Lowry goes to ground zero with mental coach — " I just needed someone to pour your heart out to"

Lowry goes to ground zero with mental coach — " I just needed someone to pour your heart out to"
Shane Lowry at the One Zero Conference at the RDS on Friday

Shane Lowry at the One Zero Conference at the RDS on Friday

Shane Lowry has his own way of taking ownership of his career and having struggled to come to terms with the disappointment of the US Open, he's looking on it now as a positive with the help of new mental coach Gerry Hussey.

Never a man to get bogged down in technicalities, it's an interesting departure for the 29-year old Co Offaly man, who has struggled to come to terms with the disappointment of finishing tied second behind Dustin Johnson at Oakmont.

Put simply, Lowry's challenge ended when he dropped three shots late in his round — three successive three putts from the 14th. And having held a four-shot lead after 54 holes, he ended up shooting 76 and finishing three behind Johnson on one under par and feeling like he had someone thrown the title away. 

The truth is far more complex and nuanced. And as he will have realised from spending so much time with Pádraig Harrington, there's so much more to winning majors than hitting great shots or holing putts.

The mental game is key and having already taken steps to strengthen his fitness with Robbie Cannon (they continue to work on it) and his putting by changing to a conventional right below left putting grip, the decision to look closely at his mental preparation is a big plus.

It's a sign that he is finally getting closure on a US Open performance that was full of great things, as he recounted to the always excellent Joe Molloy during the opening act of Friday's One Zero conference at the RDS.

The  outcome of the US Open has clearly haunted Lowry for months and he has only recently been to move on and now looks to the end of the season with confidence.

In truth, it's been a huge year for him with the highlight his marriage to Wendy, closely followed by his coming of age as a golfer following last year's WGC win in Akron.

With "just" three professional wins, he's overdue in that department but he also looks destined to banish that feeling that he is somehow underachieving by finding ways of getting out of his own way as far as the mental game is concerned.

His failure to make the Ryder Cup team has much to do with how he reacted to the disappointment of Oakmont and he will be keen now as he approach his 30th birthday next April, to better handle himself mentally.

"I was in a great frame of mind all week," he said of the US Open, where he shrugged off his bad shots for the first three rounds, shooting rounds of 68, 70 and 65 to lead by four shots on seven under par heading into Sunday afternoon.

Asked why he was in such a good frame of mind, he said: "I don’t know why. If you knew that, you’d bottle it."

Only a mental coach would be able to explain it and Lowry, who worked with Enda McNulty in the past and decided it wasn't for him, admitted that he'd found his man in Gerry Hussey.

"I have actually started working with someone," Lowry said at the RDS. "I am meeting him this afternoon. A guy called Gerry Hussey, who works with the boxers. 

"Gerry is great. He is more about being happy and living a good life, wake up every morning and live the day as it comes and be happy in every day life."

I just needed someone outside your inner circle that you can go to and kind of pour your heart out to
— Shane Lowry on working with sports psychologist, Gerry Hussey

Hussey's holistic approach could suit Lowry. After all, he wrote this for the Irish Independent in 2015.

"Success and performance is built by carefully and deliberately building the following two critical aspects:
1. The Head: what we know - this is the technical, intellectual knowledge base
2. The Heart: who we are - this is the human capacity.
To develop one without the other is simply a fool's practice. Athletes need to be developed physically and technically - bigger muscles, faster legs - but more importantly, they need to be developed to become bigger, stronger people. The human capacity is where the most important characteristics lie. Resilience, passion, belief, loyalty and love exist and grow not in the head, but in the heart."

 Given he shows more emotion and wears his heart on his sleeve as proudly as any sportsman you could name, Lowry possibly needs a little more control over what is clearly one of his greatest assets.

"When you hit a bad shot and you are in a good frame of mind, you get up and down and hit a great shot," he said. "Whereas when things are going badly, you see the worst possible scenario. Golf is such as strange game."

"I wanted to work with someone who was Irish and I'd heard some great things about Gerry Hussey and he has definitely confirmed that to me.  I have only met him twice so far and I am looking forward to working with him for the next while."

But it's not that Lowry is going to delve deeply into golf psychology and mental processes.

"No, I just feel like the last few months, and I have just been beating myself up about golf and not doing well. I was a bit unhappy to be honest and just going around the golf course and I wasn't happy. I just needed someone outside your inner circle that you can go to and kind of pour your heart out to. It's something that's nice to do. 

Anyone who heard Lowry on Sunday morning at Oakmont will recall his euphoria. 

Less than 12 hours later he was wondering where the time had gone and has hardly stopped beating himself up since.

Having spent the lowest five hour of his life back at his rented house waiting for the final round to begin, he found the final round pass by him in a blur. 

It's all down to experience and preparation, of course, but it's taken several months for him to emerge from the haze.

Asked about his comment to his caddie on the 11th that "it's all happened so quickly", he explained how things unravelled in the blink of an eye.

"I had three putted 10," he said. "I got down on myself. I watched it again last Monday evening. before I flew to London. There wasn’t much on TV, so I flicked it on and watched it. Put myself through some more pain...

"The first few holes were fine, even though I made a few bogeys, the front nine was fine. I just got down on myself when I three-putted 10. I hit a great chip shot on 12 and nearly holed it. Then on 13, I hit one of the best seven irons i’ve ever hit and it finished a yard short of being stiff. And I kind of fluffed the chip and ended up holing a great 10 footer for par. 

"So I was right in the mix and then three putted the next three greens, from nowhere. They weren’t bad shots. They weren’t good shots. They were just in between.

"All of a sudden you have a 20 footer with 10 feet of break in it.  I’d give anything to be on that 14th fairway again.   

Before I knew it… I was onthe 11th and I hit a bd shot right when I needed to be right of the hole and went left and spun off the green. I ended up making par but I wasn’t making mistakes like that all week. When you are going well, everything happens slowly. But when things are going bad, all of a sudden you are on the 11th hole and a couple over for your round." 

In July's Open, where he opened with a 78 alongside Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose, he confessed to feeling almost embarrassed, just as he had in Pittsburgh.

"When things aren’t going your way, it gets embarrassing at times. You feel like the whole world is watching you," he said on Friday in front of several hundred spectators. "The harder you try the worse you get.

"Another great example is the first round of the Open when I played with Spieth and Justin Rose. It's a big group and I had a very poor day that day andyou just feel you are out there on your own."

Shane Lowry speaks to Newstalk's Joe Molloy

Shane Lowry speaks to Newstalk's Joe Molloy

Lowry know he should have come out feeling bulletproof after Oakmont given his performance for the first three rounds.

"I didn't just beat them, I beat them by four," he said. 

But he admitted: "I did beat myself up about it and didn't use the week to push on after that."

Lowry has always been a natural player. He learned the game playing with a cousin on the nine hole course in Rahan, then lying about his age so he could join the local pitch and club in Clara.

"One of my earliest memories was when my cousin Conor from Dublin came down one time and my mum, my parents, didn't have a clue about golf and she sent us off in two sets of football boots," he recalled with a guffaw.

He got to love the hours of fun he'd have on his own and went on to hone his skills quietly in Esker Hills, chipping and putting, getting down to eight without any coaching by the age of 15.

"I'm a bit of a loner, I like it, even now," he said. "A few golf balls in the bag, stop at the third and maybe chip around."

That boyish love of the game remains strong in Lowry but he knows he has to look closely at his game to get the very best out of himself as he bids to achieve his ambitions of winning majors and playing in Ryder Cups.  

His attention to his fitness has brought such rewards that working harder on his mental game can only be a good thing.

"I am 30 yards longer now," he said of his improvement as a player. "Believe it or not, I do actually do a little bit of work on my fitness with Robbie Cannon. I got to the gym a few times a week in my weeks off.

"I definitely don't overdo it but it has helped. I have definitely gotten stronger — a lot stronger. People don't see that and think that's not me but I've definitely gotten longer in the last two years."

Given his new found commitment to get his mental game in shape, the future looks very bright indeed.