PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It wasn’t that long ago that Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open here.
When the final putt dropped June 20, 2010, at Pebble Beach Golf Links, McDowell stood atop the golfing world. Other tournament victories would follow for the Northern Irishman, plus some exciting Ryder Cup triumphs against the Americans, but the past eight years for him have not been nearly as good in golf. At age 38, he has decided to recommit to his game after winning only twice on the PGA Tour (and four times in Europe) since that pivotal day in 2010.
“It's depressing to think that it's nearly eight years ago, but there's something special coming back this week,” McDowell said of his return to the Monterey Peninsula for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for the first time since a T-7 in the 2014 event. “Especially with the 2019 Open being so kind of forefront in everyone's mind. I’m kind of walking around here in front of a top Tour field, and obviously the who's who of golf and the who's who of business, and kind of feeling like someone pretty special in that the defending Pebble Beach U.S. Open champion.”
Possibly more than anyone, McDowell the entrepreneur relishes playing golf with some of the high and mighty of the C-suite this week. As a restaurateur and apparel manufacturer, McDowell has succeeded outside the ropes. That’s why he wanted to be paired this week with amateur Chris Sullivan.
Sullivan, is the co-founder of Outback Steakhouse and recently resigned from the board of Bloomin’ Brands, which owns numerous restaurant chains, including Bonefish Grill and Carrabba’s Italian Grill.
“He's a guy I got to know about four or five years ago, and I decided that he was a guy I needed to stay very close to,” McDowell said. “There's not much that he doesn't know. He's forgotten more about restaurants than I'll maybe ever know.”
McDowell concedes that his focus on golf, which had been perhaps 99 percent when he left Pebble Beach with the Open trophy in 2010, now is closer to 75 percent. Still, that’s higher than his nadir during the past eight years. He has fallen to No. 211 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
With a wife and three children, two restaurants and an industrial spirit that produced a clothing line, beer brand and other interests, McDowell found that he was making a stronger commitment outside the ropes than he was inside of them.
“No one gives you an instruction manual to tell you how to deal with that, to tell you how to manage your time and prioritize and, like you say, how to find a time to dedicate yourself to the game,” McDowell said.
With 13 worldwide victories, McDowell has found that the attraction of business is not as strong as the allure of competition.
Inside the ropes is clearly where McDowell finds the solace he craves as a competitor, which is why he has made a fresh commitment to competing at the highest levels. It started with his American wife, Kristin.
“I think she knows that I still love the game of golf and that she wants to see me be successful again as well,” said McDowell, who lives in Orlando, Fla. “So, she said something to me over Christmas. I came back in after practicing for about seven or eight hours at Lake Nona, and she came back in the house and she said, ‘I remember that guy. That's what you used to do.’ And it kind of hit home a little bit. It's kind of like spending time out there practicing and playing; I used to spend my days out there working on my game. Nowadays you try and squeeze seven hours of practice into three because you’ve got kids at home and you want to go hang with them. So, it's a balancing act. It's life.”
McDowell shot 1-under 71 on Thursday at Pebble Beach, six strokes off the pace of Americans Kevin Streelman and Beau Hossler (scores: http://bit.ly/2wE1lpy). It might not have been his best results, but McDowell has learned a lot about life beyond golf and now is fighting to capture his past form.
“One thing I learned is that it's very, very difficult to be speculative,” McDowell said. “We live in a volatile world, and being a little bit more conservative is probably not a bad way to go and pick up the phone and ask these guys [CEOs] when you do have a business idea and pretty much the unanimous decision is keep your money in your pocket and be safe. It's obviously a volatile world in which we live in.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli