'Missing putts like that wears you down mentally' - Shane Lowry's former coach on US Open implosion
Published 20/06/2016 | 14:01
It is entirely plausible that, having each conceded seemingly unassailable leads and, in turn, the opportunity to commit their names to the history books, Shane Lowry and the Irish rugby team are currently occupying a very similar head space.
There are, of course, marked differences between the two.
While Joe Schmidt’s charges are likely still reeling from the ignominy of leaking 22 unanswered points during a fraught final quarter in Johannesburg on Saturday, they will be sated by the fact that a first ever series win in South Africa remains within their grasp.
Provided, that is, they do the business in Port Elizabeth next weekend.
Indeed, a perk of plying one’s trade in a team endeavour, also allows for a shared accountability should implosion occur.
After ceding the four shot lead he enjoyed going into the final round of the US Open at Oakmont on Sunday- the first man to do so since Payne Stewart in 1998- Shane Lowry must dissect his failure in the isolation reserved for golfers or prize-fighters.
Dustin Johnson had barely gripped the venerated silver jug in triumph, when the postmortem of Lowry’s capitulation began. Even if finishing joint second, and being just one of four to better par overall, could hardly be construed as an unmitigated failure. Especially when considering he has now accrued sufficient points to guarantee his spot on the Ryder Cup team.
Some have ventured that being informed of Johnson’s potential penalising for an infraction on the fifth hole possibly obscured the Offaly man’s focus. Johnson had initially called the penalty on himself, only to be told by the referee that he had committed no offence.
Upon review, the USGA informed Johnson and Lowry that a one stroke penalty may occur, and duly did at the end of play, so it mattered not.
Coach John Cullen first encountered Lowry as a precocious junior player at the Tullamore Golf Club and, according to him, both his former pupil and the American would have been equally hampered by the questionable officiating.
“It was a distraction that shouldn’t have been there for either player,” Cullen told Independent.ie
“If you lose focus in a situation like that, very often it’s hugely difficult to get it back because you’re not thinking about the right things. Plain and simple, good sports people don’t make excuses - if it goes wrong it’s their fault.
"Shane is not going to blame anyone else. Golf is one of those games where you’re there on your own, with just the caddy with you. That’s just the nature of golf - you can’t blame anyone else."
Another theory being posited is that the disrupted schedule, a direct result of the storms that visited Pennsylvania, may have unsettled Lowry’s rhythm as he was gathering momentum. Furthermore, during broadcasting, Paul McGinley had commented that the 29-year-old appeared noticeably fatigued.
Cullen believes these issues may well have contributed to Lowry’s downfall, and almost certainly depleted him, physically and mentally.
“Shane said he found it difficult that he had such a long wait after finishing the third round before going out for the final round. He had tried get a bit of sleep but wasn’t able to, and that’s nerves.
“Nerves can be good but when they stop you from doing what you need to do, that’s a problem. Shane isn’t a fitness freak, we all know that, but he does work in the gym and puts in the effort.
“That would have been something he wasn’t used to and been an extra issue on top of everything else of what was going on and it all wears you down in the end.”
Ultimately, Cullen is hesitant to dwell too long on such intangibles. And, through the prism of a coach’s discerning gaze, it was the deterioration of Lowry’s play, particularly his short game in the last nine, that cost him a first ever major.
For the first 67 holes he had required a solitary three -putt but, upon reaching the 14th on Sunday, Lowry endured three in a row, which meant for a trio of consecutive bogies.
Lowry managed just one birdie in the final round, compared to seven in the third, two in the second and four in the first.
“Those greens are treacherous. If you miss a putt and you think you’ve hit a good put, that’s ok. If you miss a putt and you feel you’ve put a bad stroke on it, then that’s in your head over the next putt.
“That wears you down mentally to hit the approach better so you’re not in a position for a three-putt. It just adds to the pressure of the approach shot and feeds right back into your game.
“When you are in a situation like Shane was yesterday, you cannot be analysing your game -you have to play with what you have.
“Under that pressure you can’t be thinking about tweaking things or changing your basic approach to the game at that stage. Maybe Shane thought he should attack more but only himself and Dermot Byrne (caddie) will know that.”