From Brian Keogh in Pittsburgh
Graeme McDowell is convinced that he has a US Open win deep inside him.
But reflecting on his Oakmont “head-wreck”, the Ulsterman took a hard look at himself in the major championship mirror and confessed that he still has a long way to go.
Tied for 30th on 17 over par, the glaring holes in his short game came back to haunt him at the punishing Pittsburgh track.
But like Justin Rose and Paul Casey, he’s ready to take the positives from the wreckage of his week and make himself an even better player.
After coming through a qualifier to get to Oakmont, he said: “This is the toughest set up I have ever played in my life and you learn a lot about yourself. You can't learn these things if you are not here.
“For young players this is an unbelievable test. It really shows them what it is like to win a major and what you have got to do to win a major.
“I am sure they are all dreaming of winning majors like I am and I really feel like I have a US Open inside me somewhere. I really do.
“The courses set up well for me and I showed that from tee to green I have the head to hang in there.”
While Rose and Casey shot 76 and final round leader Aaron Baddeley a horrendous 80, McDowell put weekend rounds of 76 and 77 down to a poor shot game.
But he’s determined to go back to the drawing board with his coach Clive Tucker and come back out an even stronger player.
He said: “If I could give myself a handicap for my chipping and pitching around the greens it is probably about 20 handicap this week. No offence to 20 handicappers around the world!
“I probably threw away three or four shots a round through sinful up and downs. I just lost my confidence with it a little bit due to the set up.”
Phsycially drained after his ordeal, McDowell plans to “sleep for three days” and look back on the mistakes that cost him a top 15 finish and an automatic US Open return at Torrey Pines next term.
He said: “As good as I felt Friday, I felt very flat yesterday and flat again today. Maybe it is the result of playing five straight. This is my fifth in a row and I am really looking forward to my week off next week.
“But I feel like I have learnt a ton about myself and I am ready to take the next step now. There are things to work on - the short game especially.
“My ball striking got worn down over the weekend with the general, sheer mental test of this place.
“I am disappointed that my ball striking didn't stand up under the pressure. And my short game certainly didn't stand up under the pressure. That is probably the only negative i am going to take away from it.”
“Weeks like this are marathons and you have really got to pace yourself. I was kind of buzzing on Friday night and spent a lot of time on the range, chipping. But I came out on Saturday really flat.
“So it is a mistake that you make and I think I will learn from them. I have to stay they are unbelievably tough weeks and it is very tough to hold it together for four rounds.”
His short game will haunt him for quite some time though he does not believe that the US Golf Association was unfair with its set up of the course.
While he dominates the links-style chip and run shot he learnt as a lad in Portrush, he knows that US Open style golf requires a different approach to conquer the thick rough around the greens.
He said: “I grew up on links golf and I know how to bump and run the thing. I know how to putt from off the greens. My pace putting is very good.
“But you can't win a US Open just with those kind of qualities. You have got to be able to get it up and down from the thick hay.”
McDowell looks at England’s Justin Rose as an example to follow - a player who has plumped the depths and built himself back up.
Ranked 122nd in the world, McDowell wants to use his Oakmont experience as a springboard to bigger and better things such making the Ryder Cup team.
He said: “This game is a complete learning experience. You never stop learning in this game and the second you do, is the second you are beaten.
“There are guys who have had the belief in themselves to keep going through the tough times. Probably none more so than Justin.
“He went on an unbelievably bad run his first couple of years on tour. I look at him now and he is one of the best players in the world.
“He is competing every week in the big events and that just comes with experience and belief in yourself. Really sticking to the method you believe will take you there.
“Your coaches, your management and your caddie are people who take you where you want to be, wining majors and playing in Ryder Cups.
“Justin is a guy I am trying to model myself on right now. He's doing the business week in week out and I would love to try and do something similar.
“I feel like maybe I am a year behind him. It will take me a few days to get a little hindsight on this week.
“Like I say, disappointed in the weekend but there was some very, very good stuff in there and hopefully I will be able to look back and smile at it after a few beers later on maybe.
“I think my game’s in good shape and I’m looking forward to what the next three or four months and the next couple of years are going to hold.
“I’m excited about next year’s Ryder cup and that’s what I’m aiming at. I think I have to game to start winning tournaments again and to get myself back up to where I belong.”