Graeme McDowell will hate the sound byte to emerge from a Q&A on PGATour.com. But his insistence that it was pure pressure that caused Rory McIlroy to walk out of the Honda Classic mid-round is nothing but the honest truth.
“I had a micro-version of what he’s going through,” McDowell told Brian Wacker in a piece that also delved into his reasons for opening a bar-restaurant outside the gates of Lake Nona. “You know, coming from a small town in Northern Ireland, and then financially, then the spotlight … everything is increased…
“I’ve been shocked at how well he’s handled everything. Sure, he’s been bred for stardom since an early age and his upbringing was Tiger-esque. He’s taken it in stride. But in the end something had to give. The Nike contract, all the stardom, being the No. 1 player in the world, all the pressure - it has taken its toll. There was a release valve that was going to blow at some point.
“I suppose he felt the pressure at the start of this year to live up to expectations and new sponsors and to prove he’s worth every penny. It takes acclimatising. Nothing’s changed, though. It’s still the same game; there’s no extra pressure. It’s external pressure he’s feeling inside that’s not really there.”
McDowell went through the same scenario after he won the US Open and clinched the winning point in the Ryder Cup in 2010, then left Callaway for Srixon.
“The toughest part is your own expectation levels. I remember reading one of Dr. Bob Rotella’s books about a U.S. Women’s Open champion who for every great shot she hit it was thinking, ‘Well, you’re supposed to that because you’re the U.S. Open champion.’ And for every bad shot she hit she berated herself. There’s a lot of internal mental pressure you put on yourself at that level.
“PGATOUR.COM: How much have you talked to Rory the last few weeks?
“McDOWELL: We spoke via text after the Friday wisdom tooth incident, and he told me what he was feeling, and I told him I knew a little about what he was going through. I gave him a few words of advice and I told him I’m always here. We practiced at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and he seemed like he’s in a much better place now.”
McDowell is in action on home turf this week when he joins Tiger Woods in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Woods saw off McDowell’s title challenge to win the event last year and having won the WGC-Cadillac Championship in his last start, the 14-time major winner will relieve McIlroy of the world No 1 ranking if he retains the title.