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  • Alistair Tait

The crushing weight of expectation

How much does the weight of expectation frustrate players to the point where they can’t perform to the best of their abilities? Where one missed putt, one poor shot, leads them to ask deep questions of themselves, so deep they never again come close to attaining the heights they once reached?

That heavy weight of expectation can be a frustrating cross to bear.

How many players have won major championships, set their sights on winning more of the tournaments that really matter and never won another? Too many. As Alun Evans points out in his excellent book The Golf Majors, there have been 144 single time winners of the 458 majors held since the 1860 Open Championship at Prestwick.

Shane Lowry is one of them. Will he win another? Good question. As I pointed out yesterday, he certainly has time on his hands. If Phil Mickelson can win a major at age 50, then that gives Lowry at least 16 years to notch another one.

No wonder he joked about handing back the Old Claret Jug in yesterday’s R&A press conference ahead of the 149th Open Championship at Royal St George’s.

“I'm going to be disappointed to be giving back the Claret Jug, but hopefully I'm only giving it back for a few days,” Lowry said.

On a serious note, the Irishman addressed his chances of getting it back one day:

“Obviously, I've got my replica now as well and I'll have that forevermore, but it'll be a sad time giving it back. But hopefully I get it back at some stage, whether it be St George's this year or maybe another time down the road.”

Is “hopefully” the operative word? Who knows in this stupid game.

Lowry finished T4 in last week’s PGA Championship. It’s a result that should have pleased him, but he left Kiawah Island wondering what if.

“I'm delighted I had a top-5 finish, a great week, but I was quite disappointed leaving the golf course on Sunday because I feel like that is a tournament that I could have won last week.”

There’s that weight of expectation he’ll feel going into every major from now on, just as the other 143 in the one-and-done club felt too.

That club includes fellow Emerald Isle golfers Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke. They, too, talked up their chances of adding to their major trophy collection in the wake of winning the 2010 U.S. Open and 2011 Open Championship respectively. McDowell finished second in the 2012 U.S. Open, fifth in that year’s Open Championship, and ninth in the 2014 Open Championship. Those are his only top 10s since that magical week at Pebble Beach.

Clarke? His best finish in the blue chip events since winning the Old Claret Jug 10 years ago at Royal St George’s is 21st in the 2013 Open. He’s had 11 missed cuts out of the 19 he’s played since then.

Lowry played with fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington in the final round of the PGA Championship. Harrington also finished T4, and looked like the sort of player he was when he won three majors – the 2007 and 2008 Open Championships and 2008 PGA – in the space of 13 months. He hasn't given up on adding to that tally, but he could teach Lowry a thing or four about the weight of expectation.

“The way all major winners perceive themselves leads them to have high expectations going forward that are hard to live up to,” Harrington once told me. “It’s only a perception but it’s a perception we all have.
“I like studying this so I was very aware of how people would win one major and then play very poor after winning a major. They are always trying to live up to how they played that week. I remember an Open champion thin an iron shot and, in disgust, he walked off the tee saying, ‘That’s not the shot of an Open champion.’ And I looked at him and I said: ‘But you are an Open champion, so it obviously is the shot of an Open champion.’ That sums it up. At the end of the day the world is led to believe, and players buy in to it, that they were perfection the week they won which is far from true.”

Is that how it is for Lowry? Will the weight of expectation weight so heavily on him he’ll forever be a member of that one-time major club? It’s going to be interesting to find out how he deals with that, especially as he defends the Open at Royal St George’s this year.

#JustSaying: “My most lonely days are when I’m having a bad day on the big stage. My expectations have not been matched.” Graeme McDowell

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