No panic as G-Mac targets French revolution with Paris hat-trick

No panic as G-Mac targets French revolution with Paris hat-trick

Graeme McDowell practices for the Alstom Open de France. Picture: Getty Images

Graeme McDowell might be going through a mini slump but it would be wise to wait until after this week’s Alstom Open de France before hitting the panic button.

The 2010 US Open winner is in danger of falling out of the world’s Top 50 after a snail-like start to 2015 as seen him slip from 15th last December 31st to 48th today.

A fourth missed cut of the year in the US Open at Chambers Bay saw him slip another four places to 48th in the world. But as happened last year — and to some extent in 2013 — he's refused to panic and hoping to kickstart his season with a win at Le Golf National near Versailles despite seeing the progress he felt he made in the BMW PGA and the Irish Open halted by harsh US Open conditions at Chambers Bay.

"I felt like I've had the train back on the tracks a little bit through Wentworth, Irish Open," McDowell said in Paris, where he is hoping to become the first player for 77 years to win the Alstom Open de France three years running at 2018 Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National.

"I was really starting to kind of like the momentum I was starting to gather. Got to Memphis, physically didn't feel well that week, sort of carried that hangover into Chambers, which was a highly difficult test. I certainly look back and had no regrets about the golf course. I just didn't play the golf. I just didn't control my irons. 

“But yeah, you know, stopped my momentum a little bit. Felt like I was starting to get somewhere and those two weeks knocked me become a little bit but coming into the summer here now, got an incredible run of golf coming up. I'm going to play six of the next seven and go into the FedEx Playoffs. So no shortage of golf coming up. 

“Really I have to start the ball rolling again and start that momentum gathering. I feel a lot happier where I am mentally now than where I was four or five months ago. You know, look at the World Rankings and I'm very conscious of not panicking. I know I'm good enough and I know that if I keep doing what I'm doing, that things will come back. 

“So it's been a lot of fun the last year just personally. I wouldn't change that for anything. So just got to get back at it, and I have been getting back at it. Like I say, momentum was killed a little bit last couple weeks, but there's no better time to start playing well than right now with all the golf ahead of me."

In short, the message is clear - Don't Panic. But the truth is that not only is his place in all next year’s Majors under threat — his five-year US Open exemption runs out after this year’s US PGA at Whistling Straits — he’s also been passed by Shane Lowry in the race to make Ireland’s 2016 Olympic Games team.

He can, after all. look to the great Jack Nicklaus for inspiration as tries to combine tour life with his role as a husband and father.

“The most important thing in my life has always been my family,” father of five Nicklaus wrote in his autobiography: “Jack Nicklaus: My Story.”

“I tried in earnest, given the nature of professional tournament golf. to put the well-being and happiness of my wife, Barbara, and my children—Jack, Steve, Nan, Gary and Michael—ahead of all other priorities and concerns, including tournament golf and business endeavours.”

McDowell has admitted several times this year that he subconsciously let himself ease off mentally following his marriage to Kristin Stape and the birth of the couple’s first child, a girl, in August last year.

“My general desire to go and hit golf balls has not really been perhaps where it has been in the past,” he said. “I feel like I have other things in my mind. 

“It took me four, five, six months to recognise that, I suppose. As my game has not been where I've wanted it to be the last three or four months, you start to ask the question why. 

“And I felt like the answer is: Just a little bit of lack of desire and motivation, and spending more time with my family and not really wanting to grind as hard as I have been.”

He says one of his biggest motivations now is the thought of seeing his daughter, Vale, “running on to the 18th green on a Sunday afternoon.”

“What does that mean? I have to start working hard again. And I've been working hard the last few months and I really feel like my game is turning around. 

“It's been a problem but it's been a great problem. It's been a mental kind of shift, which has been affecting the technicalities of my game. I just haven't played well because I haven't really been applying myself, and recognising that's tough. 

“And I have now and I feel like I've been trying to solve the problem and get myself back.”

And with a huge run of events to come — the, Scottish Open and The Open followed by the RBC Canadian Open, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA in the space of seven weeks, he hopes to see his game click soon.

Since splitting with Horizon Sports Management last year McDowell has concentrated hard on his business interests — the Nona Blue restaurant in Orlando, his clothing line with Kartel and his own beer, G-Mac's Celtic Style Pale Ale, to name but three.

But with top business partners and employees looking after those brands, blaming that for his loss of form would clearly be wrong.

Hard work and a glance at the world rankings and the stretch of great events ahead, it would be foolish to bet against him.

What better place to start than the French Open, where he will be bidding to become only the second man in the tournament’s illustrious history to win the title three years in succession. 

Not since Marcel Dallemagne in 1938 has someone lifted Continental Europe’s oldest Open three times in succession, though five players have landed a hat-trick of European Tour titles in the same event — Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Tiger Woods and Ian Woosnam. 

The 35-year old is part of a strong field gathered for the €3million tournament on the Albatros course, with six of his team-mates from the 2014 Ryder Cup also in attendance - Thomas Bjørn, Jamie Donaldson, Victor Dubuisson, Stephen Gallacher, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood.

Dubuisson and Alexander Levy are leading the 29-strong French charge, aiming to become the first home player since Thomas Levet in 2011 to win the title.

McDowell said: “Coming back to this tournament and having a chance to win a tournament three times in a row is very special. I've always enjoyed this golf course, right back in the early days when I would come here.

"The golf course has developed so much over the years. I think back in those first few years, the fescue was incredibly high and this golf course could play really, really difficult. I really think the guys involved at Paris National have done a great job shaping the golf course and really helping it develop to the golf course we've been playing for the last few years now which has really become a great course.

"It's changed a lot over the years and become a lot more fair but still, big emphasis on hitting fairways here and hitting greens. The par 3s are some of the toughest par 3s we play all year. It's a great golf course. Always enjoyed coming here but extra special this year, chasing three in a row, it will be very special."

McDowell is joined in Paris by five irish players with differing agendas.

While McDowell and Darren Clarke are exempt for The Open in a fortnight, Peter Lawrie, Paul McGinley, Damien McGrane and Michael Hoey will be chasing a Top-10 finish and a spot at St Andrews from 16-19 July not to mention a top prize of €500,000.

Lawrie is also trying to win back his card while McGrane is struggling to keep his.

As for the 2018 Ryder Cup, which will be held at the French venue, McDowell is hopeful that he will be playing, even if he needs a wildcard.

"I'll be pushing 40, so at least I'll perhaps be a good call for an invite for a wildcard pick for 2018 if I don't make the team off my own merit," he said playfully. "Being a little bit of a course specialist around here, certainly "I'll be expecting to be part of things."