I remember when I was a reporter in 2002 and came up with an idea to write a feature on UAB golfer Graeme McDowell for the then Birmingham Post-Herald. I spoke with Alan Kaufman, UAB's fine golf coach who has taken the Blazers to six NCAA appearances in 12 years, and Coach Kaufman told me to meet Graeme on the course at Old Overton for an interview that afternoon. I met Graeme on the course and went out with him for a few holes. He hit it 285-290 straight down the middle, not Dustin Johnson, Tiger, Phil-like distance, but solid ball striking. He was a phenomenal putter. Sank about everything he stood over.
But what I noticed most was his demeanor. You couldn't meet a more affable, nice guy than Graeme. Just a happy guy who loved what he was doing. I just had a feeling he was going to be special. He was confident but not cocky. He was a fun guy to be around. Golfstat ranked him as the top golfer in the country that year. He won the Haskins Award, the Heisman Trophy of college golf, as the most outstanding collegiate player in the country. Out of 12 tournaments he entered, he won six of them with a stroke average of 69.6, better than Tiger Woods.
The U.S. Open was more about survival yesterday than anything else. Dustin Johnson self-destructed out there with an 81. Thought Dustin could win it with his length and cool demeanor, but he fell apart. Tiger could never get it going. Phil birdied the first hole, but didn't get anything going after that. Ernie looked good early, but could never get that crucial birdie at important times. Havret played well and almost sent it into a playoff, but missed a four-footer on 18. I don't care what James Hyler, the president of the USGA, says, those greens were not very true and extremely hard to putt on. It was very hard to make birdies. Even par was very competitive. The U.S. Opens always emphasize putting and it was at a premium yesterday. Greame's putting won him the tournament.
Graeme knew he had to make par on 18 to take a one-shot victory and he played the hole very intelligently with help from his fine caddie, Ken Comboy, who told him to hit a nine iron on the second shot. It got him to 100 yards from the pin and he pitched it 25 feet away and two-putted.
This is great for the former UAB player and the UAB program. Graeme is a great representative of the University and great things could be in store for this aspiring 30-year old. I thought he had a good shot after his second round on Friday when he took the lead by three shots and said he just needed to keep up his "discipline" on the course. He seemed so poised, mature and focused. He now gets a shot at St. Andrews in the British.
But he should enjoy this now. He earned it.
(Graeme and his dad, Kenny, celebrate Graeme's victory at the 110th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach)