Graeme McDowell: Coronavirus impact on business 'scary'

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Graeme McDowell has won four times on the PGA Tour
Graeme McDowell has won four times on the PGA Tour

Graeme McDowell should have been competing in the WGC Matchplay this week, an appearance that would have completed a remarkable year long journey back to golf’s top table.

Instead, the coronavirus shutdown has left the former US Open champion struggling to focus on golf and worrying about the future of his restaurant business.

"I feel like what we are going through right now is going to change the world as we know it in a lot of ways," the 40-year-old said.

"Thoughts are with our staff and trying to help them through this tough time."

McDowell was speaking of the workers who run his two "Nona Blue" restaurants - one in Orlando the other a couple hours further north in Ponte Vedra Beach.

"We had to take the tough decision to close the doors on both restaurants," the Florida-based Northern Irishman said. "We are trying our best to compensate our staff in the short term as best we can.

"I think we are pretty much paid up through to the end of this month and I think all insurance and benefits for all our staff are paid up through the end of next month. But cash-flow becomes an issue, I mean how long can we sustain this?"

McDowell is relying on his business partners to help steer the company through the current uncertainty. "It tunes me into how big this is financially and the impact this is going to have on society," he said.

"We have two pretty successful restaurant businesses going and all of a sudden we are closing our doors and barely have enough money to keep them alive for the next two or three months.

"You take a successful operation and something like this happens and basically you are thinking about whether we will be able to come out the other end successfully and that’s scary.

"It’s scary to see how quickly something like this can impact on businesses all around the world and you realise how fragile the situation is and how big the impact is."

McDowell says they employ around 70 people in both restaurants. "It’s tough times for everyone right now and we’re trusting the powers that be to make the right decisions all over America and all over the world," he said.

Golf remains his top priority and McDowell is able to reflect on an extraordinary 12 months. Exactly a year ago he travelled to the Dominican Republic for a relatively minor PGA Tour event with his career in apparent free-fall.

For someone used to playing majors and World Golf Championships it was a significant downgrade. But the Portrush-born Northern Irishman treated it as "an opportunity and not a punishment".

He duly landed victory in the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship to begin the resurrection of his career. "It was a big turning point and a big step in the right direction to get my career back on the rails," McDowell said.

"It helped me play in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush and eventually led to the win in Saudi Arabia this year which got me back into the top 50 in the world."

Which is why he should have been playing in Austin Texas this week alongside the rest of the world’s best players.

Concentrating on golf is not proving easy but McDowell is playing with fellow members at Lake Nona and trying his best to isolate himself and his family from infection.

"Without having that target, that goal and normal schedule in front of me to get my teeth into it’s been difficult to get focused," he said. "It’s taken me 10 days to grasp the magnitude of what we are going through."

And he realises that the current sporting shutdown leaves massive issues for the golf calendar. "I can’t imagine the jigsaw puzzle the European Tour and the PGA Tour have on their hands," he said.

"To me the major championships take priority over the Ryder Cup,” McDowell added. "It’s only going to be a viable opportunity if we feel good about the qualifying process and we feel the teams are legitimate.

"It’s such a difficult question."

And as he knows better than most athletes, that is just one question among a great many in these worryingly uncertain times.

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