After a whirlwind few days since his historic US Open win at Pebble Beach, Callaway Golf staff player Graeme McDowell paid a surprise visit to the company’s European HQ on Wednesday to thank staff for their support in his triumphant Major Championship campaign.
The Northern Irishman only arrived in the UK this morning and spent several hours with staff and selected media before jetting off to Ireland to be reunited with close friends and family.
“It’s a great privilege to be part of Callaway,” said McDowell as he addressed employees at the Chessington HQ. “I’d like to thank everyone at the company for the part they have played in helping me to achieve this victory. We have what I believe are the best clubs in the world and I hope that my success will give the company a big boost. I’m going to St Andrews with a lot of belief; hopefully this is just the first of several.”
The Northern Irishman is now Callaway’s fourth Major Champion, following in the footsteps of Annika Sorenstam, Michael Campbell and Phil Mickelson.
GBN.com was at the press conference that followed McDowell’s meeting with the excited Callaway team.
What were your emotions walking down 18?
It was bit like a swan, calm on the outside, chaos underneath. I was pretty nervous on the 18th tee. I pulled out the driver and it’s amazing how the brain plays tricks on you and you start thinking about what might happen and various different scenarios. I had thought about picking the trophy up during the day but you really try not to let yourself get into thinking that way. Obviously the emotions were flying around but you just have to get down to business.
I had 231 yards to the pin on the last and I saw Gregory splash out the bunker and not make his putt so that made my decision easier. My caddie was keen for me to hit a 2-iron up there but I didn’t fancy leaving myself a possible pitch because too much could go wrong. Gregory missing the putt made the decision for me and it was very nice to chip down a 9-iron, put a wedge on and get out of there with two putts to win.
Would you have gone for the birdie or taken your chances in an 18-hole play-off?
It was a good number for me – 231 yards – but lots of guys went in the bunker and didn’t get up and down. I would have gone for it with something like a 2-hybrid and was prepared to hit the shot. We talked it over as he putted, and although you never pull against a guy I was happy to see him two-putt and take that decision away from me.
The prospect of a play-off was something nobody wanted, although it did cross my mind after the bogey on 17. That was such a tough hole – I think that something like only 7 guys made the green on the Sunday. I barely made the bunker, let alone the putting surface.
How did you celebrate?
We went up to the players’ hospitality area afterwards and stayed there for a bit. I had to do my media stuff and we had some food and champagne. Just with family and friends, my caddie, a few other caddies like Billy Foster. We had a few drinks and then went to an Irish pub in Carmel called Brophy’s Tavern. It was a long night, with a few glasses of champagne and plenty of adrenaline. I was on cloud nine. I woke up feeling amazing and saw the trophy there in the corner of room and it was just amazing. It hasn’t left my sight since.
What sort of response have you had from people?
I’ve had an amazing response – calls, text, emails, Twitter, my website crashed on Sunday afternoon. I’ve had some great messages from people like Monty, Tony Jacklin, the Northern Ireland actor Jimmy Nesbitt. Tony emailed saying welcome to the club and see you in St Andrews.
What did you think of the course?
The set up was reasonably fair. I’ve said it all week that good golf was rewarded, bad golf was punished. Apart from 14 and 17 it was fair. The greens were tough, you had to be conservative, but I liked it and I thought the USGA and Mike Davis did a good job. They moved a lot of the tees around and got you thinking all the time. The rough around the fairways wasn’t too bad – they wanted to keep the trouble around the greens. The wispy stuff around the bunkers was a little unfair – Dustin Johnson got caught up in that, and Shaun Micheel double-hit one from there too when he was going well. But apart from that it was fine.
Have the groove rule changes made much difference?
No. It’s actually had a very negligible effect. Callaway has done a great job with the wedges. I talked with Roger Cleveland and a few other staff players last week and we all agreed that the spin rates we are getting off the new wedges are still very good. I don’t feel I‘ve lost any spin.
Was it hard to focus with what was happening to Dustin Johnson?
You never want to see a guy go through that. I empathise with him because we’ve all been through it. Of course I’m trying to beat him but you don’t want to see a guy beat himself. He handed me the lead pretty quickly on Sunday and I had a bit of a wait on 3rd tee while he went through his trouble. Those 10 minutes actually gave me a bit of time to get my head screwed on for the day and really focus. The course was so tough that I just wanted to concentrate on my own game and not worry about what Dustin was doing, or what Phil or Ernie or Tiger was doing behind me.
How important is your relationship with your caddie?
The caddie-player relationship is crucial. I’ve got a great one in Ken Comboy. He’s been on the Tour nearly 20 years and is very experienced. We know each other inside out. He’s great at controlling my emotions and keeping me motivated. I never get over-confident, it’s more that I might get frustrated more than anything. That happened on Thursday when I made five birdes and shot level par. But I promised that I would try to stay calm and patient over the weekend and Ken really helped me to do that. At the start of the final day he told me not to worry too much about hearing cheers or anything.. that they would only be par or bogey putts, that nobody was going to be going round that course and making 10 birdies. That was great thing to say. It just helped me to pay attention to nothing else but my own game.
Can you explain just what it takes to win a Major?
You have very few opportunities to win Majors. There are only four a year, they are tough, and it’s hard to get yourself in position to win. This was really my first time contending in a major and it was great. I’ve always been good at getting it done when I’m in contention and I can take a lot away from this week in terms of how I competed and managed to complete the job.
I spoke to Rory and we were talking about a few things and how he was really going to be playing hard now… he didn’t want to be the only Irishman on the Ryder Cup team without a Major Championship! I’m sure a few other guys will feel that same and I’m sure that a lot of them will take a lot of belief from me winning. I certainly took something from other people and the names of Zach Johnson, Lucas Glover, Trevor Immelman, YE Yang all came into my head as I walked down 18. It just helps to put in focus that you can do it.
When did you feel that it might be yours?
The 11th was the first time I looked at the leaderboard. I’d bogeyed 9 and 10 so I felt I needed to see what was happening and try to compose myself. I knew I was still two ahead and that I really needed to knuckle down. I really didn’t allow myself to think it was mine until I was on the 18th. I looked at the scoreboard on 15 and saw I was two ahead. I hit a good 2-iron down the middle and then a wedge into about 25 feet and said to Kenny I’m holing this and with about five feet to go I thought it was in. I even made the little step towards it but then it died away just at the end. At that point I was feeling great about my chances even though I knew that the last three were tough. But I never really thought it was in the bag until I cosied one up on 18.
How important is the mental approach?
My mental approach is just to knuckle down and not worry about anyone else. I was most interested in Justin early on and he looked fine to start with. He bombed one on the 2nd and I thought he didn’t look nervous at all. But 15 minutes later he’s handed me the lead. I just I stuck to my game-plan, though. I’ve been very calm for a while. I don’t know why. I wish I could bottle it up and keep it. It was the same in Wales where I felt relaxed and in control. I’ve been working with Pete Cowen for a few years now and I really felt my short game had to improve to have a chance to win. I’ve practised harder and it’s worked.
US Open in the bag:
Driver: Callaway FT-3 Driver (9.5)
3-Wood: Tour X- fairway (15)
Irons: X-Forged irons (4-9)
Wedges: X-Forged vintage (48, 52 & 58)
Putter: Odyssey White Hot #7
Ball: Tour ix
Callaway Golf www.callawaygolf.com
Graeme McDowell www.graememcdowell.com