Graeme McDowell isn’t impressed by the letters slapped on the front of a title or the number of zeroes in a tournament’s purse.
“I put golf courses on a pedestal and places I feel like I can compete,” said the Northern Irishman who won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
McDowell plays the World Golf Championships in spite of locales that don’t often suit his game, but he doesn’t always consider them “green light” weeks on the calendar.
Then there is Augusta National and the Masters – a course and tournament that sit high on McDowell’s pedestal. Yet because of the shape of his ball flight, he’s never felt entirely comfortable pressing the accelerator at Augusta.
That might have changed after last year’s tie for 12th, which included a career-best 68 on Masters Sunday.
“I feel like red’s become amber anyway and has a chance to go into green,” he said of his Masters outlook. “Last year was kind of a mini- breakthrough for me if you like. I’m looking forward to getting back there.”
That mini-breakthrough involves a new sense of confidence in his Augusta game plan. He intends to shed the tentative approach that caused him to miss cuts in three of his first four Masters appearances.
“What I learned last year was trying to play a little more aggressively at times and not play with a hand-brake on,” he said. “Augusta makes you do that sometimes, and I feel you’ve just got to take it on sometimes to certain pins. Just go for it a little bit and realize if your short game is good enough you should be able to get yourself out of trouble.”
Much like friend and fellow countryman Rory McIlroy, McDowell went through a post-major equipment transition that had him foundering for answers. He missed three of four major cuts in 2011.
His Augusta finish last April kicked off a resurgent major season. McDowell was in the final Sunday pairing at both the U.S. and British opens, finishing second and fifth. He added a tie for 11th at the PGA to round off one of the best all-round major seasons of anyone.
“I feel like I’ve been working out what really makes me tick with regards to the major championships,” he said. “I’ve toyed with playing the week before and toyed with not playing the week before. I feel like I’ve kind of come up with a way to prepare as best I can, and that’s taking the week off before and getting in there. I’m a guy who likes to prepare meticulously in regards to my strategy on the golf course by spending plenty of on-course time.”
While McDowell plans to make advance trips to Merion, Muirfield and Oak Hill to put in the lion’s share of homework on his strategy, Augusta is different. His advance scouting of the Masters is almost purely a pleasure trip.
“Last few years I’ve found it not very effective because the golf course is too slow,” he said. “But it’s Augusta and it’s so much fun to go there and such a great opportunity. I’ll go up there and play 27 holes and soak it all in and get really excited about the golf course. Because it’s a thrill to play always.”
Now his motivation is even greater with more of a “green jacket” outlook instead of an inhibiting sense of caution.
“I felt like I got over that hurdle a little last year,” he said. “Excited to get back there this year.”