Imagine how his little brother Gary was feeling as he watched the kid the whole family now calls G-Mac heading out to do battle for America’s favourite major - the US Open.
It was the stuff of dreams but Graeme McDowell was trying not to get too caught up in memories of those far off days when the two of them begged their dad Kenny to take them down to the local pitch and putt.
Bigger challenges would await McDowell on the Valley course that Rathmore calls home or the world famous Dunluce course of the town’s most famous club, Royal Portrush.
Kenny McDowell has seen many of his son’s battles at first hand and even went as far as to sleep in his car at Fota Island having driven all night from Portrush with his late friend Jackie to watch him make his European Tour debut in the 2002 Murphy’s Irish Open.
Kenny was not surprised that his son had been able to hold his game together during Saturday’s late night battle with 6 foot 4 inch Dustin Johnson, the powerful American who can reduce 270 yard par fours to a mighty swipe of a long iron.
“He’s got a great engine,” he says of McDowell’s massive heart. “That’s what I always say. When he needs to dig deep, he can do it. That’s GMac. Oh aye. We always called him Graeme at home. But recently the GMac thing has caught on with everybody. Everybody calls him GMac now.”
Yesterday was Father’s Day and Kenny fondly remembers the far off days when his son was just another little kid with a wedge who wished there were 25 hours in a day.
“When did he first pick up a club? When he was about seven or eight. We used to go across to the local pitch and putt. Every Sunday after dinner, him and Gary (his brother) would say: ‘Take us over, take us over.’”
Chuckling at the memory, Kenny adds: “So they just battered balls around and we stayed in the car, you know, after your Sunday dinner. You can’t join the club until you are ten, you see, so they both joined at the same time. And they brought each other on. Gary is younger. Geordie is the older boy.
“Whenever they went for lessons with the local professional, he used to line them all up you see and have a target from maybe 100 yards and say, ‘Right, the closest to the target gets a Mars bar.’ Well after about six goes, Graeme was about another 50 yards back. They kept moving him back a bit because he was so good. He ate a lot of Mars bars.
“We left him over in the morning because myself and Marian both worked and in the summer holidays, we left him over to the club when I was going to work at a quarter to eight. They had a lunch box and we took them over their tea. And we had to go looking for them in the dark. Marian would be saying: ‘They couldn’t be still at the golf course.’
“And I’d be be saying, ‘I’ll tell you where they will be. There is a big bush at the back of the 17th green on the Royal. I bet you they are there.’
“So I flashed the car lights and next thing Graeme pops his head out, ‘Coming now dad, give us five more minutes.’ They were knocking shots into the 17th. You know what it’s like, you are hitting shots in the dark and your eyes become accustomed to it.”
McDowell would need his cat’s eyes at Pebble Beach on Saturday night as the sun set over the Pacific just after 8pm as he came down the stretch with Johnson in Saturday’s third round.
He made a couple of late bogeys at the 16th and 17th as Johnson birdied the 17th and 18th to take a three shot lead into last night’s final round.
But McDowell wasn’t beating himself up over those late mistakes. He’d achieved his dream of putting himself in position to win his first major by clinching his place in the final group and Johnson would have to sleep on the lead.
“It’s what I dream about,” McDowell told his interviewers as evening turned to night. “Last group in a Major Sunday afternoon, that’s what I’m into. My expectations are just to go out and control the ball and see what happens.
“He’s got to sleep on the lead tonight and I can … not that I slept badly last night but I’ll sleep a little sounder tonight. It’s a nice position, playing the last group on Sunday at a Major. It’s what I’ve worked for, it’s what I practice for, it’s what I’ve dreamt of.”
McDowell was nervous before he set off for his 3.50 pm tee time with Johnson on Saturday. He visited a mall with his father and his manager Conor Ridge but couldn’t stop thinking about golf. He couldn’t shop.
“I tried to do some shopping but my mind was a little cluttered, as you can imagine. I got a little nervous before I left the hotel. I actually was in the shower getting ready to get the kit on to come to the golf course and I was sort of nervous … a bit anxious about the day and what it might hold.
“But once I got out there, I felt really good about it. It was a dream start (birdies at the first two hole). I didn’t swing the club as good as I did yesterday. I didn’t swing it that great today but I hung in there well. I’d some big, big putts and some key saves around the greens. I kept myself hanging in there. I felt really good and confident and that’s what I’m aiming for.
“If I can get the swing in the groove and come back tomorrow and just try and float around the golf course and enjoy it … I enjoyed it out there, Dustin put on a great display today and fair play to him. If the same guy turns up tomorrow, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
McDowell was given some timely advice by Ridge before setting off on Saturday.
“You know those documentaries about the Great White Shark,” Ridge asked, sensing McDowell’s nervousness.
“They just cruise around under the surface, always going the same speed,” Ridge explained using a hand gesture - fingers together, palm down, mimicking the smooth forward movement of the great predator. “That’s what you have to do today.”
McDowell did just that, serenely navigating his way through the dangerous waters of Pebble Beach. At one point he looked over at Ridge and shared a private joke by doing his best Great White impression with his hand, smoothly gesturing that he was cruising just under the surface.
“If I can get the swing in the groove and come back tomorrow and just try and float around the golf course and enjoy it,” McDowell mused after his level par 71 left him three behind Johnson and two ahead of Woods. “I enjoyed it out there, Dustin put on a great display today and fair play to him. If the same guy turns up tomorrow, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.
“But I’m very happy with the way I conducted myself this week, especially today, I kept my emotions in check well and I hung in there. I’m in a nice, calm place at the minute, very confident in my game. I’m happy three back going into tomorrow because that can change in a heartbeat around this golf course.”
McDowell is a cerebral golfer. He’s analytical. He’s got a good brain.
A scratch player at 16, he had a sensational amateur career, capturing the Fred Haskins award in 2002 (US college golf’s equivalent of American football’s Heisman Trophy) having smashed Tiger Woods’ scoring records in his final season at the University of Birmingham in Alabama.
He was an A student with a talent for numbers and while he didn’t complete his degree in mechanical engineering, leaving to sign with Chubby Chandler’s ISM when he was one semester short of graduation, he’s justified that decision in spades by winning five times and earning well over €8m.
“He’s very, very smart,” Kenny says. “He got three A levels and one in further maths. He didn’t actually finish his degree. He had one semester left in engineering and he said to me that they were just bombarding him to sign. He said to me, what will I do Dad. And I said, go for it. You can always go back and do your degree if you have to.”
McDowell soon progressed from playing for Mars bars when he was called in with his younger brother to complete a seven man Fred Daly team.
“It was the first competitive match he played. Him and Gary were playing in the pitch and putt and Rathmore had only five men and you need a seven man team. So they said, come on over. Graeme was a 42 handicap and Gary was 45. They were playing off scratch and Graeme took a six handicapper to the 16th green. Unbelievable.”
McDowell head out last night with one of the game’s great predators in his rear view mirror. Not a great white but Tiger Woods, who’d moved into the frame on one under par after a third round 66.
Was McDowell worried? Not really.
“I didn’t notice what he’d dine until I got to the 17th tee box. I looked up and I saw he’d shot five-under, the first time I saw him. I wasn’t surprised. Nothing he does ever surprises me. He’s the greatest player ever to play this game.
“When I saw his name, it pumped me up. Great, I’m going into the final day of the Major in the last group and you know who’s playing in front of me, Tiger Woods. If we can finish ahead of him tomorrow, who knows.”
Asked if he had a number in mind, McDowell said no.
“A 68 or 69 will do the job I’d say. But if Dustin Johnson, Saturday version, turns up tomorrow, we could be in trouble.”