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Graeme McDowell’s brutal reminder of how unforgiving golf can be

He plays a game with which I am not familiar! The late, great Bobby Jones was first to utter those words in 1965 after watching Jack Nicklaus romp to victory in the Masters, smashing Ben Hogan's 12-year-old tournament scoring record in the process.

Thirty-two years later, an awestruck Nicklaus passed on precisely the same compliment to Tiger Woods in the wake of his mould-breaking first Major championship victory at Augusta National in 1997.

Conversely, it's tempting to suggest that during last Thursday's shocking first-round 80 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, Graeme McDowell played a game with which many of us are all too familiar.

Might we apply the same logic to the second-round 80 on Friday at the Open de Andalucia which ensured Shane Lowry would be free to spend the entire weekend practising in Malaga? The answer is a resounding no!

Because the modern elite professional golfer lives and performs on a knife-edge which even the greatest of their predecessors find difficult to comprehend.

Take McDowell, for example. This is the guy who stared down the best in the world as he strode to US Open victory at Pebble Beach. He clinched victory for Europe at the Ryder Cup. He clawed back the Tiger and saw him off in sudden death at the Chevron.

In between spectacular course record-equalling rounds on Sunday at the Hyundai in January and this month's Honda, the Ulsterman took four weeks off.

Okay, his swing had felt a little out of kilter since his return ... still, it was astonishing to see the world No 4 leave a trail of three-putts, nuts, bolts and mis-struck irons behind at Bay Hill last Thursday.

McDowell himself took it philosophically. “Golf can be a humbling game sometimes but that's part of its intrigue,” he tweeted on Thursday evening. “The second you start taking anything for granted, it bites you.” No question about that.

Yet when it comes to players of the calibre of McDowell and Lowry or Woods and Padraig Harrington, a lot more is going on besides.

In this age of hi-tech 3-D computer imaging, super slow-motion and micro-analysis, the elite player's golf game has become as highly-tuned as a Formula 1 racing engine.

And as the margin between success and failure shrinks to near-microscopic proportions, it's just as temperamental. If the timing is even slightly off, the engine will stop dead or fail spectacularly.

It was fascinating last week to hear tournament host Arnie Palmer express bewilderment at the decision of Woods to embark on yet another lengthy change of direction with his swing, this time with Canadian coach Sean Foley.

And when asked about the growing influence of swing coaches on Tour, he said: “I know the swing coaches, some of them, and I certainly don't want to step on their toes, because if that's what the people want, a swing coach, that's fine.

“My father was my swing coach, and I saw him at least once a year for about 70 years and he never changed anything. He watched me for five minutes and went home,” Palmer continued with a smile. “It's like he put my grip on the club and my hands on the golf club when I was six years old and he said, 'Boy, don't you ever change it'.

“Well I haven't changed it ... and I'm 82 years old.”

Belfast Telegraph

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