Sea Island, Georgia
THE MODERATOR: We’d like to welcome Graeme McDowell, into the interview room here at the RSM Classic. Graeme, coming back here for the first time since 2011, and on the heels of being back in the winners’ circle.
How would you describe the state of your game and what did the win last week do?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, game is in good shape. You know, I think aside from a few bad drives last week in Mexico, I was really, really happy the way I played.
Out there today, I think a lot more drivers off tees. Bit more room to play with. I think the golf course down in Mayakoba was pretty narrow. I didn’t drive it well. I drove it well this morning. Iron play was sharp and I’m feel really good.
I guess I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders a little bit with that performance last week. Takes a lot of pressure off kind of the things that I’ve been trying to achieve. Frees me up a little bit and definitely come in here this week feeling slightly different about things.
Really ticked a lot of boxes for me last week. Obviously getting back in that winners’ circle is very special, you know, everything that goes with it, the exemptions.
The way I’ve played this year, I mean, I’ve talked a lot about how I’d switched my priorities up back to basics, simple, competing as often as I can and trying to get myself on leaderboards and making sure that I was sitting here this time next year with somewhere to play.
It was as basic as that for me. I think that with a little bit of refocusing and reprioritizing, it’s amazing how it just kind of sharpens the mind and sharpens the focus, and obviously end up with a great result on Monday.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions.
Q. A little bit off the subject, but maybe near and dear to your heart. Alan Kaufman, your coach at UAB, wondering what role he played in your development. And when were there, did Smiley ever come around to visit? Do you have any memories of him running around while you guys were practicing or playing or anything like that?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I mean, obviously getting to play with Smiley these next two days, you know, I guess 15, 16 years ago Smiley was not particularly old. We used to Thanksgiving over at coach’s house. They were kind of like my surrogate parents really, Coach K and his wife.
I guess being so far way from home having never been to America, you know, they certainly took care of me and looked out for me. He wasn’t a golf coach by sort of the definition we know golf coaches. He was more of our team manager, if you like. He was a logistics guys. He got on us private playing facilities like Shoal Creek and Greystone, Birmingham.
He was a very well thought out businessman. Like I say, he was a big influence sort of in my life the few years I was at UAB. Saw Smiley at family get-togethers when we were invited to be part of that, which was very special.
Smiley was just a young kid, you know. No idea what he was thinking looking at us, if that was something he ever wanted to achieve. Coach K was an LSU guy and went to many LSU football games when I was at UAB. Obviously that’s where Smiley went to school and was a standout player there.
So just proud of him and the family and what they’ve achieved. They’ve just great people. They certainly have a lot to be thankful for in my development having people like that looking after me.
Q. Mr. Kaufman had a fast food chain at one point.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, the Wall Street Deli, correct.
Q. Has he had or will he have any tips for you on your ventures?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: He was always a very shrewd businessman, let’s just put it that way. He was definitely — I guess very different businesses. He was in the fast food and not maybe so the more traditional restaurant chain.
No, I have certainly spoken to him about it over the years. Hoping he’s going to be here in the next couple days. I spoke to Smiley last week before the tournament in Mayakoba and he said that Coach K wasn’t going to come this week. He may have changed his mind slightly when he saw the draw.
Hoping to see him up here. Like I say, he’s been a big influence in my life. Definitely proud of what Smiley has achieved, and looking forward to spend a few days with him.
Q. What was the very first time you came to America? What were your expectations, and did to live up to it right away? Could be a really good story.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: There is a pretty good story. I flew in to UAB for my recruiting trip. I had never been to America before. I remember I flew Belfast-Amsterdam, Amsterdam-Memphis, Memphis-Birmingham.
I had never cleared U.S. Customs before, so I didn’t have the address where I was staying in America and didn’t have a clue what I was doing really. So I got pulled into secondary immigration and got grilled by this guy. Turned out this guy was a bit of an NCAA regulations kind of freak, so he asked me — you know, I was staying in — I wasn’t doing the standard 48-hour NCAA regulation trip because I was flying in from Northern Ireland. There wasn’t a lot of point staying for 48 hours and leaving, so I was there for like four days maybe.
The guy said, You’re not on a recruiting trip here, are you? I guess I would been tee’d up to say no by my coach because obviously it wasn’t maybe within regulations. I said, no, I wasn’t. Just vacationing and playing a little golf.
So he said, Where you staying? I said, I don’t really know the address. I had a phone number for one of my college teammates that I was staying with. The guy calls him in front of me and says, I have Mr. McDowell here. What is the purpose of his visit? Oh, he’s on a recruiting trip.
So now I’ve just lied to this customs officer. Long story short, it was no big deal in the end. But I missed my connection down to Birmingham. I spent the night in Memphis and thought, Man, what is this country all about?
It was a long trip over, but it didn’t take me very long to know that — well, I think before I even got on the flight for the recruiting trip I knew what I wanted to do.
The second the phone rang, U.S. college is what I wanted to do. It was my dream. Could have been Alaska, but it was Alabama. The weather was good and it was a big turning point in my life.
Q. For someone who has won 14 times around the world, do you have kind of a better understanding of the perks of winning that you might not have celebrated in Wales or Scandinavia or wherever?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I found myself sending a text to Ross Berlin Monday afternoon wanting to know if Mayakoba had a two-year exemption. It’s just something that’s never crossed my mind for many years.
I think there is a certain amount of complacency that comes with being a top 25, top 50 in the world player. Complacency of schedule; your complacency of your good golf will always be there.
When you go through a spell of, you know, best part of 12 months I suppose for me, I mean, I think I wasn’t even playing all that great going into the Ryder Cup last year. I had a decent weekend there.
I finished third in Shanghai at the end the last year. I think it put a Band-Aid over the fact that I wasn’t really playing that well.
Came into this year and I couldn’t hide anymore. My results started to sort of find a bit of a downturn. Like I said earlier, I had to strip my priorities back to basics. It was simple. If I continue to play like this, my employment is under serious jeopardy. I’ve got to really have a goal and have a priority, and what’s it going to be?
I guess when it came down to it, if I’m going to have a job, I wanted my job to be here in America, because the financials are very obvious. When are you brought it down to brass tacks, I want to be employed on the best tour in the world. So you have to think about Ryder Cups. You have to nearly put those as priorities two and three and four and whatever.
So coming here and making sure that I got off to a fast, fast start in the FedExCup, the Race For the Card, whatever you want to call it, that’s why I played last week and that’s why I planned to play this week.
Obviously things changed immensely last week because it takes care of a lot of business for me. I can maybe start to go back to having — that Ryder Cup goal could maybe go a little further up the list again.
And obviously competing on both sides of the Atlantic are reprioritized again. No doubt I had to strip things back a little bit and get back to basics.
Q. What does it mean then to be able to be paid to go back to Maui again?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, going back to Kapalua is very special. I got to go there in 2011 having won the U.S. Open in ’10. That was a cool place to go to. You know, I had a nice last run there to finish third.
Didn’t take the opportunity after I won Hilton Head. Goes back to that complacency thing. Well, my good golf is always going to be there. I’ll skip Kapalua this time round.
I wasn’t going to skip it this time. I had been dreaming of winning a golf tournament. I’ve really been grinding hard this year. I said to myself, Next time one of these wins comes along, I’m going to be complacent. I am going to enjoy it and appreciate it and all the perks that go with it.
Taking the family to Kapalua is something that wasn’t even a question. We’re looking forward to being out there. Take the wife and the girls and go and make a little bit of a trip of it. I’ll probably end of playing both in Hawaii as well. Going to take two weeks out there and play both of those events. I am excited about that.
Like say, getting in Augusta, the PLAYERS, you know, things that were question marks on my schedule at the start of the year starting to Sharpie those back in again. It’s exciting. I really am appreciating the perks of this one.
Q. This fall a lot of the winners have been early s guys. What do you guys make of it, and why do you think people get so excited seeing young winners versus guys in their 30s, 40s?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I think there is always a little bit of a belief factor that players in their late 20s to mid-30s are in the prime of their career. That was what we used to believe before Tiger Woods came along and shook this game to its core really with what he achieved.
So I think the belief level, that has now changed to where kids out of college and high school are turning pro and not scared to win the big events. I think it’s exciting for the game. I believe that it’s just down to a new belief system that’s been created in the game. When you see guys like Rory and Jordan and Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, early 20s just with the talent to compete at the highest level and winning majors and the biggest events in the world.
So when you start to see more and more winners coming through, they’re just feeding off what’s happening in the sport. I think that’s exciting. I think we’re going to continue to see this trend.
But, you know the great thing with the sport is you can still be great in your 30s and 40s and even into your 50s as well. That’s the beauty of the game. I think we’re going to see younger and better athletes coming through into the sport because I think the game has changed immensely.
Q. What kind of European schedule are you looking at next year?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I’m going to play at least one or two in the Middle East. Not sure yet. Definitely Irish Open. You know, French Open opposite Firestone. Probably favoring the French Open there just due to my general record there. Double Ryder Cup points. All those things. Good golf course for me. I love it.
Scottish Open. You know, that’s kind of my early — first half of the year, European Tour schedule.
Like I say, that win last week really helps me free things up, because I was really having to — my goal was to try and put $300,000 or $400,000 — I have no idea how many FedEx points that is. I am still old school and I think purely in the dollar amount.
If I didn’t put that on the board these two weeks I was probably going to start my year at Career Builders and the Torrey Pines. I’m committed to play Dubai Desert Classic, so that frees me up.
My start of the year is a little bit more fluid and flexible. I am looking forward to playing those two in Hawaii, definitely one, maybe two in the Middle East, and then won’t play until the Irish Open in Wentworth.
I think Irish Open, $ million Euros at the K Club. You know, Rory has done a fantastic job for that event. Sounds like from Mr. Pelly that Wentworth is going to have a serious injection of just steroids I was going to call it. You know, whatever. It’s going to be beefed up. Let’s put it that way. That’s exciting for the European Tour. So I’ll play those two.
Q. (No microphone.)
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Counts as two starts as well in Europe, yeah. So you can understand where they’re coming from. They are trying to incentivize their players to come to the French Open. Ryder Cup is going to be there in ’18. With Firestone opposite, it’s just one of those unavoidables on an unknown summary.
Just going to be such a crazy summer for anyone. I don’t think anyone has any idea what the summer is going to look like feel like, be like. We just to have try and schedule it as well as we can.
Q. The fairways and greens are a little bit wider and bigger here. But anything at Hilton Head or having won at Hilton Head that helps you here? Wind is roughly the same.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah.
Q. Anything help you at all?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think the weather. I think the weather is going to be very similar. I think it’s going to be windy and they’re saying wet tomorrow as well. I think conditions, the turf, the grass to a certain extent, are similar to Mayakoba.
Certainly playing in the wind stood me in good stead. This morning I felt like my ball flight was there. Keeping the shots down in the wind and moving it round a little bit.
I think certainly weather conditions. A little bit of rain tomorrow, that could help me. Sounds like it’s going to be pretty chilly on the weekend as well. Pretty familiar with those conditions also. No, I think, like I say, just feel so much more freed up this week.
Feel like someone has taken a 100-pound weighed off my shoulders and I’m bouncing around the golf course better than I was a couple weeks ago.
I’m excited. It’s certainly a big boost of confidence and belief that I got last week. Hopefully keep the momentum going this week and into the off-season and come out in the new year firing and ready to go.
Q. (No microphone.)
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Oh, sorry. Hilton Head. Yeah, I didn’t listen to your question. That’s my fault. (Laughter.) I answered the wrong question there, didn’t I? That’s great. I was tuned into the fact I felt last week was my best week.
I was answering my question.
Q. (Regarding Hilton Head success translating to success here.)
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I think it has that same sort of look and feel. It’s a very, very different golf course. I can see why the boys choose to live here. Great looking airport. See all those jets coming in. May have to have a chat with the wide and see if she wants to move up here. It’s quite nice up here. I like this part of the world.
Q. You mentioned the early part of the schedule and talked about how confusing it is. Have you put any thought into what you’ll do from the U.S. Open on considering everything on the schedule? What will it look like in theory?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: I don’t even know how it goes after the U.S. Open. U.S. Open I think I go week off, French Open, Scottish Open, British Open, Canadian Open, PGA Championship. I have five in a row there I believe.
The British Open is probably the only one I’m not guaranteed to be in on that schedule really, but I’m committed to RBC Canadian. I think I’ll play France over Firestone.
You know, I’ll play Scottish, the Open, Canadian, PGA championship.
Q. And factoring in the Olympics?
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yeah, I’m factoring in not being in the Olympics right now, you know. One of the spots is definitely taken, and Shane is playing pretty good in the other spot. I’ll take that if it comes to me. I’m certainly not building my schedule around the Olympics right now. Until something changes in the world rankings which make my start to change my schedule for that, you know?
Yeah, because Shane is playing nicely. Like i say, it’s off my radar right now. If it comes back on my radar, I’ll be there.