McDowell looks to build on major magic
Mysteries abound in the golfing world. Why, for example, are the two best players on the planet still waiting to claim a major title? And why is the UK's most recent winner of one of the big four titles so perplexed by the most prized trophy of his career to date?
While Luke Donald and Lee Westwood brace themselves for inevitable questions over the paradox of their lofty positions in the rankings and no majors to their name, Graeme McDowell sits back in the knowledge that he has already dodged having to endure such a quizzing.
Donald and Westwood's astonishing levels of consistency on Tour offer plentiful justification for their status as world number one and two. This, though, won't stop the "major" issue being thrown at them in the days that precede the US Open at Congressional. That, in turn, may make the task of breaking their duck more difficult to achieve.
This particular pressure is no longer there for McDowell, who defends the crown he won at Pebble Beach last year when he tees off in Maryland on Thursday.
Twelve months ago the rankings said he was the 37th best player in the world, indeed he had only just scraped into the US Open field. He went to California having just won the Wales Open in brilliant style and although he felt "calm confidence" heading into the second major of the year, the man from Portrush in Northern Ireland had no idea quite how his life was about to change.
This week McDowell has flown to America to defend his title as the world number eight, the man who had held his nerve to close out the Ryder Cup for Europe and as the golfer who, at the end of last year, overcame Tiger Woods as the former world number one stood on the threshold of ending a losing streak that continues to this day.
When asked what is the biggest thing McDowell has learned about himself in the last year, he answers: "Maybe that I can handle being one of the world's top players.
"That will always be my first major championship. It (2010) will always be my defining year, my rookie year as a top player so I'll never have to go through this process again," the 31-year-old said.
By capitalising on the early collapse of third round leader Dustin Johnson at Pebble Beach and then outlasting Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els as well as Gregory Havret, the unlikely French challenger, McDowell was able to become the first European for 40 years to claim America's national championship.
Of that final day he remembers looking at the leaderboards for the first time early in the back nine. McDowell had just carded two bogeys from the middle of the fairway on both the ninth and tenth holes. "I saw that no-one was making a move and I was still two shots in front.
"I shot 74 to win the US Open. Not particularly sexy, but I played better that day than a 74. I actually struck the ball pretty good that day. I didn't get a huge amount out of the round, I only made one birdie, but that's how difficult Pebble was," he recalled.
"One of the things that makes me proudest is that Woods was on the board and Mickelson was on the board and Els was on the board, three top players."
By matching the achievement of Tony Jacklin, the last European to win a US Open, McDowell earned instant acclaim on this side of the pond, although it was unfortunate that his victory came on the eve of Wimbledon and in the middle of the World Cup - otherwise he would have received even greater recognition.
Never the less he embarked on a global tour with the famous but puzzling silver trophy in tow everywhere he went. "It's travelled a few air miles," he smiled. Eventually this prized possession ended up sitting in his office in his Lake Nona home and it has been a source of curiosity for the player and his management team ever since.
"The little lady at the top of the trophy, she's been a bit skew-whiff," he said. "We figured we had done that; it's been in a few bars and restaurants and there's been a few beverages and we've been drunk and whatever. We thought maybe we damaged it."
McDowell's fears were eased with the arrival of two 90 percent replica versions he ordered. "The little lady is skew-whiff on those as well. But then when I was at Congressional about six weeks ago, their replica (the USGA's) was there and she's on there perfect."
Another curiosity is that even though he backed up his Pebble Beach win by performing the decisive heroics at Celtic Manor in the Ryder Cup it wasn't until the end of 2010 that the American golfing public fully recognised McDowell's competitive talents.
That was when he hunted down Woods on the closing hole of the fourteen time major champion's own tournament near Los Angeles and then beat him in sudden death. "It's amazing how much notoriety I gained in the States because of that," McDowell said.
"I would say 50 per cent of the people probably mention the US Open to me and 50 percent of the people mention the Chevron to me, or maybe even more. I've gained huge kudos in the US for that one."
It is probable that the confidence he needed to achieve that win was borne from his exploits at Pebble Beach and Celtic Manor earlier in the year. Gaining a first major crown is a huge monkey off any player's back and how dearly Donald and Westwood want to jettison that particular primate.
For McDowell the future is all about building on the platform last year has given him. "I don't want to be a one hit wonder, but I want to be the best player I can be.
"What have I got, five, ten maybe 15 years of probably the prime of my career? I've got a hell of a lot of improving to do, there's so many areas of my game that I can get much, much better at.
"I've got a huge amount of belief in myself from 2010. I'm a good putter under pressure which is a huge weapon. So yeah, I want to win more major titles."
On that visit to Congressional to help promote this year's Championship (he's a textbook ambassador for the game) it was a cool day and the course played brutally long. It certainly didn't fit his eye in the way that Pebble Beach did last year, but he is unconcerned.
"Congressional is going to be a huge milestone for me, it really is. I'm excited to get there and I'm excited to have that weight lifted off my shoulders really." He is talking about the burden of being a reigning major champion.
"Is it a weight that is bearing me down? No. Is it subconsciously bearing me down? It might be, I don't know."
As effective an operator in the media tent as there is, McDowell clearly enjoys posing and trying to answer his own questions. "Do I love having these conversations about the US Open and the Ryder Cup? I love having them.
"They are great memories, but I'm ready to get on with the rest of my career. I'm ready to refocus myself and try to be the best player I can be."
That's the luxury of being a major winner and that's the prize this week in the sights of Donald, Westwood and a whole host of potential first time winners.
To get over this hurdle, though, they'll have to first beat someone who knows exactly what it takes. Only then can they also try to solve the mystery of the wonky lady atop the trophy.