Good on Shane Lowry, winning the 148th Open Championship in front of his cheering Irish fans. Admitting to nerves, he stood those fears down, and fulfilled a childhood dream of becoming the Champion Golfer of the Year at 32 years of age. I expect more majors from this golfer still very much in his prime. What impressed me most about Shane was his consistency in the face of enormous pressure, hitting fairway after fairway, and possibly establishing himself as the greatest chipper in golfdom. And he does this with a form that seems almost effortless and devoid of tension. Through intensive practice, he trusts his swing like a jockey trusts his steed or a potter her wheel. He had all the shots in sometimes miserable weather on a tough links layout on the north coast of Northern Ireland.
Rory’s high hopes were dashed by a 79 on day one. He showed a lot of class on day 2 with a valiant 65, missing the cut by only one. This must feel like a sharp sting to this fine golfer with four majors under his belt. Wishing Rory much mindfulness in his ability to put this loss behind him and move on to the next challenge. As Napoleon Hill once wrote, “Every adversity has within it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
Henrik Stenson came to the 71st hole out of contention but still a Ryder Cupper and former Open winner wanting to perform for an adoring European crowd. He approached his 149 yard second with his usual confidence, but he shanked badly to the right, followed by a quick and efficient breaking his club over his knee as if were a dry twig off a dead tree.
I’ve been suffering “the shanks” lately and it’s not pretty. They come out of nowhere, often attacking good golfers even more so than high handicappers. And once they strike, the thought of another stains the memory like red wine spillage on a lush white rug. It’s tough to diagnose, but I believe mine were caused by my hands coming over the top into impact. I corrected this by rerouting the club to the inside on its downward path. Improvement, but still the occasional “s…nk.” I moved my stance a bit further from the ball, making more improvement. Still, the occasional shank, and the toxic thought that it could happen again, and hence, the anticipatory fear of their dreaded reappearance at any given moment.
But on the plus side, if the shanks don’t drive you out of the game, they can instill courage to dig deeper into your swing mechanics, encouraging a return to basics and the fundamentals of the swing. This is a good thing for all golfers to periodically return to fundamentals, checking ball and body positions, pace and rhythm, swing plane, and key transitions in the swing, So the shank can be seen as a time to reevaluate the efficicacy of your swing as you age. And if you can work through that aberration, you can emerge a better shotmaker.
I know. It’s still shocking. But see if you can reframe your perception of it. As another old saying goes, “When you’re going through hell, don’t stop.”
To end on a more positive note, instead of having only bad shots driving us back to the drawing board driving range, have good shots return you the range to dissect what led to that success. The other day, in the midst of a fairly lackluster round, I hit a near perfect 7 iron to a very tricky 134 yard par 3, with double-tiered green, at Bennett Valley, a lovely muni in the heart of Sonoma County. With as good of fundamentals as I’d had all day, my only swing thought was to keep a straight left arm through impact, I made solid contact on a good line to take advantage of the usual hop to the right near the fringe, and the ball rolling to within four feet of the pin on the lower level. I missed the difficult downhill putt but tapped in for par, a rare occurrence for me on this challenging hole.
So I got to thinking how I pulled that 7 iron off. Yes, my left arm was straight. Hogan mentioned that prominently in his “Five Fundamentals.” But, even more importantly, my swing was connected. The left arm moved in unison with my hips and shoulders in the backswing, and slightly followed the hips and shoulders on the downswing, taking the proper inside to out plane coming into impact. My pace was even throughout, being careful not to rush the coup de grace of the arms approaching impact. Keeping the success of that particular shot in mind, I tried using it as a positive mental reference, including its feel in my hands, its solid sound off the clubface, and the sight and flight of the ball soaring to the green.
Yes, poor shots like the shanks can help improve your game, but good shots, like the above 7 iron will move you beyond just fixing flaws into the kind of consistency we’re all looking for.