The defending champ on Tiger, Dustin and his chances at Congressional

The defending champ on Tiger, Dustin and his chances at Congressional

McDowell won his first career major at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, but it was his win at Celtic Manor in 2010 that started his run.
Kohjiro Kinno/SI

There would have been no Pebble Beach without Celtic Manor. Graeme McDowell wasn’t even sure he would qualify to play in California in 2010 until he won the Wales Open last May. But then he etched his own piece of golfing history on the Monterey Peninsula as he created the iconic image from Pebble Beach, staring at the heavens on the 18th green with a slow-mo air punch, tears in his eyes, then buried in a bear hug from his father. McDowell sat with British and Irish writers at Celtic Manor just over a week ago to re-live the greatest week of his career. And we don’t mean the Ryder Cup. “I’ve got to hand that U.S. Open trophy back, which is not going to be very nice,” he said.

How it felt to win the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach
It was surreal. If was witnessing one of my very good friends do that, I would just be like blown away by what he had just achieved. But when you’re on the inside looking out, it feels different somehow. Like I say — surreal. There’s definitely a period of trying to accept what you’ve just achieved, and it really didn’t hit me for days, maybe weeks afterwards. I’ve talked to you guys before about the way I felt, even at the British Open, four, five weeks later when I was still feeling very emotional about what I’ve achieved, so it took a little bit of time for it all to sink in. When I read statements like, the first European in 40 years to win the U.S. Open, the first Irishman ever to win the U.S. Open, only the third Irishman to win a major championship, stuff like that hits me hard.

Holding off Tiger in a major
One of the things that makes me proudest about Pebble Beach is that Woods was on the board and Mickelson was on the board and Els was on the board, three top players. It’s extra special to have won a major championship with him on the leaderboard. And is Tiger the greatest player that’s ever lived? I don’t think that was in doubt a few years ago. It’s maybe doubtful if he doesn’t eclipse Jack. Winning one with him on the board is pretty cool.

On Tiger’s meltdown
He’s had the most bizarre 18 months. It’s been crazy what he’s gone through, and you know, it’s an interesting saga. And it’s great for golf; it’s going to be interesting to see what he does from here. Is he finished? Is he not finished? I hope for golf’s sake that he’s not finished. I hope this injury is not as bad as it seems to be. I hope he comes back and wins more majors and has a chance to beat Jack’s record.

Witnessing Dustin Johnson’s Pebble meltdown
I remember standing on the third green; he just made his triple on two. I made a good comeback on two, actually from about six feet for par. And what did I do on 3? I hit a decent tee shot and I hit a pretty weak wedge, probably finished about 30 feet short of the pin. He had snap hooked it. I didn’t realize his ball was lost. Had to be 10,000 people over there. I couldn’t even get through the crowd to help look for it, but by the time I realized [the ball was lost], he was actually on his way back to the tee box already. So I had about a decent five six minute wait on the third green just standing there with a huge crowd around me and it was an amazing kind of a calming acclimatization, just kind of reality setting in because he had just thrown me the tournament back. It was like, here you go, have the lead back, but it wasn’t a lead that I had to sleep on and it wasn’t a lead that I even had to prepare for.

Biggest lesson learned from being U.S. Open champion
Maybe that I can handle being one of the world’s top players. This will always be my first major championship. It will always be my defining year, be my sort of rookie year as a top player, if you like, so I’ll never have to go through this process again. I feel like I’ve probably experienced nearly everything there is to experience in the game now, so everything beyond here will feel reasonably normal. So I guess this last 12 months has been probably the last feather in my cap, if you like, as far as getting ready to be the best player I can be; accepting everything that goes with winning the best tournaments in the world and being one of the best players in the world. I’ve learned that I can handle it. Yeah, there’s been some up and downs and there’s been some mistakes made, but you know generally I feel like I’m ready to accept it and I feel like I can do it.

Winning at Congressional?
Does the fact that I won the U.S. Open make me more likely to win at Congressional? Perhaps if the golf course sets up for me. I’ve got a huge amount of belief in myself from 2010 that if I put myself in that position again I have the calm of mind to perhaps get the job done. I’m a good putter under pressure, which is a huge weapon. So, yeah, I want to win more major titles.