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The Winning Habit

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece on how important keeping a winning mentality is when turning professional

Posted Jan 27, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

shane lowry

When Shane Lowry gained an historic triumph in the 3Irish Open at Baltray last May, many traditionalists were hoping he would not relinquish his amateur status straight away.  They argued he would be better equipped for the inevitable move to professional ranks, after he had played in the Walker Cup at Merion in September. 

It would be the crowning glory of his amateur career and a highly appropriate stepping-stone to tournament level.  And what was the hurry, given that a precious, two-year exemption on the European Tour would still await him, even if he decided to delay the move?

There were times last season when Lowry clearly struggled in paid ranks, having made his professional debut in the European Open in late May.  Any arguments about the correctness of the timing, however, were emphatically removed by his fourth-place finish behind Martin Kaymer in Abu Dhabi last Sunday. This was the confirmation we needed that he had, indeed, matured into a serious competitor at professional level.

Two other points also come to mind. I remember the Ryder Cup at Muirfield Village in 1987 when Europe's first victory on American soil caused US skipper, Jack Nicklaus, to emphasise the importance of winning tournaments.  "I don't care if it's the Hong Kong Mixed Foursomes," said the Bear.  "Winning does wonders for a player's confidence and these European players have been winning more often than the American guys."

The other point concerns Roger Chapman, who is now plying his craft in senior ranks.  As a highly-regarded member of the British and Irish Walker Cup team for the matches at Cypress Point in 1981, Chapman won his singles against Bob Lewis on the opening day by 2 and 1. This earned him promotion to the top singles spot on the second day and his response was to beat Hal Sutton by 1 hole.  Apart from being the American number one, it should be noted that Sutton was acknowledged as the best amateur in the world.

With Paul Way as his partner, Chapman also gained the distinction on that occasion of a top foursomes win over Sutton and Jay Sigel.  He could hardly have had better credentials, it seemed, for a move to professional ranks a few months later.

But what effect did a distinguished Walker Cup showing actually have on Chapman's subsequent career on tour?  The truth is, not very much.  As it happened, Chapman needed 472 tournaments spread over 18 years of competition before achieving his breakthrough victory as a professional.  It eventually came in the Rio de Janeiro 500 Open in March 2000 when he beat Padraig Harrington in a play-off.

Lowry, on the other hand, teed it up in pro ranks having already won a European title.  Indeed he gained the further distinction at Baltray of becoming the first amateur to make a winning debut on the European Tour.  And as Nicklaus pointed out at Muirfield Village, winning is priceless ingredient in the development of a successful tournament professional.

From rounds of 67, 62, 71 and 71, followed by a play-off victory over Robert Rock, we had proof that Lowry could shoot low numbers when challenging for a title.  His closing 67 in Abu Dhabi last Sunday proved he can also do it with serious money at stake.  And he's still but a lad. 

For a career amateur, there is no doubt but that the Walker Cup can be a cherished milestone.  For a serious tournament professional, however, it is far more important to prove yourself a winner.  Which Lowry did, several months before a ball was struck in the biennial clash of amateurs, at Merion.         

- Dermot Gilleece

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