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  • And When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

    21 Jun 2010

    By Stephanie Wei

    After Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell two-putted from 30 feet for par to clinch the US Open title, he looked to the sky, fists clenched and let out a sigh of relief. The grueling battle against Pebble Beach was finally over and he had outlasted the field to win his first major and to become the first European to win the event in 40 years.

    On a day where the groans were more frequent than the cheers, McDowell shot a ho-hum 74, three-over, to win by a stroke over Frenchman Gregory Havret, a virtually unknown name in the US whose world ranking was 391 entering the championship. For the people who watched the trainwreck action at home, some probably want a refund on those five hours of their time. And for the players who slogged and punted their way around the course, all — with the exception of McDowell and perhaps Havret — probably wish they could have theirs, too.

    With his only birdie of the day coming on the par 3, 5th, McDowell posted four bogeys in the final 10 holes to get back to level par for the championship. If there hadn’t been a pretty trophy afterward, the round was forgettable. Pebble Beach was playing just that hard.

    The course was firm, the pins were tight, mistakes were punished, egos were bruised — and welcome to the US Open. a true test in golf designed to examine every aspect of a competitors game. And perhaps better known by the players as a test in torture (whose wails are heard loud and clear the second after they walk out the scoring trailer).

    As it happened, McDowell was the survivor, who deserves credit where it’s due. McDowell minimized his mistakes both physically and mentally, and played the most consistently from tee to green over the course of 72 holes.

    “It hasn’t really hit me yet,” he said. “I work so hard at being calmed and disciplined out there today that I’m still feeling a little too calm right now.  I need to get a beer in my hand or something.”

    Sitting in McDowell’s press conference, I quickly realized, he’s the kind of guy I’d enjoy bantering with over some pints. Perhaps he’s not the most sexy winner — I mean, he’s no Tiger, Phil, Ernie or even DJ — but he’s a very gracious and likable one with a salty sense of humor.

    “I was surprised that Gregory Havret was the guy closest to me,” he said. “No disrespect to Gregory, he’s a great player, but when you have Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els obviously there, you’re not expecting Gregory Havret to be the guy you’ve got to fend off.”

    /interview room explodes with respectful laughter

    Forget the cliched robotic answers. He spoke candidly and freely, which was refreshing, and answered questions thoughtfully and patiently — similar to the way he played.

    I was proud of myself the way I stayed calm today,” he said. “To win at Pebble Beach, to join the names, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Tiger Woods, me — wow.  I’m not quite sure if I belong in that list, but, hey, I’m there now.”

    McDowell also has a customary cold beer after a long day — on the night before winning the US Open, it was an Amstel Light (but he doesn’t have a beer of choice) with his dinner at Montrio’s in Monterey. He slept in until 9:30 on Sunday morning before having a cup of coffee at Monterey Plaza.

    In the ’90s, he was a big fan of Ernie Els and for some reason when he thinks of the US Open, it reminds him of Ernie winning it in ’94 at Oakmont and again in ’97 at Congressional, which was around the time he decided he wanted to be a competitive golfer. His brother is a scratch golfer and the two grew up playing at Portrush. The European Tour is his home tour and will continue to be, but he’s been playing to get his PGA Tour card next season to play more in the US.

    As a big soccer fan, he’s been waking up early to watch the World Cup. He’s going to bring the trophy back to the other side of the pond later this week, where he’ll consume a few beverages from it. And he’s not sure when he’ll sober up.

    See how much I learned about Graeme in just one press conference? If only all players spoke so freely.

    Someone get the man a beer already.

    [Photos by: Allan Henry/Golf Chronicles]



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