Golf Monthly columnist Graeme McDowell won the inaugural Ballantine’s Championship in 2008 following a thrilling sudden-death play-off against Jeev Milkha Singh at the Pinx Golf Club in South Korea.
Two weeks after the US Masters at Augusta the Northern Irishman will be back to try and regain the title following Thongchai Jaidee’s victory last year.
Q. After a difficult start, you must be pretty satisfied the way you played at Doral, particularly that flawless final round?
GM: My game has been feeling very good this year so far, and until Doral, I had very little to show for my good play. Golf tests your patience, and if you can hang in there, good things will happen. The weekend at Doral was very satisfying, especially my 66 in the final round. The finish gave a welcome boost in confidence and momentum, to take to Bay Hill, the Masters, Shanghai and of course the Ballantines Championship in Jeju.
Q. Is the Blue Monster still a fearsome prospect?
GM: The Blue Monster wasn’t very monsterous this year. Due to a very cold Florida winter, the rough was nowhere near as thick as years gone by. It meant that players could be much more aggressive off the tee and really take advantage of their length to tame the ‘Monster’.
Q. Having won in Europe and Asia, have your recent successes in the US made believe you can also lift trophies on the PGA Tour?
GM: Some of my best performances in the last couple of seasons have come in the States. My game is well suited to many of the challenges out there. To win events on the PGA Tour is certainly one of my many goals. With Orlando, Florida quickly becoming my primary residence, playing more golf here in the US is something I would love to do.
Q. How pleased were you to see Ernie Els finally back to his very best?
GM: Ernie Els is one of golf’s great players and personalities. I have always been a massive fan of the “Big Easy”. To see a good friend and fellow Callaway Staff player win in such style at the CA Championship was great, although I was trying my best to give him a run for his money.
Q. What do you think young Korean stars like Noh Seung-yul should learn from a player like Ernie?
GM: Korean golf is really going from strength to strength, making a big impression – no doubt inspired by players like K J Choi, Anthony Kim and also Y E Yang’s 2009 exploits. It is wonderful to see the game of golf blossoming in Asia. I was very impressed by young Noh Seung-Yul in Malaysia. He displayed a lot of maturity in winning and seeing young players having great success is fantastic for the sport.
Players like him can learn a lot from champions like Ernie Els. Things like Ernie’s composure under pressure, the expertise that can be achieved on and around the greens, and the way Ernie handles spectators and the media. These are all invaluable lessons that can be learned from the games great players.