THE drinks will be on Graeme McDowell when the Northern Irishman makes his return to the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open after a three-year absence. It will be his way of saying “thank you” to the sponsors for helping to dig the 2010 US Open champion out of a hole following comments about the event after its first year away from Loch Lomond.
“By trying to be constructive, I ended up criticising and that wasn’t the idea,” recalled McDowell, an extremely pleasant individual, of essentially claiming that Castle Stuart was a pushover for players in their pre-Open Championship test.
Perhaps I just didn’t have my best week at Castle Stuart. I wanted to be tested more. Then at Royal Aberdeen some players felt they got tested too much – you can’t please everyoneGraeme McDowell
While he didn’t return for the two subsequent stagings at the Inverness course, McDowell moved immediately to defuse an unfortunate situation by making a personal apology to the Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive, Martin Gilbert.
And, with that having been accepted without any hint of lingering bitterness from the title sponsor, the Ryder Cup player is relishing the opportunity to rekindle his love affair with an event he savoured success in back in 2008.
“I am looking forward to being back at the Scottish Open and, in a bizarre, roundabout way, I’ve developed a really good relationship with Aberdeen Asset Management,” admitted McDowell. “I was actually trying to talk about capitalising on geographical locations around the Open, but, unfortunately, my comments were construed a little negatively towards Castle Stuart.
“The Scottish fans have always been great to me and I got a little bit of negative feedback from them, so I contacted Martin Gilbert right after my comments came out as a I felt bad about it.
“Martin was very gracious and really helped one pull one’s foot out of one’s mouth. Martin and I have talked a lot the last few years and I’m really excited to go back this year. I’m looking forward to having a few pints with him and the Aberdeen Asset Management team.”
He already knows from last year’s Ryder Cup, especially the reaction he received after digging deep to beat Jordan Spieth in the top singles match on the final day, that the Scottish fans had accepted his apology the moment it was offered.
“Whatever negativity was coming from them after my comments about Castle Stuart was hopefully put to bed last year at Gleneagles,” he added. “But it was only minimal, I’d have to say. It was nothing I was too bothered about, but I never like to criticise.”
McDowell’s victory at Loch Lomond seven years ago was really the catalyst for his career taking off, even though he’d chalked up three European Tour triumphs prior to that.
“That was the biggest win of my career at that stage – it was a real turning point,” he said. “It got me on the Ryder Cup for the first time, so that was a special moment.
“The Scottish Open has been a phenomenal event for years and years. I was lucky to win it and it’s an event that has always been close to my heart.”
McDowell had hoped to make his return at Royal Aberdeen last year before a late change of plan, but he is just as excited about teeing up at another new venue for the event in Gullane. “From the feedback I’ve heard from the guys, Gullane is going to be similar to Royal Aberdeen last year in terms of having a links course with a set up in mind for the following week,” he said. “It is going to be phenomenal prep for the Open in the same way that Houston helps the guys prep for the Masters.
“It is a balancing act with the Scottish Open because you don’t want to beat them up going into the Open. But, at the same time, you want to ready their games.
“Perhaps I just didn’t have my best week at Castle Stuart. I felt it was a bit wide open and I wanted to be tested more off the tee heading into the Open. They then went to Royal Aberdeen and some players felt they got tested too much – you can’t please everyone all the time.”
What is indisputable, however, is that the Scottish Open has become the tried and tested formula for Claret Jug success since it started moving around links courses, with Darren Clarke (2011), Ernie Els (2012), Phil Mickelson (2013) and Rory McIlroy (2014) all using the event to help pick up that prize the following week.
“That is a really good selling point to players and there should be a good buzz at Gullane, which is going to be a great spot for the Scottish Open,” said McDowell. “We stayed out that way when I was practising for Muirfield Iin 2013 and I am looking forward to going back.
“If you look at the Loch Lomond days when it had the really top-class fields coming, you could say it wasn’t great prep for the Open and a lot of guys started missing it due to that fact. But now we are going to world-class links courses and it is great to see the likes of Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson supporting it. In doing so, they are helping attract some other big-name Americans, so hopefully it should be a terrific week.”