BETHESDA, Md.—Majors have a way of changing their champions, especially first-time winners. The expectations rise; the demands increase.
Some players never win another, while others flourish and win multiple.
Graeme McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open champ until a new one is crowned later this week at Congressional Country Club’s Blue Course, would prefer to be among the latter. But he also admits his life changed significantly after winning a year ago at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
“You live and learn,” he said Tuesday morning. “I’ve tried to be a player who has no regrets about things, really. Perhaps I would have came into the 2011 season and tried to do a little less off the golf course and really tried to focus back in my golf game.”
A spate of tournaments to end 2010 left McDowell with little down time before 2011 kicked in. And while McDowell opened this season with four top-10 finishes worldwide, he enters the U.S. Open off kilter in terms of results. He has four missed cuts since the Arnold Palmer Invitational, including the Masters, and nothing better than a T30 in seven stroke-play starts.
“I’ve hit a rough patch here the last three months, but I’ve really felt my game coming around the last four or five weeks,” he said. “That four-week spell from The Players Championship through the Volvo World Match Play to Wentworth and Wales, those four weeks, I know in my heart how well I played. I got nothing out of those four weeks.
“I know in my heart how well I am actually playing again, and I took a lot of positives from those four weeks even though they don’t really make for a huge amount of rating when you look at the results.”
Even though McDowell is the reigning champion, he does not believe the spotlight is directed toward him.
“It’s bizarre because if anything I feel like the glare is off me this week,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done it. My U.S. Open trophy is back here with the USGA. I’ve handed it back and I’m ready to sort of get on with the rest of my career now. Defending titles is a strange psyche because I’ve got nothing to defend this week. I’m level par Thursday morning the same as everyone else. I’m just one of the guys trying to win it back.”
And forever be changed again.
Stuart Hall is editor of the Golf Press Association.