It's the Open Championship this week, so how much hope are you taking into Hoylake after your showing at last month's US Open? A lot. If I can get my game in shape and play like I did at Winged Foot then I'm capable of playing with and beating anybody.
Can you explain how a 27-year-old from Ashington in his first American major came to be leading the US Open with a round to go and to be playing with Phil Mickelson in the final group? It's not something I can explain. I've gone from a small mining town in the North-east, famous for its footballers, into probably the biggest theatre there is in golf. It's like the old golfing cliché, where you're the young kid on the putting green and this putt is for the US Open. It's almost a fairy story. I had to pinch myself to realise that it was happening.
Were you more proud to have competed or more disappointed not to have won? My first emotion when it was over was disappointment. I genuinely felt that there was a huge opportunity there to win and the more I look back at it the more I see that's right. But in the big picture, being sixth in the US Open is a great achievement and I'm so chuffed with the way I did it. I was there in the firing line for three days. It wasn't as if I sneaked up on the last day with a 64 when nobody could see us.
How did you withstand the pressure? I did what I do. A lot of American journalists were asking, "How are you doing it? What are you doing here?", but I had qualified by finishing 11th in the European Order of Merit and had won the European Open so if they had done their research they could have seen what I'm capable of. I told them, "Everybody has to start somewhere and everybody has to contend in their first major." If nobody's allowed to do it as a nobody then it would be pretty boring, because you would have Phil and Tiger Woods winning every major.
Why do you think the crowd took you so closely to its heart? They say New York loves an underdog. They seemed to warm to me because they could tell I was as normal as they were, just a regular guy. I've never known a crowd as good as that and doubt I ever will again.
Were you surprised what happened to Mickelson on that final hole, when he double-bogeyed when only needing a par for his third major in a row? It can happen to anyone, even Phil. A few people have asked whether at the time I was tempted to put an arm around his shoulder and say, "Calm down, Phil". But how can anyone say anything to the No 2 player in the world? He can do things the rest of us are not capable of and he took on shots he thought were feasible. But they didn't come off. That's it.
What is your background and how did you get into golf? My family are working-class people. My dad was a metal worker while my mum was a dinner lady but now works part-time at Asda. One day my brother came home from school and said he wanted to play golf and I tagged along with him and my dad. I was seven. Then my mum started playing and it became a family thing, something we did every Sunday afternoon. Everything we did in those days as a family was based around our golf. Instead of going off to the sun we used to have a holiday once a year at St Andrews and playing the Old Course was my treat of the year. I wouldn't say there were huge sacrifices made, we didn't have to take out mortgages on the house or anything, but every last bit of my parents' energy went into mine and my brother's golf. I owe a huge debt to my mam and dad for the things they did and they're very proud now and this is their reward.
You have been reported as saying you were upset with some of the Sky TV commentators who said you might have done even better in the US Open if your attitude had been better and you hadn't been so hard on yourself. Is this true? I wasn't upset so much as disappointed that in the midst of so many positives they had to find a negative. What I did at the US Open was brilliant for the European Tour, because rather than it be the Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington show as it has been for the last four or five years - and I'm not slagging that off because they're great - there was an up-and-coming player doing it as well. It showed the world that Europe has good young players coming through and we're not stuck with the old brigade. I was sixth in a field of 156. Concentrate on that.
What response have you had from fellow pros? Nothing but praise, of course, and when you get it from your peers it means a hell of a lot. When someone like Padraig comes in the locker-room and says, "I know you will be down, but you have had a great week and you have to be immensely proud," that's what matters - not the thoughts of some commentator who hasn't even been in that situation.
You have the reputation on Tour for speaking your mind. Where has that come from and does it bother you that sometimes it seems to upset people? It's how I've always been: if I have a problem with someone I prefer to tell them rather than have a funny atmosphere. It can be one of my good points, it can be one of my downfalls. That's how I am, you can take it or leave it. But I don't think I upset people greatly. People might disagree with what I say but as we live in a free country we can say what we want, as long as it's not slanderous. Mind you, I've learnt to tone it down at times. When you're young you want to have your say. But as you realise what things are really about you realise that saying things doesn't make a difference and you may as well keep quiet.
Who is the man to beat at Hoylake this week? I probably agree with the general consensus at the moment that Phil is playing the best, but Tiger is still the best player. If you said: "You can beat Tiger by a shot at Hoylake, would you take it?" I would be reasonably happy to accept, because he's going to be there or thereabouts.
Can you win the Open? I'll go there with a lot of belief in myself, sure, but I don't know if anyone stands on the first tee - OK, apart from Phil and Tiger - and says categorically, "I'm going to win". I know I'm capable of winning any tournament I play and that in truth the Open is just another tournament. But if I think about it, I've been on Tour five years, played in 130 events and won two. I think that's a great record but 65 tournaments per win doesn't sound so good, does it?
You are on the fringes of Ryder Cup qualification. If you don't make it automatically do you think Ian Woosnam would pick you as a wild card? I don't think so. I think there's a lot of experienced men who are not going to qualify this year. I'm a realist, I'm not going to live in cloud-cuckoo-land. Sure, I'm going to try my utmost to get in. But if I don't? Well, if I come close it will still be an achievement and I have age on my side. There would be other chances.
Do you know the Charlton twins or Steve Harmison, who are also from Ashington? Sir Bobby was kind enough to say some nice things after I won the European Open last year and I have become quite good pals with Steve. I go to watch the cricket with him, he comes to the golf. He's a good lad, very down to earth. Just to be mentioned in the same breath as the Ashington legends is one heck of an honour.
Who was your sporting hero as a boy? The only man was Seve Ballesteros. I saw him at his comeback event at the French Open a few weeks ago and although he doesn't have the game he used to, which is a huge shame, he still has that aura. He has something special and he is somebody special. His golf was on the edge and that's what Seve was and why I followed him along with millions. I pray and they pray he plays at Hoylake this week.
Which football team do you support and why? Manchester United, but keep it under your hat as I'm a North-eastern lad who lives in Newcastle. It's a long story why.
At the US Open you wore a belt with a huge Superman crest on the buckle and you have been seen in a Superman T-shirt. Why? Er, I like Superman. He can fly, you know.Reuse content