British Open 2019: Have we been mispronouncing Graeme McDowell’s name this entire time?

July 18, 2019

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — All over town, there are signs (quite literally!) of the local favorite son. His Ryder Cup bag sits in a storefront. His photo hangs in the window of a hotel pub. At the William Hill bookmaker, a passerby yells at a pondering bettor. “Put it all on McDoole!”

Across Northern Ireland, Graeme McDowell is beloved, his approval rating perhaps even higher than Rory McIlroy, the Holywood native with tenfold the international star power.

Mixed in among the deluge of adoration for McDowell, three objections register. One, that he has had his teeth fixed. Two, that his accent has gotten “too American.” And three, that outsiders say his name wrong. “It’s Mc-Doole,” one woman says in an Indian restaurant downtown. “You lot have been messing it up for years.”

Three gripes, each trivial on their own, all telling when combined. Gripes that have something to do with McDowell’s background, with his identity.

McDowell teed off Thursday at the Open Championship still fighting back tears. “I was welling up just at the — it’s just been a great journey. It’s been an amazing journey to get here. People have been amazing.”

It was a serious post-round presser for McDowell, who was 3-under through 14 but three-putted twice and lost a ball on the way in to post 2-over 73. As he spoke, he conveyed his emotion, his frustration, his reflection. Afterwards, he was asked a far less serious question about pronouncing his name, but he took that seriously, too, and gave an earnest response.

“Listen, it’s pronounced, like, if I were to spell it to you it would be M-C-D-O-L-E. That’s how it’s pronounced here, McDole,” he said. (Note: to the untrained ear, “McDole” and “McDoole” are difficult to differentiate in a northern Irish accent. They certainly don’t sound like “McDowell” as said on PGA Tour broadcasts. He recognizes that.)

“It’s literally the only place in the world that’s pronounced like that,” he continued. “I always got called McDowell and, living in the states, I’m happy with ‘McDowell.’ Can you imagine trying to spell ‘McDole’ every time you said it? McDole — now how do you spell that, exactly?

“So no, once my dad got over it about five years into my pro career we just continued to go McDowell the rest of the time, once he was okay with it.”

How do you say "McDowell," exactly?
Getty Images

So no, Graeme says, we haven’t been screwing up his name all this time. We’re off the hook. But it’s a reminder that it can be tricky when your past and present run up against each other. Coming home can be tricky, when you’re different than when you left. It calls to mind a difficult tension, and you wonder if it’s the same sort of tension that helped Rory McIlroy snipe his opening tee shot out of bounds.

McDowell has gotten plenty of reminders about his past this week. His accent, for example. Has he noticed it changing over the years? “Of course I have,” he says instinctively. “Well, actually — I haven’t noticed it, but people have noticed it for me, so it obviously has changed a lot.

He paused, grinned, shook his head.

“Yeah,” he said. “I get a very hard time about my accent.”