April 19, 2001
BIRMINGHAM -- Some of golf's biggest names, Fred Couples, Vijay Singh, John Daly and Nick Faldo, are slated to compete in this week's PGA Tour event, the Shell Houston Open. Another player, who may not be a household name, will be included in the field. That player is Graeme McDowell, a sophomore on the UAB men's golf team, who has paced this year's squad to a No. 20 national ranking in collegiate ranks.
McDowell earned an invitation to this even by winning The South of Ireland Championship in his home country last summer. That tournament, which was sponsored by Shell Oil, offered an invitation to the winner to play in this PGA Tour Event.
"I am trying not to get myself too pumped up about it," McDowell, who is a native of Portrush, Northern Ireland, said. "I am just trying to treat it like another tournament, but obviously it's going to be a completely new experience and a daunting one at that."
UAB golf coach Alan Kaufman has seen improvement from his rising sophomore and thinks this experience will help him down the road in his career.
"Graeme came back this fall hitting the ball 30 yards further than he did his freshman year and he has always hit the ball very straight," Kaufman said. "His ablility keeps climbing week after week and I am confident that he will do very well out there. I think the only thing that could effect his score is just the newness of the experience. As far as his physical capability goes, he is certainly capable of competing at this level."
Starting last spring, McDowell has played some of the best golf of his career. Heading into the summer of 2000, McDowell found his game, winning the Atlanta Intercollegiate with a 4-under 212 in May. He continued his winning streak in Europe taking five tournament titles. In June, he placed first in the Leinster Youth Championship, the Irish Amateur and Irish Youth Championship. In July, he captured the title in the World University Championships and South of Ireland Championship, and in August, he had his most impressive score of the summer, shooting 20-under par at the European Championship finishing in a tie for second.
Over the past year at UAB, McDowell has won one tournament and garnered six top-five finishes. His lowest finish has been a tie for 21st, with his lowest tournament total coming at 6-under par and his highest at 5-over par. In 29 rounds, he has played 16 even par or better with seven rounds in the 60's with a low round of 66. He is currently third in the nation in greens hit with 78 percent and 15th in fairways hit with 80 percent.
Going into the Conference USA Tournament on April 23-25 in Navarre, Fla., McDowell, ranked 61st in the nation, will have to contend with the likes of Andy Sanders (No. 36), Simon Robinson (No. 67) and Wade Ormsby (No. 79), all of the University of Houston. UH won the C-USA Tournament last year, with UAB taking second. In the Mastercard Collegiate Golf Rankings, UAB is currently ranked 20th, while Houston is ranked 36th.
"I feel that my play this spring has been pretty solid, having one win and a couple of top five finishes," said McDowell. "I feel that my play has exceeded my scores though, because I haven't being scoring efficiently enough. Hopefully, that will change."
Kaufman thinks McDowell's chances of taking the C-USA title are within his reach.
"Graeme will certainly be one of the top two players in the field other than Andy Sanders of Houston," Kaufman added. "He certainly has a legitimate chance to win the tournament. We then go to the Atlanta Intercollegiate where Graeme will defend his championship from last year. Then we will go on to the regionals and hopefully on to the NCAA."
This marks the first time McDowell will participate in a PGA Tour event, but given his past history it should not be his last.
"With the Houston Open being my first ever PGA Tour event, I guess it will probably give me a great insight into what goes on on tour," McDowell added. "Also, it will give me a great opportunity to evaluate my game with respect to the greatest players in the world, and highlight my weaknesses showing me how close my game is. When I turn pro I will give it a try on the PGA tour first beacuse my game is more suited for America right now. If things don't work then I may take it to Europe."
This summer McDowell plans to play the full schedule of college events in the U.S. and then go home to play in the British Amateur and Irish Amateur. He will then come back to New York and play the Palmer Cup.
"Hopefully I have a great chance to make the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup Team for the match in August at Ocean Forest, Georgia. If I make that, I'll get an exemption for the U.S. Amateur. This is all pretty exciting stuff for me."