Graeme McDowell: “Playing LIV Golf Series could cost me dream Ryder Cup captaincy”

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Former Ryder Cup star and US Open champion Graeme McDowell explains his decision to join the LIV Golf Series in an exclusive interview with Today’s Golfer.

G-Mac has revealed that the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series has made him feel energised about golf again and he says he has already made peace with the prospect of being punished by the PGA Tour.

Graeme McDowell won the US Open in 2010.

The 2010 US Open Champion, who sealed Europe’s vital winning point in the same year’s Ryder Cup, told us he had to think long and hard about potentially jeopardising his hopes of captaining the side in Ireland in 2027, before making the decision to join the Greg Norman fronted series for its opener at Centurion Club next week.

The Northern Irishman will be joined in the 48-man field by several other potential future Team Europe captains in Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer, while current Team USA star Dustin Johnson was the biggest, and most unexpected name, in the inaugural field when it was announced on Tuesday.

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McDowell, who has earned almost $37 million from the PGA and DP World Tours during his career, spoke to Features Editor Michael Catling about his form and future at the Asian Tour’s International Series – England event at Slaley Hall.

Graeme McDowell and fellow Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy celebrate winning the 2014 Ryder Cup.

Now that the field has been confirmed for the LIV Golf Invitational at Centurion, how difficult was the decision to sign-up to the event and risk being sanctioned by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour?

It was a very difficult decision because there are so many unknowns. We don’t know what the reaction is going to be. It boils down to the fact that I am a business and I’ve operated all over the world. This is a compelling opportunity. It’s a fun format and there are guarantees there.

It wasn’t a decision I took very lightly. I realised the consequences could be far-ranging. But I felt like it was the right decision for me and my family to be able to take an opportunity and play on something new. At the end of the day, it’s another golf tour – and it’s been designed to co-exist with the other tours in the world. Let’s just hope that it all works out well.

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Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood could both damage their Ryder Cup captaincy hopes by playing in the LIV Golf Series.

By siding with the Saudis and joining the LIV Golf Invitational, the argument is that you are contributing to sports washing. How do you respond to the criticism which is being levelled at players?

People are going to have their opinions. The people that I am dealing with at LIV love the game of golf. I’ve always viewed golf as a force of good around the world, especially in countries where golf is a new sport. I love inspiring a new generation.

I’m not here to cure the world’s geo-political situation. I am here to play golf. Saudi Arabia has a huge amount of resources where they can accelerate their journey in the world of golf and it’s fun to be part of that journey. I see the positive side of what golf can do around the world.

What went on with Jamal Khashoggi was reprehensible. We all agree that was wrong, but we are focused here on golf. It’s important that we keep the conversation moving towards golf. If I tried to get involved in curing the geo-political situations in all the countries that I’ve visited around the world, I wouldn’t play much golf.

Adare Manor is one of the best golf courses in the UK and Ireland.

We know it’s your dream to captain the European Ryder Cup team at Adare Manor in 2027. Have you jeopardised your chances of doing so by committing to the LIV Golf Invitational at Centurion?

No doubt it could. That was a big factor in my decision. I had to face the reality that I could be walking away from that opportunity.

A lot of things weighed into my decision, but I decided that following the LIV opportunity was best for me and my family. I can’t really bet on things that might never happen. There are no guarantees on the PGA Tour or DP World Tour and I’ve got a compelling opportunity here with LIV.

The unknown consequences are hard to weigh up, but I’ve made my peace with the worst-case scenario. Anything else will be a bonus. I’m hoping that the powers that be within the game of golf will make the right decision because I don’t think bans and ostracising players are good for the sport.

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When you look at the strength of the field at Centurion and the prize money on offer, do you think it’s only a matter of time before more players come round to the idea of joining the series?

I think the idea is that if they build it, the players will come. There is a huge amount of unknowns, but now they can show the power and innovation of the events.

Once the big players in the world start watching other guys live their dreams, I think it will be very attractive for a lot of people. It’s only going to grow.

Greg Norman is the CEO of LIV Golf.

How do you reflect on the last couple of years since your victory at the 2020 Saudi International because your form has tailed off slightly?

That was actually a really special victory. It got me back into the top 50 of the World Rankings and got me into the Masters that year. I felt like I was really starting to build some momentum, but then two months later the world shut down because of Covid.

I felt like I had some productive months off and I worked on myself physically. But when I came back out and no one was watching for six months, I played terribly. I probably discovered that I’m a guy that needs the energy and intensity that the crowds bring, and I probably didn’t do very well artificially creating that. I probably had the worst 12 months of my career. I was searching, trying to find things.

I started working with a new coach and then got injured. I then had to do some soul searching and get back to being me again. That’s what I’ve spent the last 12 months doing. I’m trying to do the things that served me well over the last 20 years and stop trying to change so much.

Graeme McDowell was last victorious in Saudi Arabia.

Mentally, how tough has it been missing out on Major Championships and seeing your World Ranking slip to 376?

It has been very demoralising, especially when you’ve got kids. You look around and think, is this worth the sacrifice? It is worth the sacrifice when you’re being successful and financially it’s very lucrative. But when you’re not successful and you’re leaving your kids 35 weeks a year, you do ask yourself the question.

The game of golf is the ultimate mental challenge. Over the 20 years that I’ve been doing this professionally, I’ve experienced every emotion. Thankfully I feel like I’ve been able to dig myself out of the hole a little bit and start playing better and feeling like I can compete.

Last year you described a forearm injury that sidelined you for 9 weeks as a ‘science experiment that went wrong’. What happened there?

It was more of a technical experiment that went wrong. I started working with a young modern coach who was very researched and had some very interesting theories on the golf swing. I embraced some of those but after 30 years of repetition of doing one thing and trying to do something else, my body just wasn’t capable of performing what he wanted to do.

With the help of my trainer, we’ve been able to isolate what happened to the right forearm and it actually comes from my right hip. I’ve got a labral tear which I’ve had for 20 years and it affects the whole chain. My right knee gets sore, my right lat gets sore, my right shoulder gets sore and then my right forearm breaks down. If all the other pieces of the engine are not working correctly, something else has to take over, hence the issues I’ve been having.

Graeme McDowell playing at Slaley Hall in the Asian Tour's International Series - England event

Do you still enjoy the daily grind and are you optimistic for what the future holds?

I do enjoy the grind and I think that’s the key. Physical health is a big part of having a long career, but more importantly it’s mental health and wanting to go out and keep playing. Do I play as much golf as I did when I was 25? No, when I go home on my week off I’ve got kids, I’ve got a family and I’ve got businesses to look after. But I still love the game of golf and jumping on a plane and coming to golf tournaments.

Getting back to the LIV Golf Invitational, the new opportunity has energised me a little bit. It’s something that doesn’t represent the grind. The prize money is guaranteed, there are no cuts. It’s new and exciting and it’s given me a shot in the arm from an energy point of view. It’s come at a perfect point.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Today's Golfer features editor Michael Catling.

Michael Catling is the Features Editor of Today’s Golfer.

He has been a journalist for more than 10 years and was shortlisted for Bauer Media Journalist of the Year in 2019.

Michael joined Bauer Media in 2016 and has exclusively interviewed dozens of Major champions, including Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.

A former member of Ufford Park and Burghley Park, Michael has been playing golf since he was 11 and currently plays off a handicap of 10.

Michael uses a Ping G driverPing G 3-woodPing G Crossover 3-ironPing G Series irons (4-PW), Ping Glide wedges (52º, 56º, 60º), TaylorMade MySpider Tour Putter, and Srixon AD333 golf ball.

You can contact Michael here.

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