KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Don’t let the jovial attitude and big grin fool you.
Graeme McDowell feels the pressure just like any other golfer on a professional tour.
He just hides it a bit better.
A little more than two years removed from his first major title – the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach – McDowell says he simply tries to enjoy the moment, but the nerves eat away at him.
“I guess part of my psyche, if you like, going into the tough situations is to try and enjoy it,” said McDowell, who will tee off with Scott Piercy and Matt Kuchar at 1:50 p.m. Thursday on No. 1 at Kiawah Resort’s Ocean Course in the PGA Championship.
“We practice, we dream all our lives and we hit golf balls for hours and hours and hours all our lives to put ourselves in those scenarios, but they are uncomfortable. They are not enjoyable. You are very scared, mainly of kind of messing it up. I guess one of the techniques I use is keeping my body language positive, try to keep my chin up – both of them – and trying to smile.”
McDowell has had two chances this season to pick up his second major title, playing in the final group with Adam Scott at the Open Championship and with Jim Furyk at the U.S. Open. With a final-round 75 at Royal Lytham, he fell into a tie for fifth place. He missed a putt on the 72nd hole at The Olympic Club that would have forced a playoff with eventual winner Webb Simpson.
“I take the positives away in that it was certainly nothing to do with nervousness or pressure that kind of got to me,” said McDowell, who has made more than $2.2 million this season. “If anything, I came out a little bit flat in both first nine holes. So there’s a few things I’ve addressed.”
While McDowell says he isn’t one of the shorter hitters on tour – “probably middle of the pack,” he says – he knows that he will have to excel on and near the greens to make up for what he lacks off the tee. McDowell is 121st in driving distance in 2012 (285.5 yards), but is fourth in driving accuracy (69.64 percent).
“There’s no doubt I’m going to have to make up in other departments what I’m going to lose to the top-20 drivers of the ball this week,” McDowell said. “I’m going to have to putt better than them, and I’m going to have to be more accurate with my irons.”
The Northern Irishman also has a step on the field because he managed to get in some practice time at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course last week, before playing at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Akron, Ohio, where he tied for 24th. Much of the field hasn’t been able to get time in on the course because of bad weather.
“It’s been quite a quiet, surreal, kind of un-major-like kind of buildup so far,” McDowell said. “Thankfully I have some rounds under my belt, so I’m ready for this golf course.”
And he’ll take it on wearing a smile.