Date: November 09, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

McDowell resumes Melbourne love affair

Graeme McDowell loves the Sandbelt.

He half-joked during the 2013 World Cup of Golf that if it were logistically possible, he’d like to play in Melbourne as a lead-up to the hard, bouncy conditions of the Open Championship and other events on traditional links around Britain and his native Northern Ireland.

The popular former US Open champion has always enjoyed such challenges and said this week he’d altered his schedule to ensure he and Shane Lowry would again represent Ireland as the World Cup returns to Victoria.

And having played the 2009 Australian Masters, McDowell has fond memories of this year’s host, the Kingston Heath Golf Club – even if the potential firm conditions put a “shiver up the spine”.

“The Sandbelt reminds me a lot of home, reminds me a lot of the sort of classic links courses that I grew up on, but it's one of the most amazing pieces of golfing terrain on the planet. It's special,” McDowell said.

“I just remember how firm it (Royal Melbourne) was (in 2013).  I don't think I'd ever played a golf course quite that firm.  Perhaps Hoylake (Royal Liverpool) in 2006 when Tiger won (The Open), or Muirfield Open there a few years ago (2013) and (Royal) Melbourne at the (2013) World Cup, those are probably the three firmest golf courses I've ever played.

“I think it was something pretty spectacular and something very, very difficult to play and something very unique.

“Obviously Kingston Heath and Royal Melbourne being neighbours, I enjoyed my experience at the Aussie Masters. I maybe played a little better and perhaps enjoyed the golf course a little bit more.

“They're two absolutely legendary golf courses and I'm sure if you asked a thousand people, you'd probably get some mixed views on what they prefer as their favourite.

“But (it’s) a special part of the world (and I’m) looking forward to getting back there.”

McDowell recalled fondly the “old trees and bushes” of Kingston Heath as making the course “fairly tight off the tee”.

“You really had to drive the ball well, which I think plays into Shane and (my) games,” he said.

“(I loved) the rolling fairways and big greens, the classic bunkering and just the hospitality and the friendliness of the people around the clubhouse.

“I think Australia feels a lot like Britain and Ireland on a lot of levels, just with better weather, and I always feel very comfortable and very much at home when I go down there, and it is the type of golf course that I grew up on – links and bouncy and windy.

“Like I said, Royal Melbourne a few years ago at the World Cup was super extreme. I'm hoping it's not going to be quite that firm this year as Kingston Heath, but very much looking forward to getting back there and feeling the golf course again.”

McDowell said he and Lowry, ranked 81 and 43 in the world respectively, were coming to Melbourne with only one mission – to lift the famous World Cup trophy for the third time for Ireland, but the first since Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley at Kiawah Island in 1997.

“Myself and Shane are really, really fired up.  We've been talking about it for many months and looking forward to going down there and competing against some of the best players in the world, and love to win another one for Ireland,” he said.

“The field is phenomenal – I can't believe how strong the field is – and I think that's a testament to the format being back to the original (fourballs and foursomes, rather than individual strokeplay).

“We're excited to go down there and Shane and I are certainly going down there with the intentions to be competing if not winning the golf tournament.

“I’m really, really happy to see the old format returning again.  I see they've switched it around a little bit this year where it's going to be opening up with alternate-shot, better ball alternate-shot, then better ball on the Sunday, which is going to make for extremely volatile scoring with a fantastic field.

“It's really going to be a special week.”

McDowell, famous for his laconic nature and interactions with crowds, said he expected plenty of fun at Kingston Heath with vocal support for hometown heroes and defending champions Adam Scott and Marc Leishman.

“I remember the old Aussie `Fanatics’ being there the last time I was in Melbourne. I'd imagine they'll be out in force again – always good fun with those lads.

“If we get a chance to play with the Aussie boys, it'll obviously be great fun, great bit of banter.

“And probably we’ll get a pretty good turnout with the Irish down there, as well.  Certainly the few times I've been down, (there seems to be) plenty of Irish in Melbourne.

“I think Shane and I will probably get quite a lot of support, but again, nothing compared to what Scotty and Leishman will get.

“Leish is a good mate and a good player and a great lad and he'll obviously embrace it, and him and Scotty will be really difficult to beat down there.

“There's no doubt the home support and the home crowds can obviously give you the energy and buoy you a little bit, but it can also bring the expectation levels, as well.

“It's always a tough balancing act when you're playing at home.  Scotty is obviously well used to it, plays a lot of golf down there, and one of the best players in the world.

“Hopefully we can get a chance to play with the boys late on Sunday and have some fun out there with the crowds.”