Graeme McDowell on his honorary college degree, his hero Arnold Palmer and hitting major league fastballs
Sep 14, 2012, 2:33 PM EDT
Every now and then an athlete bites the bullet and agrees to sit through one of OTB’s interrogations. This time we got professional golfer Graeme McDowell. Enjoy.
OTB: Hey Graeme, how are you doing today?
McDowell: I’m doing great, yourself?
I’m doing excellent now that I’m talking to one of the cool guys of the PGA.
Haha! Thank you.
When I played golf and I had people watching me, I’m a young kid so my big problem was nerves. I didn’t want to look like a fool. How do you handle that stuff when you’re out trying to win a major open?
Dealing with nerves and pressure just takes a little bit of getting used to. You really have to work out a way of getting your focus on what you’re trying to do as people are watching you and pretty soon you get used to it. I’m getting to the point of my career where nerves are great, they mean something to me. You have to understand what nerves effect you as a person. For example, you hit the ball further so there are things you have to watch for in your game. Nerves never really go away and it’s the beauty of golf.
So when you’re a little bit nervous you’re actually very happy because that means you’re in a pretty cool situation.
Sure, you get to the point in your career where you want to be nervous because that means you’re shooting a very low score, and that’s the places you want to be. So you want to bring the nerves in and it’s tough but, like I said, bring them on.
Were you always dead set on becoming a golfer? Was 10-year-old Graeme like, “I want to be a golfer!” Or did you want to be a baseball player or whatever the Irish equivalent to baseball is?
Haha, yeah, I’d say that would be soccer or rugby. I wanted to be the next George Best or one of these guys. I started playing golf at about 8 or nine and it became a passion very quickly. I love the game of golf because you can go there all by yourself and knock the ball around. You don’t need five or six of your buddies or enemies like soccer or any of these other games but golf is a very singular game. It was definitely love at first site for me for golf. I wasn’t the best early on but I worked hard and went through the ranks and I’m very lucky to be doing a great job at the job I love right now and it’s treating me very well.
Did you ever have second thoughts about your golf career as your journey progressed? Were there times in your youth when you said, eh, maybe it’s time I try something new or were you dead set on “I want to be a golfer when I grow up”.
When I was 16 or 17 there were guys who were much better than me and so I never really saw myself winning any major championships at UAV or Birmingham but then I started transforming as a person, putting on twenty pounds and I grew as well. I worked harder and harder at my game and I started to realize my potential, that I could go somewhere in the game of golf. I always worked hard and I’m lucky I was able to get to the next level.
How great is it that you picked the sport with a senior circuit, while most other sports don’t at all? How cool is it that when you get to be 50 or 60 and you can’t compete at the PGA anymore, whoop! Just hop on over to the senior circuit and dominate the old guys?
Great isn’t it? Golf is one of those sports that, as long as you stay healthy, you can be successful until you’re 40′s, 50′s, even your 60′s! Look at a sport like tennis, these guys are beat up by the time they’re 30 years old. Same with football. We’re very lucky that we have a sport where I can play well into my 50′s, as long as I’m healthy.
Is Arnold Palmer one of your role models because of that aspect of the game? There’s a guy who still looks extremely cool playing golf in his 80′s. AND he has his own drink.
Exactly, exactly. Arnold is one of my heroes. I got to meet him in the last few years. He’s really helped mold the sport that we play, really helped construct the modern sport. I wish I could go back in time and meet him when he was in his prime and maybe have a beer with him after a run. That’s a cool guy right there.
I have a source that tells me you’re going to get an honorary degree. Can you tell me a little about that?
I got awarded an honorary degree at the University of Ulster even though I didn’t really do anything, and I didn’t get to graduate college because I turned pro a little bit early and had to move on to golf.
Can you do an American accent?
Just a reg’ler ole Amurican accent?
That’s more of a southern drawl.
HAHA! Yep, that’s a southern drawl.
Got pretty close though.
That’s not bad, not bad. I do take a little bit of abuse from my quasi-mid atlantic Irish voice. It’s right in the middle somewhere.
There are guys who yell “GET IN THE HOLE” all the time, I hear it all the time when I watch golf. Do you think they should change it up? What if someone was singing Rocket Man as your ball was flying into the sky, would you rather have that? Better than GET IN THE HOLE, I assume.
For sure, for sure. The whole ‘GET IN THE HOLE’ thing is getting a bit old, I’d say. I’ve heard them yell, “MASHED POTATOES”. That’s kind of a new one. I really need someone to explain that.
I guess because they hit the ball so hard they turned the ball into mashed potatoes.
Does it bother you when you have a gallery and they’re bothering you and trying to make you laugh or do you block it out?
The bigger the crowd, the noise kind of disappears a little bit. What’s uncomfortable is when you have a very small crowd because you can see people moving and hear things.
That Hanie guy who coached Tiger Woods came out with a book, and some say it’s quite derogatory towards Tiger. Are any of you guys reading it, or do you not care?
I’ve read some extracts from it, but, you know, Tiger Woods is a very interesting individual who’s achieved a lot of great things in his career and the only reason I’d want to read it is to look into his practice habits and how he ended up being the great player he is. As far as the other stuff off the golf course, I’m not interested in that.
I like to ask athletes about their competitive drive, the quintessential Michael Jordan “Will to Win”. Do you think that’s developed or innate?
Ah, that’s a good question. I think it’s a certain amount of innate motivation. I look at a guy like Tiger Woods, whose goal is to beat Jack Nicholson’s record of 18 major championships. It was drilled in, he had a poster on his wall when he was 5 years old. That’s drive from an early age right there! You can’t teach people to be motivated, you can’t teach people desire. It has to come from within their own hearts and minds, and that’s with all successful people.
Do your golf skills transfer over to other portions of life? For example, do you think you could hit a major league fastball, 95 miles per hour?
I’ve been in the batting cage a few times and obviously not growing up in a country where we play baseball, I’ve had a swing at a few pitches and it’s very difficult, I’d have to say. If you don’t hit it right in the middle of the bat it rattles your hands and leaves you bleeding so, no, I don’t think I could hit one of those fastballs. If I got lucky I might be able to chip one but odds are it will be in the catchers mitt before I could get a swing off.
Me too, me too. When you’re in a bit of a slump and you don’t feel great on the golf course, what’s your mindset to get yourself out of the doldrums? Positive thinking, break down your swing to find the mistakes? Or do you just play?
When things aren’t going well it’s usually important to kind of be honest with yourself, have your team and your caddy and ask them, hey, what’s going wrong here? Because sometimes you get blinded by what you think is going on. I guess number one, be analytical about it, get yourself in perspective a little bit, and you have to be patient.
I’ve read that since the crack down on greenies, baseball players and other athletes have used stuff like ‘aderrall’ to get focused, you know, basic mind altering substances to help get focused. To hit the ball better, to lock in. Have you heard about that on the golf course?
I have not, to be honest with you. From what I know, which is a minimal knowledge of the drug adderrall, the ADHD drug or whatever, we have drug testing within golf and to my knowledge there is no performance enhancing drugs in golf, nothing worth taking. If there’s a magic potion I’ll let you guys know about it.
Haha! Alright! I’m gonna need that, by the way. My sources also tell me you’re building a house in Florida. I assume you’re taking your roots and sticking them in good old American soil forever?
Well I’ve lived in Orlando for about 7 years now and I certainly enjoy my life. My home will always be with my family in Ireland but the weather’s nice in Florida, get a little more sunshine and I have a great golf facility there and I’m looking forward to playing a little more golf. I’m getting a little impatient to move in but it’s been fun.
You hear many stories of successful athletes and celebrities who taste fame and all of a sudden let it go to their head and change, for the worse. Do you still view yourself as a regular average american citizen or has ego ever played a problem in your game?
Ah, I hope not! I had a good family, my school friends are still my friends and if I ever feel like I need to go back into reality I have people I can go to who will treat me just like they’ve treated me all my life like my dad and mom are back there. They’re never scared to give me a good talking to if I need one, and I realize I live in a great, great world where I get to play golf and it’s amazing to see people lose touch with reality, and I hope it never happens to me.
On an average day off, are you still hitting golf balls? Or do you like to take it easy? What would you do on a random old day?
It depends on going on. Right now I’m in the middle of a two week off and to be honest I’ve been away from the game for 4-5 days and I’ve spent the last 3 or 4 days laying on a beach doing as little as possible, reading a book.
Pretty good medicine.
Yeah. GREAT medicine.
So when you take a little golf vacation and then hit the links and try and get the swing back, how long does it take you to get back into top Graeme McDowell winning majors form?
It’ll take me three or four days to pull the game back up and get the competitive head screwed on again, just to sharpen the focus and get ready for tournament runs. Two or three days, yeah, I’m ready for a tournament.
Do you think it’s fair that Tiger Woods gets so much criticism and focus? He’s only one dude. There are hundreds and hundreds of golfers out there and he’s getting so much airtime.
Well, he’s been the most special player in the game for the last 15 years and I think none of us care that Tiger Woods gets a lot of attention, it takes some of the pressure off of us, and sometimes you don’t get to see other players because Tiger’s dominating the coverage so much but to be fair Tiger is the person people want to see on their TV’s during tournaments. He’s a pretty important guy in the game.
Tiger Woods used to be an angry, angry man before the scandal, with his flipping out and cursing and general negative attitude whenever something didn’t go his way. Since the scandal, do you see Tiger as a changed man? Mike Vick, for example, at least for appearance sake, looks like a changed man who really values his second chance. You see that in Tiger?
Ah, emotions is a big part of golf and he’s not the only one who gets frustrated on the golf course. I don’t know Tiger very well personally beyond the golf course but I think he’s a bit humbled by what’s going on in his life and I’m sure he’s thankful he can play good golf again and he’s thankful for what he’s got. He’s great for the game of golf, I’m glad he’s back in the tournament again. An interesting story.
Do you ever look at tape of golfers you admire and say, “Damn I wish I had his swing!” Or are you just happy to be Graeme?
I love looking at tape of old guys like Hogan and Snead, but I know my golf swing and I like to stick to what I know, you know what I mean?
Yep. You brought up Snead and Hogan. What if for a big tournament you dressed up like the olden days, did some old school golf clothing. I think it’d be really cool. You’d probably get like, 10 seconds on Sportscenter for that.
That would be pretty fun. I’m planning to put on some retro clothing and we’re going to do some old school golfing for the Golf Channel so watch out for that one.
I like that! Alright, thanks for the time and good luck with everything.
Thank you my friend!
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