Friday 21 July 2017

You don't know what you've got till it's gone

Lowry eager to return after soul-destroying reality of life without golf

Shane Lowry won't be taking his place on the European Tour for granted after enduring a miserable January.
Shane Lowry won't be taking his place on the European Tour for granted after enduring a miserable January.

Karl MacGinty

Shane Lowry, at age 23, probably is too young to have heard of Joni Mitchell. Sure his dad Brendan was still a schoolboy, merely day-dreaming of All-Ireland glory with Offaly, when the Canadian songbird was in her pomp.

Yet a chat with Clara golfer Shane the other day brought to mind one of Mitchell's anthems 'Big Yellow Taxi'.

The song was written during a visit to Hawaii, when Mitchell threw open the curtains in her hotel room on the first morning to discover they'd "paved paradise and put up a parking lot".

It's an ode to the environment but the opening two lines of the chorus must resonate with many a sportsman.

"Don't it always seem to go," Mitchell sang. "That you don't know what you've got till it's gone."

Don't it just.

Especially in professional golf, where the endless, sometimes exhausting whirl of life on Tour, hopping from continent to continent, hotel room to hotel room, shot to shot, can blur the big picture.

It's exasperating at times to see some of the most privileged, pampered and best-paid performers in sport beating themselves up over trivia, walking the most exclusive, beautifully manicured fairways on earth with shoulders slumped as if they were under the weight of the world.

Forgive me, for I digress ... in truth, Shane Lowry could never be included in their number. He comes from much sterner sporting stock. And any chance of this young man from Offaly ever losing count of his lucky stars was obliterated during the bleakest winter of his life.

Unable even to grasp a golf club because of a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist, Lowry got a fleeting glimpse of the soul-destroying reality faced daily by many thousands of his fellow Irishmen in these recessionary times.

As colleagues on the European Tour shared the delights of the Arabian Desert with Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, Lowry endured long, redundant hours at home, wondering how on earth to fill time or lend any purpose to each day. The silence could not have contrasted more starkly with the roaring glory of Baltray and his sensational, swashbuckling victory as an amateur in the 2009 Irish Open.

"The hardest part was trying to find something to do. It was difficult to keep myself occupied during January," he recalls, adding with a smile: "Going to the gym was the highlight of each day, which, for me, is really saying something."

The widely feted Aspire Fitness Centre, founded by former Offaly footballer Joe Quinn at Clara House, just a few minutes down the road from Lowry's home, would be a godsend.

Might Quinn, aged just 26 and a former classmate of Lowry's elder brother Anthony at the local school, have helped the golfer discover the athlete within?

Lowry has been starved of competitive golf since November 19, when he missed the cut at the Hong Kong Open. With €501,728 banked in 30 events, he finished 62nd in the Race to Dubai, a tantalising two places short of his target for 2010 -- a place at the Dubai World Championship.

So Lowry returned home from his first full year on Tour crestfallen and utterly drained by a marathon run of six tournaments in the final seven weeks of his season.

He had been battling with fatigue for the final four months of his season, learning the hard way that quality, not quantity, is the by-word when constructing a tournament schedule.

Yes, Lowry has earned nearly €750,000 in less than two years as a professional but his frustration could be measured best in world ranking points as he tumbled from a high of 79th on the global ladder last August to 148th in November.

Then that fall on the ice in mid-December ensured 2010 would come to a more painful and fretful end than he could have imagined. Yet Lowry has emerged lean and refreshed from his longest spell out of golf since taking it up at age 12.

As he packed his bags for a flight last Sunday to the desert and two weeks of hard work at the European Tour's Jumeirah practice facility in Dubai, the hunger and motivation were unmistakable in Lowry's voice.

"I was a bit fed-up at the end of last year," he concedes. "I wasn't fed up with the game. I just wasn't enjoying it as much as I used to.

"I've always known how lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing. But I know it better now than ever before. I'm definitely not taking it for granted ever again. If I feel I'm getting fed-up, all I have to do is look back to January."

Though he's been working with Neil Manchip at the GUI Academy and enjoyed a round or two with the lads last week as the national coach hosted the national underage squads during the mid-term break at Carton House, Lowry is under no illusions about the weeks and months ahead.

"I'm not hitting it great," he admits. "A fair bit of rust has built up and there's work to be done. Playing golf isn't a lot of fun right now but I'm going to work my fingers to the bone to get my game back to where it needs to be."

Lowry will be joined by Manchip in Dubai later this week as he builds up for his return to action at the inaugural Sicilian Open in two weeks. "I can't wait to get back on Tour, to get out there playing and to see all the lads again," he says.

After 119 days in the wilderness, it'll take time to get back into his stride. Lowry hopes to be back at his peak by the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May.

He's lost a small chunk out of his career but has returned so highly motivated, one suspects the past three months will stand to Lowry for the rest of his life. In that regard, maybe it was a lucky break after all.

McIlroy's short game jibes come back to haunt him

RORY McILROY sure picked the wrong week to suggest the short game is not key to winning tournaments ... Luke Donald's stunning victory at the Accenture Match Play certainly made nonsense of that argument.

Hopefully, McIlroy (21) took careful note as Donald relied on his world-class short game and near-flawless putting to end a five-year duck in the US.

Donald rounded off a superlative week by beating new world No 1 Martin Kaymer 3&2 on Sunday, compiling some impressive stats in the process.

England's understated world No 3 never trailed in any of his six matches; at no time was he taken to 18 and he racked up 32 birdies in 89 holes -- not bad for the shortest hitter in the global top 20.

"I don't care what anyone says about the short game being the most important. It's not," said McIlroy early last week. "The long game puts you in position to have putts to win tournaments. Guys say you have to have short game to win tournaments and it is not the case. Not at all."

Whoops! McIlroy fell to Ben Crane, one of America's most consistent putters, at the second hurdle in Tucson by a freakish 8&7.

Donald plays this week's Honda Classic, which he won in 2006. McIlroy and Graeme McDowell also tee it up, while Lee Westwood can replace 'resting' Martin Kaymer at the top of the world with a top-two finish at Palm Beach Gardens.

Irish Independent

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