Open 2014: Graeme McDowell says mental strength is the key

BBC Sport column: Graeme McDowell
Graeme McDowell was the leader after the first round the last time Hoylake staged the Open
The Open Championship 2014
Venue: Royal Liverpool Golf Club Date: 17-20 July
Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Sport website, mobile & app, and Connected TVs

My best Open finish two years ago was tinged with annoyance, but I can't help feeling it helped me claim victory in France in my last outing earlier this month.

Coming into the 2014 championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, which starts on Thursday, with a win under my belt provides a massive boost of confidence.

When I came from eight shots behind to win the French Open, I was certainly pulling on my experience from Lytham in 2012. I finished fifth then but remember feeling very disappointed and frustrated.

As I peeked out of the locker room window at the back of the 18th to see Ernie Els with the Claret Jug, I was thinking I hadn't conducted myself as well as I should have on the back nine of my closing 75.

Graeme McDowell says his recent series of missed cuts motivated him to win the French Open in Paris

I spent that round watching what I thought was the winning performance from Adam Scott. I was thinking 'this guy's got it won' and I was just trying to get out of his way. I didn't focus on my own play.

When I look back, I was probably one or two shots ahead of Ernie standing on the 10th tee and he was three or four groups ahead playing the back nine of his life.

I learned that day that the never-say-die attitude has to continue at all times and you must focus for all 18 holes, no matter what the circumstances. That was the attitude I had in winning the French title.

And I have the experience to know that mental strength is going to be key at the Open. Last time it was at Hoylake in 2006 - I was the first-round leader but wasn't able to capitalise.

I got caught up in the buzz and all the hype in the press centre and all the things that were being said about you. The fact was, I still had three-quarters of the tournament ahead of me on a tough golf course that was only going to get more difficult.

It was just a good start and I had a big, big job ahead of me. The hype and the excitement does nothing but sap your energy and take your focus away from the job in hand. That was a big week of learning for me in the majors.

Graeme McDowell at the Open in 2006
McDowell fired a six-under-par 66 to lead defending champion Tiger Woods after the first round in 2006

There are certain weapons you need in the bag for Open Championships. Playing in the wind, ball flight control, hitting it high, hitting it low, moving the ball around and shaping it against the wind are key elements.

You also have to dial into the type of shot required for the short game. It's much more along the ground - lob wedges are left in the bag and pitching wedges, eight irons and six irons are the order of the day.

There's so much more feel involved and creativity with the short game on a links course. You have to pace putts extremely well because you are putting from long distance a lot. These are things I work very hard on going into the Open.

McDowell's professional wins
DateTournamentWinning margin
6 Jul 2014French Open1 stroke
7 Jul 2013French Open4 strokes
19 May 2013World Match Play Championship2&1
21 Apr 2013HeritagePlay-off
31 Oct 2010Valderrama Masters2 strokes
20 Jun 2010US Open1 stroke
6 Jun 2010Wales Open3 strokes
13 Jul 2008Scottish Open2 strokes
16 Mar 2008Ballantine's ChampionshipPlay-off
2 May 2004Italian OpenPlay-off
4 Aug 2002Scandinavian Masters1 stroke

It also boils down to strategy. Positioning the ball off the tee, avoiding the traps. Hoylake is one of those Open venues where there is a real premium on accuracy off the tee.

You have to put the ball in play; it's a well-bunkered golf course and the greens are relatively flat so they give you the chance to putt well. It really appeals to my type of game.

This is a good venue for me, especially as there aren't lots of 280-290-yard carries. Links golf has always been in my blood because I grew up at Portrush and played most of my golf as an amateur on links courses.

I didn't feel I needed to hone my game at the Scottish Open at the weekend as I slip back into links mode very easily because of my upbringing.

It'll be a pretty low-key week from the point of view of having a huge entourage. I'll be renting a house about half a mile from the course and sharing it with my Horizon Sports stablemate Ross Fisher.

Graeme McDowell with his Dad after winning the US Open 2010
With his wife expecting their first baby, McDowell's father Ken will accompany his son at the Open

We've got a buddy coming in to cook some dinners. My wife Kristin isn't here for the best of reasons as our first baby is due later in the summer, so it'll be just me and my dad, Ken.

Last time the Open was at Hoylake, Tiger Woods won using a driver only once in the 72 holes. I don't see it playing that way this time.

They were unique conditions because it was so hot and the course was baked out. There will be more drivers used this year - the course won't play quite as short but there will be a lot of other clubs off tees as well.

Of course we are excited to see how Tiger does, but I'm excited for me because I think it has the potential to be a G-Mac type Open.

Graeme's three key holes

Number one jumps off the page right away. To me it's one of the toughest holes on the golf course. It's a very narrow fairway with bunkers encroaching on each side at about 280 yards. There will be a lot of two irons, five woods and hybrids to leave a long approach to probably the most narrow and undulating green on the course. It's unusual to have the first hole as one of the toughest.

The 18th is very unusual finishing hole. It's an intimidating tee shot because of the internal out of bounds on the right-hand side with bunkers down the left. If you can find the fairway, the green is a very big target and you can make birdies and eagles. If you are out of position the lay-up becomes difficult hitting across the corner. If played well you can make a score... if you miss the fairway you've got big trouble ahead.

The 14th has a very tough tee shot. If you take it on a little bit, bunkers come into play because they cut in left and right around the 290-yard mark. But you are tempted to get down to the corner to get a peek at the green. A safer club off the tee leaves a blind second shot. It's one of the greens that has a huge fall off on the right and, if you miss it there, you are in big, big trouble. It's a real pivotal par four.

Graeme McDowell was talking to BBC golf correspondent Iain Carter

The Open 2014
Length:7,312 yards (6,721m)
Field:156 players
Prize fund:£5,400,000
Winner's share:£975,000
Defending champion:Phil Mickelson