Golfstat.com has been rating golfers by the numbers since 1995. At the end of each season, Golfstat. awards a trophy to its best college player based on his scoring average. Previous winners include Tiger Woods in 1995-96, Matt Kuchar in 1997-98 and Bryce Molder in 2000-2001. The latter two have been the world's top two amateurs in their prime and have extremely bright pro prospects ahead of them. Woods is simply the best player in the world maybe ever. So winning the Golfstat cup is a good indicator of future professional golf success.
Who is this year's leader as of the April 3rd standings? Graeme McDowell of UAB. The junior from Portrush, Northern Ireland leads the nation with a 69.9 scoring average. He is just ahead of B.J. Trahan of Clemson who is at 70.49. Woods won his cup with a 70.61 average while Kuchar was 70.8 and Molder was 69.43.
The Blazers have already qualified for the NCAA Regionals to be held in Atlanta on May 16-18 and are trying to return to the NCAA Championships for the second straight year. This year's championships will be held in Columbus, Ohio on May 29 through June 1. Eighty teams go to three regional sites and the top 10 teams from each regional make the NCAA Championships. Thirty teams will compete at Columbus. UAB finished 12th out of 30 last year.
What has been McDowell's contribution to the team and the program? He's won five college tournaments this year. He won the Topy Cup in Japan in Sept, he won the Country Club of La. Tournament in Oct., he won the Gator Invitational in Feb., he won the Seminole Intercollegiate in March (11-12) and he successfully defended his championship at the Alabama Invite March 15-17. His recent victory at Alabama was nothing short of phenomenal.
McDowell was four shots behind leader John Holmes of Kentucky when he came to the 13th tee. He had started on the back side so he was playing the front side of the course. On No.4, McDowell's 13th hole, he birdied to close the lead to three shots. On the sixth hole, his 15th, a par five, he made a 10-foot putt for birdie to move to two shots back. On the seventh hole, his 16th, he hit a wedge to a 135-yard par 3 against a swirling wind. The ball landed behind the hole and spun back in for a hole in one. That tied the match. Holmes went on to bogey 16 and 17 and McDowell won by two.
His play this year has earned him respect throughout the country. His teammates gloat over their partner and close friend.
"He has been playing phenomenal golf the last two years," said teammate Craig Gordon, a senior from Edinburgh, Scotland. "He's very, very down to earth, he never has lost track of where he was and where he came from. He's very good in every aspect of the game. He's mentally very tough. He never changes on the golf course. He's a model for the younger players on how to conduct themselves on and off the course. He is very close to his family and his friends and he's very thankful for everything he's received.
"He's also desperate to beat you every day he tees it up. He never loses that edge. He's the best equipped of the guys that have come from our program who are trying to be pros. He hits the ball in the fairway, he hits greens 80 percent of the time and he averages under 30 putts a round. His biggest strength is mentally. He knows when to attack and when to sit back. He's going to be a first team All-American and he could be player of the year, and, at the moment, he deserves it. I'll be surprised if he's not an instant success in the paid ranks on the top level. Hopefully, he'll pick me as his caddie."
UAB has four players in the Players Developmental Tour, a professional tour. Chris Devlin, Payton Osborn, Daniel Ozley and David Tennant are all trying to make it to the top level. Also Tyrol Auret is on the South African Tour.
Drew Jones, a senior teammate of McDowell's from Johnson City Tenn., is confident his teammate's future in golf is unlimited.
"I've been around him two years and he makes everybody around him better by just watching him practice," Jones said. "He's a class act and he's doing all the right things. If he keeps it up he'll be playing on Sundays on TV. He's stronger than most golfers mentally and he believes in himself."
McDowell started playing the game in Portrush when he was seven, His father, Ken, a computer technician, took up golf late in life and but carries a six handicap. McDowell's uncle, Samuel Loughrey, a four handicapper, was his swing coach and mentor.
"He has a very good eye for my swing and knows it well," McDowell said. "He keeps it very simple. We've come a long way."
McDowell's mother, Marian, is a manager of a fashion department in Portrush. She and Ken have come over to the states a couple of times to watch their son play. They were at the Shell Houston Open when McDowell played there in 2001. He did not make that cut which is not unusual for a college player playing in his first tour event.
McDowell has two brothers, George 30, who lives and works in Portrush but is not a golfer. His younger brother Gary, 20, is in golf turf management school and is a three handicap.
McDowell loved where he grew up.
"It was one of the best golf areas in the world," he said. "It had all these ocean links courses that were very windy. I kind of like it when it's windy over here I feel like those are my conditions though I have enjoyed the weather here in Birmingham and the courses."
McDowell grew up an hour north of Belfast in what he called "the epicenter" of the war in Northern Ireland between the Protestants and the Catholics. In his town two police officers were shot when he was growing up but that's the closest he came to the violence.
"I think we're a few generations removed from that now," McDowell said.
UAB Coach Alan Kaufman found out about McDowell from former UAB player Devlin who recommended to his coach two players from Ireland that Kaufman might recruit.
"The first guy I called had already committed to another college and he turned out to be a very average player," Kaufman remembers. "The second player I called was Graeme. You have to be a little lucky in recruiting."
Kaufman said that McDowell's game has really evolved to greatness over the past three years.
"One of the things I used to tell people is when he came over here he was a good player but that he was a better person than he was a player. Now it's starting to equal out because, as you can see, he is a great guy.
"When he came here he drove exceptionally straight but not very long and he was a poor putter and averaged 74. His second year he hit the ball very long and very straight but he was still an average putter and averaged 72. This year he has all the ingredients. He is a great putter, he's long and straight off the tee and he's got a great wedge game.
"Like most great golfers he is very low key but focused and he gets more focused as the tournament progresses. You can never tell whether he makes a birdie or a bogey. The only time I've seen him get excited is when he had the hole in one."
McDowell started this tear when he won six tournaments in two and a half months in Ireland in the summer of 2000 after his freshman year at UAB. He had won the Atlanta Intercollegiate at the end of that season. In May he'll play for his third consecutive Intercollegiate title.
He has played Molder, considered the best amateur player in the world last year, three times. In three encounters with Molder in the Walker Cup and Palmer Cup, which are matches between the top 10 amateur players from Britain and Ireland versus the top ten players from the United States, he has lost two times on the last hole and, he was leading going into the last hole the other time before losing to Molder on a Molder birdie at 18.
"I'm pretty sure I can hold my own with him," McDowell said.
After two wins in March, McDowell is in a controlled cruise for the rest of the college season as he tries to become the top college player in America. His goal is to play in the NCAA Championships with his teammates.
"I want the boys to be with me, it's not much fun playing alone," he said. "We had Daniel and Payton last year and if we had them this year, you would really have to look out for us. But we have a real solid team."
After the college season is over with, McDowell will return to Northern Ireland and turn pro in July. He'll attempt to play on the European Tour for a couple of years with plans to come over and play on the PGA tour.
Presently life is good for him and he's made it that way. College golf has been a great experience and though he won't graduate at the end of the year, he's enjoyed his time at UAB thoroughly. Kaufman said that recruiting has been catapulted by McDowell's play and the others before him. UAB has signed six players for next year one of whom is the number one player in Sweden.
McDowell has made his impact. He is enjoying the fruits of his work ethic.
"I have a great feeling of relaxation on the course this spring," he said. "I feel the same way from the first day of the tournament to the end. I feel very calm and very patient. It comes from confidence."
A serene, focused approach on the golf course combined with a determined work ethic equals one great golfer. Graeme knows.