McDowell knows the answer: "Just need courage in my pocket"

McDowell knows the answer: "Just need courage in my pocket"
 Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell

Things are nowhere near as bad as the annus horribilis of 2006 but Graeme McDowell’s fifth missed cut of the season at the Alstom Open de France is the kind of result that could send the help scurrying for cover.

Luckly for Team McDowell, it’s hard to see him slipping to the turmoil levels of 2006, whe he took up his PGA Tour card too soon, missed 14 cuts and smashed a five wood off a rock (or a tree root, there are two versions) at Crans in Switzerland that autumn.

That 2006 year brought changes and manager Chubby Chandler was one of them. What McDowell will change now remains to be seen but admitting that his head is full of technical thoughts that need to be expunged is not good news for the coaching department. 

Nobody knows more about these situation than Pete Cowen, the classy, blackclad English masters professional who has helped McDowell with his swing and his short game for the golden years.

The Ulsterman turns 36 later this month and with younger, longer, stronger players emerging all the time, it’s only natural for him to doubt himself a times.

Earlier this he spoke about a few of those moments when you wonder if you should be thinking about a career change, which bring back memories of 2006, when missing the Ryder Cup at The K Club really hit him hard as sat in BBC Radio Five and RTE commentary booths.

“I don’t remember being fearful of losing my job, but I was certainly fearful of mediocrity,” McDowell said of the time. “I never had any notions that maybe I was through with golf, that maybe I could take up commentary. 

"But as it was, I enjoyed it. It was part of the driving force to get myself on to the team in 2008. I thought, ‘There is no way I want to miss this next team.’ It spurred me on.”

McDowell won twice in 2008 to make that year’s Ryder Cup team and four times in 2010, including the US Open. He won the Ryder Cup for Europe and was arguably the best player in the world that year, taking down Tiger Woods in a playoff in his own event to cap off a dream season. He ended it as world No 6 behind Lee Westwood, Woods, Martin Kaymer, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk. Good times.

There were no wins in 2011 but he was back in 2012, winning again and while the 2012 Ryder Cup was not what he wanted personally, he was still in that elite top 15 in the world.

The 2013 season was a fraught one for everyone at Horizon Sports Management with all we now know about the Rory McIlroy case and the way McDowell became a pawn in that high stakes game.

He left the company to manage his own affairs at the end of the year and become, in this reporter's eyes, a less accessible or interested character. 

Finding motivation has been a problem for him, as he went out of his way to tell Paul Kimmage in an in depth Sunday Independent profile earlier this year.

Kimmage’s excellent interviews impress players and McDowell was keen to make a few points in a piece that’s well worth your time.

He remains an engaging part of the whole tour menagerie, especially when he's feeling generous and offers honest answers.

Around seven weeks after his lone major win to date, he was asked about what it’s like to come through a slump. The circumstances are dfferent now and while he’s a very differnt person from 2010 vintage McDowell, part of that man still remains.

"You know, I’ve had my ups and downs in an eight-year career, eight-year-plus year, whatever I’ve had. In '06 I was a bit injured.  You know, when you're in a slump, you start questioning absolutely every aspect of what you're doing, from family level right up through your coach, your manager, your caddie. You question absolutely everything you're doing, your equipment. When you have five hours out there on a golf course, struggling, you’ve just so much time to think about what it is that's gone wrong and what it is you're doing wrong and what it is you need to do to fix it. 
"Sometimes, like I say, questioning the deep, dark, depths of your soul as to what you've done wrong and where you need to go from there, I think you make some big decisions and if there's changes that need to be made; I obviously made some massive decisions in '06, '07, some big changes. Went to Callaway Golf, switched my management company to Horizon Sports, new caddie, new coach. I made some changes to get people on board to help me get back in the right direction again.
"Like I say, slumps come with a lot of soul searching, and I think that's probably the only way to describe it. And this sport, probably more so than any sport, when it feels easy, it feels unbelievably easy; and when it feels hard, there’s no sport harder in the world, I don’t think. It’s definitely a very unique sport from that point of view.”

He said that in Whistling Straits, venue for this year’s US PGA and it will be interesting to hear him speak there again this year.

Judging by his comments in Paris on Friday, where he missed the cut comfortably in his bid for a third successive win in the Omnium, emerging from these tough periods is far from easy.

He blamed his driving accuracy, but as with all slumps, one malise leads to others.

Then there are the questions…

Q. It’s been a disappointing season for  you so far; is it just a matter of being patient  and keep grinding, or are you thinking of  changing things up?
GRAEME McDOWELL: How do I keep grinding? I've got a lot of technique in my head, I've got to be honest, and I have to strip that out. I'm having problems stripping it out. I've got to get  back to basics a little bit and try and clear the mind  a little bit. Just been working too hard on trying to  get the technique fixed and making it worse… I've got a lot of golf to play. Just need courage in my pocket, get out there and work it out. I know it’s in there.

What a great phrase, “courage in my pocket”

“There's a little bit of clutter in there right now, but that's golf. You take the  rough with the smooth. It's been a great three or four years. I’ll dig this out and I’ll be back.”

Having seen the way he recovered from the difficulties of 2006, solving the puzzle this time around may give us an even better McDowell, which would be something well worth the wait.

That he can rely on himself to find the answers within himself is probably a blessing.