Everyone loves Shane Lowry. He’s not just one of us in that he’s Irish. He’s one of us in that he loves his GAA, he seems as if he’d be more at home in your local than some highlife nightclub; the kind of fella you’d love to have a pint with, all the more because he comes across as the kind who’d be all on for having that pint with you as well.
You’d hope so with all the friends he has, that some of them will be frank and honest enough with him to tell him a couple of home truths, over a few pints if it needs be: to give yourself the best chance to win majors, you’ve got to lose some more of that weight. You’ve got to get fitter, physically, and in other ways too. It’s not something any of us are looking forward to anyone having to say.
A big part of what makes Lowry so endearing is his Everyman appeal. There’s something hugely authentic about him; he’s not trying to be anyone else, especially some automaton gym bunny. If he is like anyone else, it’s that he’s something of a throwback to a time when portly men like of John ‘Wild Thing’ Daly and Craig Stadler boomed and shuffled their way to majors before Tiger introduced golf to the gym.
Had the pride of Offaly won last weekend, it would have been held up as a riposte to Rory McIlroy’s physical workouts and a return to the true essence of the game: it’s not how much you can lift or work your way around the weights room; it’s what you’re like with that club in your hand and how you can work your way around a golf course. But here’s the thing. You can work your way around the golf course better if you have less weight to carry around it.
Golf courses these days are hugely demanding. It’s not just the length you have to hit the ball; it’s the length you have to walk. And over the course of 72 holes and a season, and over several seasons, that catches up on you. Especially when you play regularly in America where the conditions are warm and humid and three of the four majors take place.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Shane Lowry had something of a mental collapse last Sunday. It’s not a crime. Plenty of players endured a day like it before winning a major, and as Jordan Spieth can vouch, it can happen after you’ve won majors as well.
A contributing factor to Lowry’s slippage had to be mental fatigue brought on by physical fatigue. The more tired you are, the more prone to being distracted you are. You lose concentration, you overly-internalise. You’re not as confident as you could be; deep down there’s a part of you that will feel like you’ve cut corners here, you’re just a game, plucky boyo who doesn’t really belong in this mix, at least consistently, that you’ve been finally found out.
Lowry was a model of honesty and graciousness after his final round, saying the Dustin Johnson penalty infringement fiasco had no role to play in his demise, and it was a testament to Johnson’s mental strength the American was unaffected by such a potential distraction.
It was also encouraging to see Lowry look at it less as a disaster as a learning opportunity. “I always say it’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it,” he’d tell reporters afterwards.
He’d say he’d yet to figure out what those learnings were, but already there were hints in some of his comments. “Everything happened quickly, but that’s what happens when you play a few bad holes. They’re kind of over before you know it and you’d like to have them back again. I was probably a bit hard on myself coming in as well. I think if I had have just relaxed a little bit more, I could have done a bit better.” Lowry has spoken before about meeting up a couple of times with Enda McNulty, but perhaps he could do with meeting him or some other sport psychologist more regularly to tease out some possible solutions. Why did his mind and play quicken up? Had he any routines or rituals to fall back on? What strategies and tools has he to help him relax more? He was a bit hard on himself – again, now he realises how he talks to himself can impact his performance, what self-talk statements and strategies can he come up with to help him survive, even thrive in, such a storm?
It is important Shane Lowry remains authentic. Part of the genius of his coach Neil Manchip has been not to meddle with Lowry’s swing; if you were to try to fix one element of it as other more technically-obsessed coaches would try to do, you’d create another five problems. As a friend of Lowry’s and the overseer of the Golfing Union of Ireland’s high performance programme, the magnificently-cool and measured Manchip is the ideal person to make an intervention. As much as Lowry has dabbled in strength and conditioning before, there are obvious gains. He does not have to turn into a gym bunny. He does not even have to be Adam Scott or Dustin Johnson-like athletic. What he cannot continue to be is unathletic.
He has carved out a profitable career and niche being who he is. He’ll have people, including a part of himself, telling him he doesn’t have to change much to win a major. But if he’s to be honest with himself, he’ll realise what got him to here most likely won’t get to him there, as in winning majors. Does he really commit and put himself in the best possible position to contend in five of the next 12 majors and possibly win two, or does he hope to maybe be in position in two of them and look to luck out in one of them? That’s the choice he has.
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