What goes up must come down. It’s a law of physics and Graeme McDowell knew that dealing with his US Open win and his incredible 2010 campaign would not be easy.
He heard New Zealander Michael Campbell compare the aftermath of his first major win to the dangers faced by a climber who’s just conquered Everest.
“Nobody teaches you to climb down again,” said Campbell, who won the US Open in 2005 before slithering as low as 795th in the world. “People die coming down. When you make it your goal in life, climbing Everest or winning a major, nothing prepares you for what’s at the other end.”
McDowell is no Michael Campbell but he appears to be paying the price for his incredible but ultimately draining 2010 season. Whatever about the helter-skelter of media and sponsorship commitments, the body can only take so much before the mind starts to suffer.
Invincible last year, McDowell appears human again. And after missing his third cut from his last four starts in New Orleans on Friday, something the 31-year old hasn’t done since the summer of 2007, alarm bells are chiming softly.
What’s gone wrong? Some observers say that his decision to limit his closed season to a mere four-week break between January’s Abu Dhabi Championship and February’s Accenture Matchplay is a crucial factor. It certainly contrasts with the six-week break he took at the end of 2009.
Padraig Harrington needs eight weeks off fully recharge his batteries and McDowell may well be suffering the effects of his decision to play in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in the second week in January instead of waiting until the end of the month to return to action in the Gulf.
Yes, he closed with an 11 under par 62 at Kapalua and finished third to gave his new equipment sponsors Srixon worldwide publicity worth its weight in gold. But his results have gradually disimproved since then and he now heads into a intense part of his schedule with his confidence on the wane.
Fortunately, he has a few days to catch his breath. But not many.
In just under two weeks’ time he will begin a run of four events in a row - The Players at Sawgrass, the Volvo World Match Play at Finca Cortesin in Spain, the BMW PGA at Wentworth and his defence of the Celtic Manor Wales Open - before he takes a week off to get ready for his US Open defence at Congressional CC near Washington DC.
In fact, he has decided to travel to the Bethesda track for the annual Media Day on Monday, using the trip as a chance to play a practice round and fulfill yet more media commitments.
He will certainly be hoping to see some improvement in his game, which has been consistently erratic since he returned from his short break in Tucson in February. If his irons are poor one week, the following week it’s his chipping or his putting. At Augusta he was last in the field for putting. In New Orleans he appeared to have problems with every aspect of his game, especially his chipping and pitching, which led to a dire scrambling rate of 37.5 percent.
Whatever about technical issues and swing confusion, McDowell must be mentally tired. He admitted that the merry-go-round of commitments has made his head spin in recent months and now he’s got to refocus before it’s too late.
Of course, he knew this was going to be a tough period and if he speaks to former Masters winner Zach Johnson or Trevor Immelman, he’ll hear some familiar tales.
When he returned to Augusta to defend his Masters title in 2008, Johnson said: “I had no idea what I was going to get myself into, especially when I left this chair last year. Everything, even though a lot of it was overwhelming, as I’ve said a lot, a lot of it was chaos.
“Although I think we controlled it to the best that we could. I wouldn’t change a bit of it. It was all positive. Not one second of it I wouldn’t change. I probably got run down the middle of the summer, but you know, I learned from it, so I’m hoping next time around, if there is a next time, that I’ll be more ready.”
Immelman won the Masters in 2008 but then struggled with injury and poor form. But he also admitted that dealing with achieving a lifetime dream leads to dangerously high expectations.
“I think for a little while it was difficult for me to be able to see myself in the same light as a major champion or a grand slam champion,” the South Africa said. “I think that was something that mentally I definitely needed to find a way to digest.
“So that, along with the fact when I was going to those big tournaments after winning, deep down I knew that I had what it takes to win one, having just proved it to myself in April.
“Once you know you can do it, I think where I went wrong was I started putting a little bit too much pressure on myself to do it again. So I think that mentally was the space I found myself in. That was one of the nuances that people who achieve things like that have to overcome.
“That’s another reason why I respect a guy like Tiger Woods so much. Every major championship that comes around, he buckles up and starts another ride. After going through what I went through personally and mentally in the majors after the Masters, that’s something I respect him even more for, that he can get up after such a tremendous high and do it all over again.”
Not even Woods could keep that up forever and off course distractions took their toll.
McDowell is smart and only needs to find a quiet place for a few days to work out his strategy and ensure that the great high of 2010 is not followed by an almighty low this year.