Graeme McDowell is heading back to Castle Stuart this summer for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open and has jokingly admitted: “I’m sure they will be glad to see me there”.
The former winner’s comment refers to a storm he stirred up after the event had been staged at the Highlands venue three years in a row following a long run at Loch Lomond coming to an end in 2010.
McDowell, who played at the course close to Inverness in 2011 but didn’t return the following two years, said he believed the tournament had lost much of its esteem with the move to Castle Stuart.
“No disrespect to the Scottish Open as I love that event, but it has lost its prestige,” said the 2008 winner three years ago. “Castle Stuart probably hasn’t been a strong enough course the past couple of years. Let’s get the Scottish Open on a phenomenal links course with a great purse and a world-class field.”
The Ulsterman then missed out on an intended return at Royal Aberdeen in 2014 before teeing up at Gullane last summer and now, unlike Rory McIlroy and perhaps defending champion Rickie Fowler, too, McDowell also intends to be at Castle Stuart in July.
“The Scottish Open is definitely going to be on my schedule this year and I’m looking forward to it,” said the 2010 US Open champion. “I’m sure they will be glad to see me there!”
In fairness to McDowell, he moved immediately to defuse the unfortunate situation created by his comments in 2013 by making a personal apology to the Aberdeen Asset Management chief executive, Martin Gilbert.
“Graeme contacted me to apologise and he’s not the first person to say something they regret, so we’ve got no problems whatsoever with him,” said Gilbert during the event three years ago.
“He took the time to get in touch and I really admire him for that. He said we should catch up at The Open for a chat and I was impressed with how he had handled the situation.
“In fairness, Graeme has a point to a certain extent in terms of old and new links courses. But I’m firmly of the view that the Scottish Open should be played on a links course and, for Scottish golf to be trying to sell itself as a global brand, if we don’t play this event on links course it would be crazy.”
Speaking in the build-up to last year’s event in East Lothian, McDowell admitted he’d made a mistake and heaped praise on Gilbert for his handling on the situation.
“By trying to be constructive, I ended up criticising and that wasn’t the idea,” he said. “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 I felt really bad about it. Martin was very gracious and really helped pull one’s foot out out of one’s mouth.”
McDowell’s decision to include Castle Stuart on this season’s schedule means he’ll be joining Russell Knox when the Scottish No 1 makes a much-awaited Scottish Open appearance in his home city.
The pair shared a flight home from Mexico last November after McDowell had beaten both Knox and American Jason Bohn in a play-off to win the OHC Classic on the PGA Tour.
“We had a few tequilas on the way home,” revealed McDowell, smiling. “Coming off the back of winning (the WGC-HSBC Champions) in Shanghai, Russell had had a decent couple weeks, so I don’t think he was too disappointed.
“I hadn’t played a huge amount of golf with him and, though he’s not the longest driver of the ball in the world, he’s tenacious with the irons and a good putter.
“I see he has taken up his European Tour membership. We were actually chatting about it on the way home from México. I told him that he didn’t have much to lose by taking his membership. It was worth a shot. He’s a great player, so he could certainly make a good run at the Ryder Cup team. He certainly has the talent and is a nice lad, too.”