The Masters Hangover is a common ailment that afflicts professional golfers who suffer from an overdose of pressure, attention and Augusta National Golf Club’s überdemanding putting surfaces.
The accepted Masters Hangover cure is the following week’s RBC Heritage Classic, a low-key beach party disguised as a PGA Tour stop on Hilton Head Island, whose sandy shores, marinas, swaying palmettos and endless line of party boats and tony seafood restaurants possess mysterious recuperative powers.
The magical prescription, however, didn’t work last week. Sunday at the Harbour Town Golf Links was an ordeal. Winds gusting up to 40 mph turned a relaxing tournament with small, mostly flat greens into a fun-sized version of a howling U.S. Open.
Thus it wasn’t a coincidence that the last two men standing were Northern Ireland native Graeme McDowell and North Carolina native Webb Simpson, two of the last three Open champions. “It’s a very majoresque golf course,” said McDowell, who won a playoff on the first extra hole when Simpson missed a seven-foot par attempt. “Discipline, patience — all these things are required here.”
Simpson, 27, pulled off a clutch up-and-down par save to win last year’s Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco. McDowell, 33, missed a putt that would’ve forced a playoff.
Maybe McDowell and Simpson were the last two men standing because of another similarity: They weren’t suffering from Masters Hangovers because they weren’t around for the weekend in Augusta. They arrived on the Island (as locals call their shady beach haven) frustrated but rested and refreshed.
“If I make the Masters cut and grind out a 30th- or 40th-place finish, do I sit here with this beautiful jacket on?” asked McDowell, wearing the Heritage champ’s traditional red plaid blazer. “In many ways the missed cut was the best thing that happened. I wouldn’t swap this win for anything less than a green jacket.”
McDowell and Simpson embody the modern Tour player — they’re highly skilled and about equal in talent. Which means it’s difficult to win often, no matter how easy Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have made it look. How tough is it? McDowell’s only other PGA Tour victory came at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and Simpson has only four top 10s since winning the Open last June. Dating to 2009, 11 of the last 16 major champions haven’t won a Tour title since bagging their big prize.
“It’s getting harder and harder to win,” said Simpson, who owns two other titles. “There are way more guys in fields every week who can win.”
There may not be a curse that goes with winning a major, but apparently there is some kind of burden, however small. Simpson said he hasn’t felt it, but McDowell has.
“I’ve been working hard since 2011 to get over my U.S. Open win and blah-blah-blah, everything that goes with that,” McDowell said, explaining that he takes a long view of his career. “I was looking to change my swing to pick up 15 or 20 yards, but I was afraid it would weaken the rest of my game so I didn’t do it. It was the right decision.”
Despite the challenging final-round conditions, McDowell enjoyed a week in keeping with the spirit of the Heritage. “It was a work week but not a hard work week,” he said with a laugh. He did warmups, running on the beach. Chariots of Fire stuff? “No, no,” McDowell said. “When I say warmup, I’m using it in the loosest form of the expression possible. Just a light jog on the beach in bare feet.”
With his victory, McDowell finally triumphed in an odd-numbered year. All of his previous wins had come in even-numbered years. “Not that I’m paying attention,” he said. He was also glad to give the crowd at Nona Blue Tavern, his new restaurant and bar near the Orlando airport, something to celebrate. Drinks would be on the house, McDowell said, although the length of that celebratory special would “depend on how many people are in there.”
It sounds like the makings of an entirely new ailment: the Heritage Hangover. Cheers.