McDowell’s Open win sweet on Father’s Day

Graeme McDowell and his father, Kenny, celebrate a victory June 20 at the U.S. Open.


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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Kenny McDowell awoke early Father’s Day morning and took his son Graeme for a cup of coffee. The pair chatted about growing up in the small town of Portrush on the North coast of Northern Ireland, Graeme’s introduction to the game as an 8-year-old and the early days of learning to play golf alongside his brothers. They spoke about Graeme’s decision to attend college at Alabama-Birmingham and his early career on the European Tour.

The conversation, however, never drifted to Graeme’s tee time that awaited him later that afternoon in the final group on Sunday of the 110th United States Open.

“He just seemed so relaxed,” Kenny McDowell said. “I just wanted to take him away from the golf and all the razzmatazz. It seemed to work.”

A day that was to be a coronation turned into a circus, and McDowell was the last man standing, two-putting for par on Pebble Beach’s famed 18th hole to win the U.S. Open by a shot over Frenchman Gregory Havret. McDowell become the first European to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970, finishing at even-par 284.

His closing 3-over 74 featured four bogeys and no birdies over his final 13 holes, but it sufficed on a cool and breezy day at the seaside links. When Havret, playing in the penultimate group alongside Tiger Woods, failed to birdie the 18th hole to tie the lead, McDowell laid up from 233 yards and hit wedge to 20 feet. 

When his tap-in for par dropped into the cup, Kenny McDowell raced onto the green, wrapped his arms around his son and squeezed as hard as he could. 

“I said, ‘You’re fun, kid,’ ” Kenny said. “And he said, ‘Happy Father’s Day, Dad.’ ”

It was a serene end to a U.S. Open Sunday that produced enough carnage to fill Stillwater Cove. Dustin Johnson, who led by three shots through 54 holes and appeared as cool as a cat heading to the Monterey Jazz Festival while strolling down the first fairway, came unglued on the 502-yard, par-4 second. What started with a 343-yard drive down the middle of the fairway ended with a triple bogey after he chipped one shot left-handed, flubbed another and eventually missed a 4-footer. 

It only got worse from there. Johnson, twice a winner at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, hooked his drive off the tee at the par-4 third. His ball eventually was found, but seconds after his 5-minute search window passed, so he marched back the tee and could do no better than double bogey. McDowell waited patiently on the third green for more than 15 minutes; when a fan asked him if he wanted a beer while he waited, McDowell smiled and said, “Yes.” 

Johnson then tried to drive the 331-yard par-4 fourth with a fairway metal, but found the hazard to the right on the cliffs above the ocean. He made bogey and the three-shot lead he’d worked so hard to build had evaporated in 45 minutes. When Johnson putted out for a closing 82, the highest final-round score for 54-hole leader in the U.S. Open since Fred McLeod shot 83 in 1911, he looked like he’d been hit by a train.

“We knew making the turn that even par, 1 under was probably going to win,” said Johnson, who finished at 5-over 289. “We were right there. We had a chance going to the back nine, and that’s all we wanted when we started the day. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get it done.”

Neither could a host of major champions who were chasing the final group. Woods, the 2000 Open champion at Pebble Beach, bogeyed four of his first eight holes and shot 75. Phil Mickelson birdied the first, but failed to make another on his way to a 73. He tied Woods at 287, three shots back. Ernie Els, a two-time U.S. Open champion, birdied three of his first six holes to get within a shot of the lead, but played his last 10 holes in 5 over. He shot 73 and finished two shots back.

Mickelson was asked after his round why no player was able to shoot 66 on the final day, a score posted by Woods and Johnson in Round 3 and by Mickelson in Round 2. 

“I kind of know, but I would rather not get into it,” Mickelson said. “It just doesn’t sound good.”

He may have been thinking about the bumpy Poa annua greens that Woods publicly criticized after the first round and that had some players on the course Sunday cursing under their breath.

Their gripes weren’t warranted, however. There were the same amount of bogeys made in Round 3 as there were in Round 4, and eight fewer double bogeys were made in Round 4. By 4:45 p.m. PT, only Graeme McDowell was under par, and a thick marine layer blanketed the course as a steady wind blew throughout the day.

“That’s a U.S. Open,” said Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association’s senior director of rules and competitions, on Sunday night. “That’s what it’s supposed to be. Believe me, I get zero pleasure in bad play. I wasn’t looking at the leaderboard saying, ‘Yes, one more bogey!’ ”

McDowell wasn’t paying much attention either, concentrating on what got him into the lead – consistent ball-striking and timely putting. More importantly, he bathed in a confidence that wasn’t found in Round 3.

“He was very much nervous yesterday and I could see that,” said his caddie, Ken Comboy. “It was bizarre how calm he was today.”

The scene in Northern Ireland, where McDowell learned the game, was likely a bit more rambunctious. Kenny was positive that “the roof was probably off the place” with friends watching McDowell’s victory on the BBC at a local club.

“What time is it back in the UK right now? It’s 10 (minutes) to 4 in the morning?” McDowell asked, the U.S. Open trophy sitting next to him. “If anyone is partying right now, fair play to them. I think I might catch them all up with beer next week. Harbor Bar, Portrush, pint of Guinness.

“I think there will be a few of those in my future.”

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