McDowell backing Merion to bite back

Graeme McDowell believes driving accuracy will still be key despite the soft conditions at Merion. Photo: Anthony Powter) www.golffile.ieGraeme McDowell is a poster boy for the power of positive thinking, a master of psychology, a cerebral Grand Slam candidate.

Hailed as a potential  winner from the moment Merion appeared on the US Open radar, he tried hard to temper his disappointment at the way Mother Nature has seemingly conspired against him this week.

Apart from throwing out his practice schedule — he played just nine holes yesterday and plans only another nine today - he insisted his chances were intact.

“I don’t think it reduces my chances much, if at all,” he said.

Yes, Merion’s fairways are “going to play 10, 15 percent wider,” he said. But wedge play is going to be key and that’s good news.

In fact, he even went as far as saying that driving accuracy, despite the new receptiveness of the course, will be more important than ever.

“From what I hear the rough is going to be thicker than intended,” he said before heading out to see the course for the first time since the rain hit it hard.  “And fairways are going to play wider, but it’s still a tough driving golf course.  

“Driving the ball and wedge play are going to be the two keys this week.  I think wedge play coming into these soft and fast greens that are pitched back towards the players probably 15, 16 times, controlling the spin, trying to get the back pins, to me those are the two keys to the golf course.”

McDowell is the straightest hitter on the PGA Tour this year as well as the top scrambler. His wedge play has always been exceptional and his putting is on song.

All this is good and yet as the effects of the heavy remain were very much in evidence yesterday with player’s drives stopping on impact, he scoffed at suggestions that we could be in for a repeat of Congressional Country Club in 2011, when Rory McIlroy destroyed the course and the field.

Sacrilege of sacrileges, there has even been talk of a 62, which would smash the major championship low of 63 set first by Johnny Miller at Oakmont in 1973.

“Everyone is saying that it’s going to be 62’s and 63’s on this golf course, which I kind of disagree with at the minute,” he said when told that defending champion Webb Simpson expected to have nine wedge shots in the first 13 holes.

“You might have nine wedges but some of them will be for your third shot if you don’t hit the fairway,” he said.

“I think there’s 10 or 11 of these golf holes on this course are as tough as any US Open I’ve seen, especially the last five.  

“Three of the four par‑3s here are all you want. They’re very difficult.  Very long.  A lot of trouble.

“I’m hoping it’s not going to be score‑fest.  I don’t think it is going to be a score‑fest.”

McDowell lives in fear of the last five holes especially.

“You have to hang on for dear life those last five holes,” he said. “The 14th is an incredibly difficult golf hole. If you miss it left off the tee, it’s either lost ball or go back to the tee box because it’s unplayable.

“At 15, you’re aiming at the road.  Guys are going to be hitting it out of bounds there for fun. The right hand side is deep rough and deep bunkers.

“At 16, with that tier in the green, as soft as it is now, it’s going to be tough to find the top portion. The 17th is all you want - a 250 yard par three.

“And 18, I missed my drive slightly off the back tee last Wednesday and couldn’t reach the fairway.”

What McDowell fears most of all is the mud ball but his hope that the USGA might break with tradition and allow preferred lies is almost certainly a vain one unless the rain strikes with a vengeance once more.

His first concern is making sure he makes it to the first tee on time with a 10-minute buggy ride from the range on the West Course liable to take up to 20 minutes given the congestion on the property.

“My caddie is already on my case,” McDowel said. “He was waiting for me with his teeth sharpened.  He said, you better be here on time..  It was pretty much the first thing he said to me when I arrived yesterday.  

“If you want 50 minutes hitting golf balls, you’re going to have to be getting out of your car literally an hour and 30 before your tee time…. I will not be the guy missing the tee time.”

Apart from the course, keeping his own high expectations in check is his biggest challenge.

“Like I say, I’m keeping any expectations in check this week, not expecting too much from myself,” he said. “I’m really viewing the week as the start of a big summer of golf.  

“All I can do is try to prepare and have fun and keep my head down here.”