Graeme McDowell has revealed how one moment of club-smashing madness inspired him to completely reassess his career.
The Ulsterman, 28, lashed his favourite five-wood off a rock during last year’s Omega European Masters in Switzerland and realised he didn’t like or recognise the player he had become.
From the highs of winning twice in his first three seasons, McDowell looked like a beaten docket as he was sucked into a downward spiral of mediocrity, frustration and stagnation.
But he has since seen the light and decided to break away from long-time manager Chubby Chandler’s International Sports Management group to relaunch his career with Irish young guns Horizon Sports Management and boss Conor Ridge.
And McDowell is so excited by the move that he believes he can now go on to win Ryder Cup honours and welcome Tiger Woods to the 2009 European Tour party as one of Europe’s elite.
Recalling how his golfing nightmare hit home on a mountain in Switzerland just two weeks before Ireland’s Ryder Cup, McDowell said: “I remember thinking I had played myself into a kind of oblivion. I wasn’t enjoying the game.
“I was frustrated and pretty beat up. It was at that point that I felt something was wrong and something had to change. I don’t remember being scared. I was disappointed and frustrated. I had to look back and ask, how have I arrived here?
“I wasn’t liking the person I was on the golf course any more. I was frustrated. I had this temper from somewhere and I had never been a bad tempered player. I just realised that I wasn’t enjoying the sport. I thought, ‘what’s wrong with me?’”
Down to 102nd in the world from a high of 37th three years ago, McDowell decided that the time had come to end his five and a half year relationship with Chandler, whose ISM company had grown immensely since he won on his fourth European Tour start in Sweden in 2002.
Yet he does not openly point the finger at ISM, which has since added Simon Dyson, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy to the massive workload of looking after Lee Westwood, Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and some of the world’s top cricketers.
Explaining his move to Dublin based Horizon, McDowell said: “I have had a great relationship with ISM over the last five years and they were the perfect fit for me in the beginning.
“But things were stagnating a little bit as far as my career went in terms of motivation and interest. I wanted to freshen thing up and get a boost of energy really.
“Stale is probably the only way to describe it. ISM have been going through some really big changes the last couple of years with some big acquisitions like Ernie Els and guys like that.
“A few months ago I told Chubby that I was a little disillusioned with what was going on and felt like I needed a change.
“I like what’s going on with Horizon. They are young, they are ambitious and energetic and I feel they are a really good fit for me.
“I feel like I have got a great team of people around me now and this move was the last little piece in the puzzle.”
After reaching the world’s top 50 in 2004, McDowell’s determined to get back there soon after finding the final piece in a team jigsaw that has seen him change coach and caddie over the last 12 months.
He leaves ISM with his entire posse of sponsors and is negotiating a club deal with Callaway before he continues his 2008 Ryder Cup campaign in the gulf states in January.
He said: “It is all about the Ryder Cup team and all about becoming a dominant player in Europe and getting back in the winner’s circle. It is time to make people in Europe realise that I am one of the top players here in Europe.
“It has taken me a full 18 months to get back on the path again, reset my goals and get back to doing what I do best: competing in golf tournaments and enjoying my golf again.
“It has been a voyage of rediscovery but I feel like I have learnt a lot. I sit here now a very experienced player and I like where I am right now.
“The future is pretty bright for me and I am excited about how I am playing. I am looking forward to getting back up the world rankings and becoming a top ranked player again.”
Ranked 16th on the European Ryder Cup points list, McDowell reckons he won’t need any motivation to hit the gym and the range over the winter months in Portrush and Orlando.
He said: “This is the start of my best ever Ryder Cup campaign. I have never got off to such a good start and I have never felt so good about my game. I am confident and the energy I have gained from this management move has got me really motivated and really fired up.”
As for the new European Tour set up and the $10 million Dubai World Championship at the end of 2009, McDowell can’t wait to play a major part in golf’s new world order.
He said: “I thought that Europe has been suffering the last couple of years and the PGA Tour has been really dominating. But I think this Dubai thing has swung the pendulum back in our favour again.
“I think Tiger Woods being a member of the European Tour in ‘09 is a huge possibility. I can’t see a $10 million event without Tiger Woods playing. It is just not going to happen.
“If Tiger is a member of our tour in 09 it can only do good things for us and only attract the best in the world to come play in Europe.”
McDowell wants to be there to challenge the Tiger when he arrives. New horizons are opening up all around him and he can see forever.