's open again, it's closed again. Even this morning telling us about the state of the golf course and what they're going to try to do from a preparation point of view. They've been very open with us. The communication has been very good.
I think I need to read the thing. I'd be lying to you if I told you I read it. I haven't experienced it yet. I'll listen to the players, I'll read the thing. You certainly need to be giving yourself between 20 and 30 minutes to get to the first hole or 11th tee box. It's not ideal, but we'll have to adapt.
Q. You putted extraordinarily well last year at Olympic. On Sunday you couldn't quite get it done. I wonder how that experience is on your mind this week. Second, has your caddie found a really good Irish pub around here?
GRAEME McDOWELL: I'll answer the second one first. No. We'll save that one for Sunday night.
The first question – what was the first question?
Q. About Olympic?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Oh, yes, sorry. Short memory. Yeah, in my U.S. Open experiences they've certainly been great. My play in the majors in general gave me a lot of confidence, just preparing and getting used to competing in these things. I’m coming in here with decent form this season.
You can't really expect anything. Yeah, I've won a U.S. Open and runner-up last year, and my record is good at a U.S. Open. As in any major championship, I know it doesn't mean anything. Really I'm the same as the other 149 guys here this week. I've got to go out and execute my game plan, trying to hang tough when it gets tough out there, which is inevitable. And try and use my strengths. Try and hit the fairways, and try and wedge it close and putt well.
Like I say, I'm keeping any expectations in check this week, not expecting too much from myself, really trying to play as well as I can Thursday, Friday, and hope to be in the mix come the weekend. I'm really viewing the week as the start of a big summer of golf where I've got so many great events coming up. I'm feeling as good physically and mentally as I ever have in my career.
What does that mean? It doesn't mean anything from the point of results. All I can do is try to prepare and have fun and keep my head down here. After the FedEx playoffs, three major championships coming up, and hopefully I can compete in a few events the next nine or ten events and we'll see what happens.
BETH MAJOR: Always a pleasure. We wish you well this weekend.