Graeme McDowell is “a player” in the sense that he doesn’t just rely on power or a magical putter or stellar irons to get the ball in the hole. He has that rare knack of simply knowing how to score. And win.
At 36 could go on for another decade or more at the top level but just in case his fuse burns quickly, he’s looking at the next few years as the time when he must try and win that second (or even third) major title to go with his 2010 US Open.
Whether he truly believes that’s going to happen, only he knows for sure. But if he does, the Portrush man plans to start his quest at the tournament that refuses to love him back. The Masters.
Winning the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico last year gave the pride of Rathmore the lifeline that would enable him to scramble his way back onto the deck of the lifeboat after a near two-year period spent drifting on the pleasure craft that comes with success, the joys of marriage and the arrival of a first child.
He was having the time of his life but without even realising it, he was hitting fewer balls, spending less time on the practice putting green. Working less. Whether or not he was sated by success is debatable but there was something missing.
They say you don’t miss something until it’s gone but McDowell has woken up in the nick of time. And as he makes his debut in the Valspar Championship in his adopted Florida this week — the third leg of a probable five in a row stretch before the Masters (or eight in nine if he plays Hilton Head and San Antonio) — he sounds like a man in love with the game again.
For now, this man with a plan is all about getting ready to take another crack at the mountin he loves but cannot climb — Augusta National.
“I’m playing a lot of golf right now,” McDowell told a press conference at TPC Copperheard in Tampa on Wednesday. "Looking forward to it. I'm enjoying my golf. I ready a quote from Phil, he's loving the game. I'm kind of there as well. I'm enjoying playing the game.
“Last year I think I was feeling tough and frustrated and panicking a little bit and this year I’m actually enjoying it and enjoying being on the golf course again, which is nice."
Augusta National’s tee to green test is a tough one for an average hitter like McDowell who naturally draws the ball but fears the hook.
If it’s firm there, he can compete but he knows he’s got to excel around the greens and see the possibilities rather than the potential disasters.
Even though he’s a good putter, he’s had problems getting himself into the right frame of mind around the greens and become over-defensive in what usually ended up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Winning in Mexico was a godsend with the exemption giving him the preciious commodity of time and a Masters invitation.
Now his task is to play himself in the right state of mind to put his excellent putting skills to good use down Magnolia Lane and become the latest medium hitter to conquer the Cathedral of Pines through great short game skills and putting.
“You know, I’m not really sure,” he said when asked about his unrequited love for Augusta National. "I feel like I go to Augusta and I spend my time obsessing about the tee to green element and then I feel like when I talk to you guys on a Friday afternoon after a missed cut it's not been the tee to green element that's hurt me, it's been around the greens and on the greens that's hurt me.
"So I think probably knowing I'm a great putter and not putting well at Augusta frustrates me. I think I'm going in there this year kind of with a little bit more of an open mind from the point of view of spending more time on the greens and really starting to learn those and embrace those and I think you have to embrace putting those greens.
“If you get scared of them and get defensive with them they’ll really find you out."
A return to his old, “more organised” putting set-up appears to be working for McDowell, who was fifth in the Honda Classic and looked set for a top 20 at Doral until he took eight at the 18th on Sunday.
“I feel like I’ve, you know, mentally and physically in a much better place than I was this time last year and looking forward to a big year,” he said. “This is, like I say, great to be here in Florida and in my car driving to tournaments and being close to the family and feeling like I’m playing well and looking forward to a big year."
As for Augusta, he’s reneged on his promise not to bother going up there to prepare the week before the Masters because the call of the pines is too strong, the feeling too special.
“I’ll probably rock up there with someone like Poults,” he said, adding that he’d been doing some homework and picked some brains about what he needs to do there this year.
His coach, Pete Cowen, believes he’s a far more accomplished chipper, bunker player and pitcher of the ball than he was even three years ago and that’s a plus as the Masters beckons.
McDowell explained: ”The tee to green element I think I’ve obsessed over the years and I kind of got the hang of that as I’ve gone back there and realise that really is around and on the greens where it’s won and lost there.
"So, you know, obviously it's a long golf course as it's transitioned over the years. When it's soft there's no doubt it is long for me.
"I've picked up a few mile an hour ball speed and clubhead speed this year. I'm driving it better. I think that's going to put me in good stead in Augusta.
"I'm going to obsess about the greens more. Putt it good and drive it more. I love Augusta. It just doesn’t like me yet but there is time."
As he said when explaining why he played Fall Series events last year rather than a European Tour Final Series event, it was time to make sure he had a job in the US, where he lives.
“There’s no doubt, I had gone through a little bit of soul-searching process as to what it was I wanted to get out of this game, you know, and I rededicated myself from a motivational point of view and I stripped it all back to what my goals needed to be,” McDowell explained.
"It was kind of like I had to focus on one time in Mexico or another the way I was playing. If I continue to not play consistently I was going to struggle to have a card on both sides of the Atlantic.
"I had to make a choice. The choice was the PGA TOUR at that point. So I feel like going back to basics and just re-focusing on one thing.
"You know, it's amazing kind of four days later -- it ended end up being Monday finish so, four and a half days later I'm in the press conference with a trophy and kind of my world changed a lot, you know, but I think it just kind of showed me that get a little bit more basic and little bit more directed with my thinking helped me focus on what it was I was trying to achieve, you know, and there's no doubt the win has taken the pressure off from cards and all that.
"When you're not playing well, you're slipping down the World Rankings, you're outside of the Top 50 and all these kind of automatic monies and more ranking points and all the things you get from being in Majors, and WGCs and playing well in those, you kind of have to get raw with it and think this is my job, this is my living, what am I going to do about it to make sure I've got a job to go to in a couple years' time.
"It was kind of why I ended up in Mayakoba and why I was being honest in the press conference. That was kind of process I had been through in my mind.
"As I sit here today I'm starting to think more like I was thinking more four, five years ago thinking about the Majors, thinking about trying to be the best player I can be again rather than the complacent, maybe Top 25 player in the world like I was for a few years and got married and had a baby and just kind of became a little bit complacent about what I was doing.
“I’m more motivated to get back to the top of the game and get back to where I want to be and show my kids what I've got."
Asked how he’d changed as a person and how his attitude to the majors had shifted, he added: “Yeah, I certainly feel like life has changed a lot on the course since I won at Pebble.
“Off the course, you go through various kind of little life experiences, obviously dealing with the extra commitment level inside of the ropes and sponsors and just kind of as a Major Champion people want a little piece of you and they’re paying you the money to do it.
“"So, you travel around the world and your schedule is tough. And there's no doubt, so I went through that whole phase of my kind of a climatisation as the new player I had become.
"Obviously you get married and you have kids and go through that whole experience, kind of working on your time management and your commitment levels and traveling and leaving the kids.
"And the sacrifices become more real, I suppose, the game we do make a lot of sacrifices traveling, leaving our family behind. Of course, we get very well rewarded for it if we play well. They are sacrifices all the same. Dealing with that a little bit as well.
"So, there's no doubt, I feel like I learn something new every year in this game. Thankfully I've got a good team around me to help me see, kind of give me the neutral opinion and show me what's really happening.
"Sometimes, I think you get lost out there sometimes and you really can't see the wood for the trees for what's going on and so I feel like I've been smart enough in my career to move on from my mistakes and make good decisions and come out the other end a better player.
"I feel like I've emerged -- I probably look back to mid 2014 where the process started. I made the Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles. I really wasn't on top of my game, you know. I had a good Ryder Cup, beat Jordan in singles and placed 3rd in Shanghai.
"I really put a Band-Aid over something. I knew my game wasn't in good shape. '15 didn't play well. By the end of '15 I was really panicking.
"It's been a two and a half process and I've come out the other end and I really believe I'm playing as well as I have in a very long time right now and I feel like I'm mentally in as good a place as I've been.
"Kind of reassessing my goals and refocusing on the Major chances. I want to win another Major before I'm all done, at least one more. That's the goal. We’re going to work hard to get there.”