McDowell: 'I've led the open before. Maybe now I've learnt how to stay ahead'

Graeme McDowell tells James Corrigan why his US Open win will help him at St Andrews

The final confirmation will come just as the next major begins. When Ivor Robson, the Open Championship's official starter, announces next Thursday "On the tee, from Northern Ireland, US Open champion..." Graeme McDowell will know. There he will stand, the man he set out to be. And not the club-breaker he never wanted to be.

The recollections have been pouring back almost as quickly as the Guinness since McDowell stunned the sporting world on the Monterey Peninsula three Sundays ago. He has trouble remembering what came before Pebble Beach (and certainly what happened in the celebrations thereafter) but a few incidents do stand out as when he is asked to account for the making of the hero..

"2006 was a tough year for me," McDowell says. "I'd hurt myself in a car accident, was playing badly and was chasing my tail around the world. When Ken [Comboy] took my bag that year, I was in the middle of playing 19 events in 21 weeks. I was spinning. And I was starting to be a man on the golf course I didn't recognise. I remember breaking a club during a round at Crans-sur-Sierre. I had never broken a club in my life. I didn't know where I was, who I was. That's when the penny dropped and I thought: I need to do something."

What McDowell did was to rip it up. Everything. "My management team, my coach, my caddie, all kinds of stuff. The hugely important cogs in the whole mechanism," he said. "Would I be sitting here as the US Open champion without the changes I made? Probably not."

Then there was the little matter of changing himself. McDowell has read a few of the "life stories" penned about him in the wake of Pebble and believes them to have "a little bit harsh" when they hinted at the rich young professional enjoying the rich life in his Manchester bachelor pad. The word was the brilliant amateur – who in his time at the University of Alabama broke American collegiate records set by Tiger Woods – had won a few titles and was taking the celebrating a little too seriously. "I'm not sure about all that" says McDowell. "I just made some bad decisions. I went to the States, took up my Tour card there, tried to crack the big time before I was ready, and lost my confidence. At the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club I ended up commentating for TV and radio and thought to myself: 'Where did it all go wrong?"

He did not have to waste too much time reaching the conclusion; Comboy was to deliver the home truths. Once the caddie for Paul Casey and then for Thomas Bjorn, the Englishman knew what it took. "I was lucky he was available," says McDowell. "He beat me into shape, got me disciplined, got me thinking straight. Every golfer experiences ups and downs but I think I've had more than most in my eight-year career. I'm a fast learner and learnt a lot from my down time."

That much was evident by 2008. McDowell prevailed at the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond and a few months later could be seen with his weapon of choice at the Ryder Cup; it was definitely not a microphone. He cut an impressive figure that week in Kentucky, but as far as reaching the elite echelons went, there was plainly still something missing. McDowell was becoming known as one of those perennial first-round leaders, who would grab the major spotlight on the Thursday only to have disappeared by the Sunday.

"I think I've led the Open twice after the first day," he says. "And both times turned out pretty horrifically. I've had so many rough weekends in majors. At Hoylake in 2006, I was just a beaten man. In first place after round one, 50th after round four. And then the Saturday at Birkdale two years later was as bad as it got. I was in the third from last group and shot an 80. It's funny, I was talking to Kenny about it the other day, and he was telling me how he nearly punched me in that round. I got off to a bad start and then went after every pin. Mindless. A tough, tough day. But like I say, I learnt. Things like patience, conserving energy, having conservative targets and really accepting that par is a good score. Or even three-over."

That was what McDowell fired in the final round at the US Open, his 75 good enough to see off a garlanded pack of pursuers including Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. McDowell had realised it's all about finishing in guile, not style. "I found out what Tiger means when he says majors are the easiest tournaments to win," he says. "You actually don't have to do anything special because the courses are so difficult that you don't have to beat the man, just the course. I thought about guys like Y E Yang, Trevor Immelman, Lucas Glover, guys who have won for the first time in the majors. 'It does happen,' I said to myself, 'this is possible, I can win today. Why not me?' You've got to dream big."

The last few weeks have brought an appearance on the Jay Leno talk show and a speaking role on Entourage, the HBO comedy-drama series. Messages have arrived from such diverse sources as David Cameron and Jimmy Nesbitt. Woods, himself, strode up to McDowell on the first tee at the J P McManus Pro-Am in Limerick on Tuesday and instead of addressing him by his usual greeting of "Hi, Graeme with an 'e'" said "Well done, champ". Life has changed immeasurably and irrevocably for McDowell. "Michael Campbell [the 2005 US Open champion] once said, 'They tell you how to get to the summit of Everest, but no one tells you how to get back down again', and I think that's a really good way of describing it'", says McDowell. "But I'm only 30 and feel I'm young enough to deal with it all and have a long career in front of me. I'm aware of the pitfalls. Yeah, I've enjoyed being the US Open champion and I've enjoyed everything that goes with it. But I know it doesn't give me any God-given right to shoot 65 every day.

"Next week will be difficult, for sure. I'm going to try to prioritise my time and get my work done as normal. But you can't ignore people's reactions. I am certainly going to enjoy the reaction of British and Irish fans at one of my favourite venues."

St Andrews holds optimistic memories for McDowell. There was the 62 he compiled in the 2004 Dunhill Links, there was the 11th place at the 2005 Open. Familiarity will indeed be key. As he attempts the implausible, if not quite the impossible, and tries to emulate Tiger's immortal Pebble-Old Course succession of 2000, McDowell will do so with "my ducks in the order they've always been".

"I'm not talking about following the exact same schedule that I did in the US Open, although I did have one beer a night and that seemed to work," he laughs. "But otherwise it will be same approach, same mindset, same voice inside in my head telling me to remain patient. If I do get into contention on Sunday afternoon I will take the confidence from Pebble. I now know that I have the ability and have what it takes to get the job done. That's the only thing that's changed, really." That and Ivor's description, of course.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little