The hard work begins in earnest now for Shane Lowry

The hard work begins in earnest now for Shane Lowry

Ask any professional golfer and they will tell you just how difficult the game can be at times, whatever your standard.

Golf is a tough game. It’s a lonely game. It’s a frustrating game. It is an game of endless trials and tribulations.

On one side of the professional spectrum are those who experience the highs and the precipitous free-falls which threaten their very careers, while at the other end are those battling to bridge the gap from front runner and contender to champion.

Tiger Woods is probably the greatest front runner that has ever played the game. At the height of his powers and in full flight, he was nearly always in his own zone, fully locked in. There’s only a small group of players in any sporting code who know what it consistently feels like to be competing at the highest level, when you are playing in an almost trance-like state.

Our own Pádraig Harrington is amongst that group. Who can forget that “competitive trance” that followed him around the course while retaining The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 2008? His demeanour spoke volumes.

But for every Tiger andPádraig, there are dozens of ‘nearly’ men who have given themselves a sniff at major championship success, only for fate to intervene.

But is it really fate, or is it , in fact, a pre-ordained self-destruction button that takes the player away from the great unknown and back into the more familiar mediocracy of their own comfort zone?

Bridging the gap to major championship success on the main tour has been a lifetime ambition, never achieved to date, for prolific winners like Lee Westwood, Rickie Fowler, and Matt Kuchar.

Why is it that they can win against pretty much the same fields in other non-major events, but can’t reunite themselves with that winning momentum when it matters most?

Therein, most likely, lies the answer. For them, it matters almost too much, and while near misses count for nothing, the scarring from not being able to get over the line can last forever.

The first 36 holes in every major championship are almost anybody’s. Confident players making confident swings, amassing as many birdies as possible as they look to create some separation from the chasing pack.

The mood is still light, but the air is slowly getting heavier, starting with the media centre, when for the first time a novice may be asked whether or not they can go on and win the event.

Saturday is moving day. It is a day when the flawed competitors start to get exposed, as the chasing pack slowly haul them in, much like a peloton, before the finishing line of a cycling race.

For those who manage to keep the pack at bay, there is now a real chance to win the tournament but this is where the psychology really kicks in, with the media getting more and more caught up in the act.

Outwardly, the ideal contest is always a competitive rivalry between you and your fellow competitors whereas inreality, your battle is private.

It is your ability to control your own mind, as the shadows lengthen and the internal demons come to life, down the closing stretch on a Sunday afternoon which is the deciding line between success and failure.

For those like our own Shane Lowry, who has been there before, when taking a four-shot lead into the final round of the US Open, as recently as 2016, it will take a lot of determination to stay grounded this weekend,especially when all around know he has the ability to win his first major.

Winning the Open Championship on Irish soil would indeed be a unique achievement for Lowry, but he will know that his 36-hole form counts for nothing in the greater scheme of things, especially with such a stellar pack on his tail.

More of the same will do just fine but he won’t betaking anything for granted at the same time.

The only outstanding question remaining now is whether or not he fully believes that he can deliver on this stage?

And that brings us back to his demeanour again. It will tell you everything you need to know, over that opening stretch, on Saturday morning.

Progress they say comes in all shapes and sizes.

Experience has already taught Lowry that true major championship winning form, takes time but clearly the course very much fits his eye.

If he can curb his natural excitement and go out there and be himself, playing on an even keel and in his own world, then as a proven links player, he stands as good a chance as anyone to lift that famous Claret Jug come tomorrow afternoon.

With it, he can once and for all step outside his great friend, Rory McIlroy’s large shadow and start building a legacy all of his own.

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