Graeme McDowell is relishing a return to the scene of his greatest triumph as he continues his bid to get back among the world’s elite.
McDowell became the first European player to win the US Open for 40 years when he lifted the trophy at Pebble Beach in 2010, a victory which reignited the movement to bring the Open Championship to Northern Ireland and McDowell’s home town of Portrush.
The 39-year-old also secured the winning point in the Ryder Cup later that year and reached his career-high of fourth in the world in January 2011, but had fallen outside the top 250 before victory in the Dominican Republic at the end of March.
That secured McDowell’s PGA Tour card until the end of 2021 and leaves him free to focus on the US Open’s return to Pebble Beach, where he will partner Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson in the first two rounds.
“I have a vision of getting back to the top of the game one more time and how cool would it be if Pebble Beach is once again the launching pad?” McDowell said.
“It’s a course that suits me because it’s not a bombers’ course. It gives us shorter hitters a chance as it’s around 7,000 yards and I’m hoping it’s going to be firm and fast, make the greens play really, really small.
“Super-disciplined iron play is required, it’s really penal if you miss the greens. Similar to 2010 really. Firmness really is the protector at Pebble, and then obviously wind and a bit of weather.
“Going into that US Open at Pebble I was beginning to feel ready. I’d won the Welsh Open two weeks’ previous so I was feeling very in control of my golf ball and I was very confident, but I probably deep down didn’t believe that a major championship was just around the corner.”
McDowell held a two-shot lead at halfway but was overhauled by playing partner Johnson in the third round, the American carding a superb 66 to open up a three-shot cushion.
However, Johnson dropped five shots in the first three holes on the final day and with the rest of the contenders also struggling, McDowell’s closing 74 was good enough for a one-shot win over France’s Gregory Havret, with Ernie Els a shot further back and Mickelson and Tiger Woods sharing fourth place.
“I was standing at the back of the (second) green but I could see DJ scratching his head, I knew he had a tough lie and it was amazing how quick he got in there and tried to hit it left-handed and barely moved it,” McDowell recalled. “Then he kind of went under his next shot and it was one of those surreal 20 seconds in golf where you’re thinking this guy is really not taking any time to compose himself here at all. He went on to make a triple, I made my par and things were starting to change already.
“The way I played the front nine gave me confidence, I was very calm and collected and it gave me what I needed to buckle down for the second nine holes.
“After I bogeyed the ninth and 10th I gave myself a look at the leaderboard for the first time and I still had a two-shot lead at that point. I tried to get back into my zone again and managed to hold it together. Ernie in third, Tiger and Phil in fourth - I beat the best on the biggest stage and it’s certainly something I look back very fondly on. My favourite byline is ‘first Irishman to win a US Open’, that’s something very special that no-one can take away.
“As the years go on it means more now than it probably meant at the time. To realise that I’m part of the history of a place like Pebble Beach is something I still pinch myself about when I go back.”