Aren’t the real heroes the ones who transcend difficulty, who rise above the ordinary, asks Fergus Finlay
I’M a golfer. I love that when I’m playing golf, I can leave my troubles at the gate and pick them up again a few hours later. I love that even the worst of us get to do something great every once in a while. Latterly, I love that I have an 11-year-old grandson who’s better than me (and, if I’m lucky, more golfing grandchildren will come along behind him).
I’m a high handicapper. That’s shorthand for not very good. But here’s the thing about golf: It’s a dreamer’s game. You can play golf until you’re 90, and there’s no need to ever stop dreaming.
I reckon every golfer dreams of having one round of golf, just once, like the one Shane Lowry had last Saturday: Not a care in the world, the ability to see every single shot, the weather sublime, and the course at your mercy. That’s golf played with a smile, and exhilarating to watch. It was the round we all dream about.
But for most of us, that’s it. We never have to follow up the dream round with another one. If you have that one perfect round, you live on it for a long time. Golfers have a saying about the one great shot that you hit in an otherwise bad round: the shot that brings you back. I’m guessing that the round you have in your dreams is the moment where you get to say, “I’ve done it all now”.
But I can’t imagine what it must be like to play the round of your life, and then be told that you haven’t won anything, bar the right to go out and do it again. Except tomorrow, the conditions will be awful, the pressure will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before, and the entire world will be watching.
That’s what happened to Shane Lowry on Saturday night. He came off the 18th green all smiles, and I’m guessing the knot started forming in his stomach right then.
But it never showed. The only sign of nerves on Sunday was in his opening shot. The only sign of an emotion he found difficult to express was when he talked about his parents, after he had won. Throughout what had to have been a really difficult day, what was on display was a mature, rounded personality.
Every sports fan has their heroes: their Beckhams or Ronaldos or Federers. Your heroes aren’t allowed to struggle; they always have to be sublime. But aren’t the real heroes the ones who transcend difficulty, who rise above the ordinary?
British Open winner Shane Lowry has brought the Claret Jug to a Dublin’s Boar’s Head pub to continue his celebrations. Contrary to rumor Mr Lowry has slept, showered and changed clothes. pic.twitter.com/q07B7fhWqU— aoife-grace moore. (@aoifegracemoore) July 22, 2019
That’s what Shane Lowry did on Sunday. Saturday was the dream round, a day when everything just clicked. Sunday was the test of character, the day when he remembered his debt to his parents.
That whole thing was wonderful to watch, from start to finish. But it was actually a great event to feel a part of, too. In our real lives, we never will. If we turn up on the first tee and it’s lashing rain, with a howling wind into your face, we call it a day and retire to the bar. Competitive golfers don’t get that choice.
The funny thing about an event like last Sunday’s, with one of our own at the top of the leader board, is what it also reveals about us. Everyone I spoke to on Saturday night — all my golf buddies who dream about this stuff, all my family — all had the same reaction: Saturday was brilliant, Lowry was fantastic.
But would he be able to cope with the pressure? But would he blow up after three or four holes on Sunday? But what if one of the others mounted a charge? But weren’t the nerves bound to get the better of him?
He’s Irish, after all. And he’s an ordinary bloke, not one of the outrageously gifted or surrounded by an army of psychologists and trainers and physios. Even on the practice ground on Sunday, we saw him clutching a large takeaway coffee (where was the scientific health drink?) and chatting and laughing with strangers. He was one of us, so he couldn’t possibly withstand.
And as the round progressed, our nerves were in constant conflict with our hopes. He made a mess of his opening shot, and we all thought: That’s it. Then, he recovered brilliantly and we wondered when the next mistake would come. His lead narrowed several times, and, each time, we wondered if he was doomed. It wasn’t until he had landed his second shot safely on the last green that we all finally believed.
What is that about us? How come we were all raised so pessimistic and doubtful, almost as if it’s ingrained in us that one of our own doesn’t really deserve to win? Paul McGinley said several times during the commentary that Ireland punches way above its weight in competitive golf, and there are plenty of facts and figures to prove that. But, still, we find it so hard to believe.
And that doesn’t just apply to golf, or to sport.
Anyone following the Brexit debate in the last few weeks, for example, must be thoroughly fed up of the number of our own who say that the Government has overplayed its hand, and that, sooner or later, we’re going to have to give in to whatever Britain wants, and get Europe off the hook.
BUT, actually, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney have displayed an amazing self-belief. It’s a belief that whatever Britain wants to do, Ireland has our own place in this discussion, our own values and interests to protect.
Whether the sun was shining or they were facing a howling gale, they’ve been steady, resourceful, and mature.
But enough of that. What Shane Lowry proved, over the weekend, was the inestimable value of self-belief. Other sports people (and politicians) might feel the need to demonstrate cockiness, or even arrogance, to assert their belief in themselves. Lowry displayed none of that. Just a dogged determination that, once in position, he was never going to give up without a fight.
I work all the time alongside people who have mountains to climb if they’re going to achieve ordinary things. One of the most striking things about many people with an intellectual disability, for example, is that they never suffer from doubt, never lack self-belief. Many of them could give the rest of us lessons in how to face insurmountable challenges.
From now on, though, I think I’ll take one of my lessons from Shane Lowry. If you want to be the best you can be, work at it. Commit yourself to it. And then believe. Who knows? Maybe, some day, I, too, will play that perfect round.
Aren’t the real heroes the ones who transcend difficulty, who rise above the ordinary?