As far as we know, the great French writer Marcel Proust did not play golf but he would have been intrigued by Graeme McDowell’s responses to his famous Questionnaire.
Designed to give a snapshot of the taker’s personality, their desires and their foibles, McDowell’s considered answers offered a revealing window on what makes the newly crowned Open de France winner tick.
They also offer an intriguing point of comparison between a man who will celebrate his 34th birthday at the end of this month and his 24-year old friend Rory McIlroy.
Both have been troubled by inconsistency this season but while the new world No 6 has managed the disappointment of five missed cuts and gleaned three wins from his 12 strokeplay starts this year, McIlroy’s three missed cuts from the same number of events have left him a far less happy camper.
Of course, McDowell is the first to admit that he is not living on Planet McIlroy, a place where every move is magnified, every gesture exaggerated by the huge gravitational pull of a multi-million Nike contract, a celebrity girlfriend and his own sky-high expectations.
As both men turn up at Muirfield today to begin their reconnaissance missions for next week’s Open Championship, one wonder if McIlroy will offer congratulations to McDowell in person, having neglected to put his thoughts out in the Twitter-verse on Sunday evening.
How much their relationship has been affected by the fallout over McIlroy’s decision to leave Conor Ridge and Horizon Sports Management after just 19 months has been subject to as much media speculation as McIlroy’s private life.
Seemingly happy in his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki, there has been much prying into the lives of McIlroy’s parents over the past 10 months, resulting in an apology and a generous donation to charity by a popular Irish Sunday newspaper.
Whatever about Nick Faldo’s theory on McIlroy’s highly debated move from Titleist to Nike Golf in January, one tends to look more to Jack Nicklaus’ assertion that the Holywood star reached the top of the mountain and did what most 20-somethings would do — he took a step back from the grind to enjoy life a little.
“Now he is back to wanting to play golf again and he’s struggling,” the Golf Bear said. “I think he’s struggling because I think it’s in between his head.”
Ignoring talent levels and work ethic for a moment, the difference between McDowell and McIlroy comes down to the 10-year age difference. There is no substitute for a little maturity and stability when your world is as busy at the world No 2’s.
While one was media fodder as a child, a full time golfer in his teens and a professional by the age of 18, the other was widening his horizons in college in Alabama before waiting until he was almost 23 to take the plunge in the professional ranks.
While McDowell’s father Kenny and mother Marian soaked up the sunshine and proudly watched their son win for the 12th time in his career just outside Versailles on Sunday, McIlroy’s father is (temporarily at least) embroiled in the day-to-day running of his son’s career, a role that was never in the grand plan for the pride of Holywood.
Happy golfers don’t always play well but McDowell has been in a happy place for quite some time. Engaged to be married later this year, he readily admitted that he discussed babies and fatherhood with Richard Sterne as they played Le Golf National on Sunday.
The Portrush man now heads to The Open with high hopes of following in the following in the footsteps of fellow Rathmore man Fred Daly 66 years ago. McIlroy goes there more in hope than expectation.
My mind goes back to Proust’s questionnaire McDowell patiently answered as he changed his shoes in the locker room on the eve of the Honda Classic, where McIlroy would walk off the course in frustration less than 48 hours later.
“Q: What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
A: A happy, healthy family.
Q: What’s you greatest fear?
A: Probably the opposite of that — an unhealthy, unhappy family. Especially my parents and my loved ones. Your folks getting old, it’s not a nice feeling. It’s a fear. A fear of getting that call one day. And it’s an inevitable call.
“Q: What’s your most marked characteristic?
A: I don’t know. When I look at golf and what people think of me they always say, just my mental strength, which I feel when I look at my mum. I feel like I get a lot of mental toughness from her. Tough. My toughness. When my mum got sick I realised where I got it from pretty quickly….
“Q What’s your motto?
“A: Prepare well and have no regrets. It’s being able to look back and say, you know what, I gave that everything I had.”
Right now, McDowell is in a position to give the game 100 percent. McIlroy, for many reasons, is not.
Landmark weekend for The Curragh
The Curragh Golf Club celebrated two historic moments at the weekend — the presentation to the club by the great Ernie Jones of memorabilia from his early days there and the launch of the revised club history by Bill Gibson.
The revision arose from a digital search of newspapers in the British Library, which revealed that a club has been established on the Curragh in 1858 and not in 1885 as previously believed. This makes the Curragh the oldest club and course on the island of Ireland.
The Belfast Telegraph of the 1 July 1858 revealed that the 2nd Battalion of Royal Lanarkshire Militia has established a Golf Club at The Curragh in that year.
This unit had arrived in Ireland in 1857 having spent the previous two years based in the grounds of Lanark Golf Club in Scotland where many of their officers developed a keen interest in the game.
The first course at The Curragh was laid out by Mr David Richie of Royal Musselburgh Golf Club in Edinburgh and was set around the famous Curragh landmark Donnelly’s Hollow.
As for Ernie Jones, he was born in the Curragh Camp in 1932, where his father served a Company Quartermaster Sergeant.
Caddying at the Curragh Golf Club was one of his pastimes after school time and he began playing with a club made out of a steel pipe, hammered flat at one end.
Irish Professional champion in 1955 and 1964, Ernie served as assistant professional from 1946 to 1952 before going on to work at Foxrock, Bangor, Royal Co. Down and The K Club.
Captain of the Irish PGA in 1969, he was witness to one of sport’s great gestures that year when he refereed the Ryder Cup match between Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin that ended with the now famous concession by the Golden Bear.
The men’s amateur season is so hectic and compressed that Irish Amateur Open champion Robbie Cannon would love to see some lateral thinking.
With the vast majority of championship golf for our elite players squeezed into a four-month window between April and July, action is needed.
“I think with a slight alteration to the schedule there could be more Irish players on the European Tour,” Cannon says. “There is too much competition in too short of time from April to July and not enough recovery time.
“Yes, players get very competitive and produce results. But they don’t get enough time to rest or work on their fundamentals and skills. That is what they need to work on to build a base to have a successful professional career.
“I know from talking to guys on the circuit that a warm weather championship or two in August and September would be loved. For example, maybe tradition needs to be broken and move the West. Nobody likes playing or watching the West in baltic conditions in March.”
With the South of Ireland Championship unlikely to change date unless there is a change of venue, an Irish Close Championship in late summer is particularly appetising.
Meanwhile, the action continues relentlessly with the North of Ireland Championship and the European Amateur Team Championships for men, boys, ladies and girls all taking place this week.
Meadow taking it one step at a time
Stephanie Meadow may have ended up on the wrong end of a 16 1/2 - 7 1/2 scoreline in the Vagliano Trophy at Chantilly recently but she’s not letting a summer of disappointment distract her as she prepares for a 2013-14 college campaign in Alabama.
The world amateur No 9 hopes to turn professional at the end of next year and while she’s widely tipped to make it to the LPGA Tour and become Ireland’s first truly successful woman professional, she’s not getting ahead of herself.
“You can make lists of goals and titles that you want but it is so hard in the US because there are so many good players and one shot can make a difference to being this that or the other,” she explains. “I am just trying to focus on playing as well as I can and improving on my scoring average from last season and see where that puts me. If it is No 1, it is No 1. If it’s not, it’s not. I was just pipped for the stroke average this year.”
The 21-year old from Jordanstown was pushed out of the No 1 spot in the Golfweek/Sagarin ranking of the top US women’s college players by 18 year old Annie Park in the last event of the 2012-13 campaign. No matter, she says.
“It was a close thing all season — four or five shots difference over the whole year, which is nothing,” Meadow explains.
“That’s what it’s so hard saying you want to be this or that. It really is only a few shots and it’s the same in the pro game too. You just have to focus on yourself and if someone plays better than you, they do. If you win, you win.”