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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
McDowell goes top of the class
Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell plans to turn professional in the summer of 2002
McDowell has enjoyed a glittering amateur career
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By Alvin McCaig
BBC NI Sport

Life could not get much better for Portrush amateur Graeme McDowell.

The 22-year-old student has just chalked up an amazing sixth victory on the US collegiate circuit this season.

In winning the Atlanta Intercollegiate for a third time he posted a career best 63 in the final round to win by a massive nine strokes.

And when I caught up with him he was setting out for a practice round on the famous Shoal Creek course, three-times host of the US PGA Championship.

Winning habit

So not surprisingly he was in a positive frame of mind when reflecting about the current state of his game.

The facts tell speak for themselves - the Walker Cup star had three wins in his first two years at UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham) and now has added another six in a matter of months.

Northern Ireland's Michael Hoey and Graeme McDowell were on the successful Walker Cup side in 2001
Hoey and McDowell were Walker Cup heroes

"There has been a consistent improvement and it has just clicked for me in competition this year," he said.

"I am driving long and straight, my short game is better while my putting has been the biggest plus.

"And winning becomes a habit with the knock-on effect of breeding confidence and making me feel more relaxed on the course.

"It all came together in that round of 63 last week, and considering I was protecting a lead it was undoubtedly one of the best I have ever played."

McDowell has followed up a glittering amateur career at home by becoming the new star of college golf Stateside.

It is a fine nursery for future golfing greats with Tiger Woods a notable recent graduate.

"I have always wanted to take a shot at the college game in America and was delighted to get a chance a UAB, which has excellent facilities while the weather is a wonderful bonus.

"The hardest thing out here is mastering the greens which are so slick and so different from back home.

"The major aim was to be able to play at a high level on all sorts of courses and conditions.

My confidence is high and I am really excited about the challenge ahead
Graeme McDowell

"I think I have achieved that after growing up on the windy Royal Portrush links and then experiencing quality courses in America."

McDowell may be a big name on the amateur scene but this is all about to change in the summer.

For the young student is set to go into the unforgiving world of work as a golfing professional.

He will follow in the footsteps of fellow Ulsterman Michael Hoey, who has made a solid start to his full-time career.

McDowell and Hoey share some great memories after forming a formidable partnership in the victorious Great Britain & Ireland team which scored a historic success over the United States at Sea Island in Georgia last August.

Turning pro

Thoughts of a possible future Ryder Cup pairing may be a bit premature with McDowell just focusing on making the grade among the game's elite.

"It is re-assuring to see Michael doing well - I feel my game is as good as his and if he can do it so can I," added a confident McDowell.

"I have no date set for turning pro but it will be sooner rather than later.

"I will first try to qualify for the British Open at Muirfield and I have also entered the British Amateur Championship which Michael won last year.

"It is always tough going into the professional game but my confidence is high and I am really excited about the challenge ahead."

See also:

21 Aug 01 |  Northern Ireland
McDowell in birdie blitz
22 Aug 01 |  Northern Ireland
Mixed fortunes for Irish duo
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