- 08 Aug 19
Unlike Open champ Shane Lowry, the lamentable Boris Johnson has not yet mastered the art of playing the long game…
AS the great Shane Lowry will tell you, there is the short game and the long game.
There’s no point in being able to hit the ball 400 yards if you keep missing the 5-foot putts. But there is another dimension to the thought, which has to do with long-term planning and development. Shane Lowry won his first professional tournament, the Irish Open, as an amateur at the age of 22. He’s had his ups and downs over the course of the following decade. There were times when it might have seemed that he had lost his mojo. But the hard work, the graft, the fine-tuning of his game, and the accumulation of experience at the business end continued, culminating in his stunning win in the British Open – one of golf’s four major championships – at Portrush last week.
There are some things that people will never see, except in the form of results. You can count the shots that it takes a player to get around 18-holes on a given day. You can slow a player’s swing down and analyse it and suggest modifications. But there is no way of displaying the accretion of mental toughness that comes into play when victory is in sight – and you have to hit each shot just about as perfectly as you can. Shane Lowry led by four shots going into the final round of the Open. Players have been known to blow up in circumstances like this. Lowry himself did in the US Open in Oakmont in 2016, when he shot a 76 in the final round and concede a swing of seven to the eventual winner Dustin Johnson.
Whatever happens in their brains, or their minds, what might have seemed like routine the previous day becomes inestimably hard. That isn’t surprising. In professional golf, the swing-speed of a driver is in or around 100 miles per hour. If you hit the ball even a millimetre off the sweet spot, how far wrong can the shot go? The precision of the hand-eye co-ordination required every time you step up to the ball is brain-surgeon tight.
This is one of the things that makes sport so fascinating. When you think about the extraordinary calculations that people involved at the top end of any professional game have to make, instinctively, intuitively and on the spot – with a huge crowd looking on – it is truly mind-boggling. A goalkeeper reacts to a hint in the way a striker shapes his or her body and flings himself – or herself – to where they anticipate the ball is going to be. The leather might be travelling at over 80 miles per hour, but there’s a whole other set of calculations going on too. If I move my hand this way, I will tip it over the bar. That way I will get it around the post. Another way and I will be able to push it beyond the incoming opposition attacker and out to the full-back who is racing back into position there.
A great midfielder weights every pass to a fine point. Hard enough to get it over the full back’s head. But with enough spin to hold up for the winger running onto it. And at the best possible angle so that the team-mate can – not just get there – but take it in his or her stride. All of which is often worked out in a split second, including whether to hit it with the inside or the outside of the boot. To chip or go through it. To do it first time or to take a touch. To drop the shoulder in advance to disguise your intentions or just to bull-doze through.
In golf, the strength of the wind has to be taken into account. The amount of run on the fairway. The nap on the green. The way the slope will affect the run of the ball. Being sure to stop short of the water or making certain that you have enough juice to clear it fully. Some are far harder to execute than others, but every shot is a test. The long game involves getting good enough, at doing the right thing often enough, to contend frequently enough, to make a half decent living.
Like Paul McGinley, Darren Clark, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell before him in recent years, what Shane Lowry has achieved is truly remarkable. Long may he flourish…
...And short may the reign of Boris Johnson be as the Prime Minister of the UK.
As his past girlfriends and the mothers of his various children will doubtless confirm, while he may be good at the short game – or not as the case may be – Johnson has shown no aptitude at all for the long game. He doesn’t like the hard work. The painstaking effort. The thought and planning and the grind that is required if you really want to become good at anything.
Getting up on his hind legs and blathering he can get away with. He has a turn of phrase that sounds as if it might be intelligent. He can express himself in a colourful way. Of course, most sensible people would detect that he is a sham. That nothing he says or does can be trusted. And then you look at his track record and you see that this much has been proven time and time again. But the British people are stuck with him now as Prime Minister. And Europe is stuck with him too – and with the cabal of arrogant and twisted lightweights with whom he has surrounded himself in the Tory cabinet – as the people with whom they have to negotiate.
It is a GUBU – for the uninitiated, that’s grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented – development that in the short term at least affects Ireland greatly. There was a time when some apologists argued that once in power, Boris Johnson would start to behave like a ‘statesman’. Or even a ’stateswoman’. We can see, rather, that he is full of the kind of gung-ho recklessness that in war results in horrendous loss of life. Even in peace, there may be serious casualties, but he doesn’t care. It might have seemed amusing, in a juvenile sort of way, when he responded to the concerns of British industry leaders regarding the likely dire impact of Brexit with the line “Fuck business.” But of course the logical consequence of that is fucking a lot of people out of their jobs. It means farmers being stuck with livestock they can’t sell. It means fruit rotting in the fields because there’s no one to pick it.
He doesn’t care. He and the other members of the stupidly privileged class of English upper-crusties, with whom he is now surrounded, will continue to roll in the swill of money they never had to work properly to earn. And if all else fails he can go back to spreading lies through the Telegraph. It is the 40,000 people, who are likely to lose their jobs in Northern Ireland alone, that will suffer. And the half-a-million in the UK as a whole
The lumpen-proles don’t matter, What matters is that Boris Johnson gets what Boris Johnson wants: attention. In some obscure part of his mind he is probably hoping that somehow, he will get lucky (indeed, this has always been top of his wish-list), and that the UK will somehow defy all of the dire forecasts that the experts, and the civil servants, have set out. But really, that is not the issue for Boris Johnson. The only thing that truly matters is Boris Johnson.
THE NEW RELIGION
In this, of course, he is like Donald Trump. And with the leadership of the world’s largest economy and greatest power in the hands of a megalomaniacal, narcissistic, bullying, lying, racist, climate crisis-denier, who hasn’t a moral bone in his body, then it is hard not to be so filled with despair that we simply give up.
The list of crooks and tyrants in power across the world is a long one. Vladimir Putin in Russia. Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. Viktor Orban in Hungary. Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.
Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan. Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir in Sudan. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in Equatorial Guinea. And you’d have to include Kim Jong-un in North Korea. In fact you could get very tired trying to remember all of the dangerous lunatics that are jostling at the top of the leaderboard for the title of the most despicable wretch currently in power. Even the once revered Aung San Suu Kyi would have to be included in any list of bigoted despots for her failure to prevent the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingan muslim population in Myanmar.
And so in a Special Sustainable Issue of Hot Press, we have to ask: how many of these mad men (and one woman) give a damn about sustainability or the future of the planet? In truth, the answer is none.
And what about the world’s most populous places, China (1.433 billion) and India (1.366 billion)? There, the evidence is less bleak. It is mildly encouraging that China stands at No.33 in the Climate Change Performance Index for 2019. India, meanwhile, is just outside the Top 10 at No.11. Both score reasonably well on climate policy. If they can continue to improve their relative performances, then that must offer at least a glimmer of hope for the future. Because big really does matter here.
Ireland, meanwhile, comes a disgraceful No.48 on the list. We are the very Worst In Europe.
And yet we are put into the halfpenny place by the United States, a country which in 2019 – under the wonderful, visionary Presidency of Donald Trump – plunged to No.59 out of the 60 countries listed. You might say that this is pathetic. But, really, it is much worse than that: it outrageous that the richest country in the world has failed so utterly to even begin to get to grips with the issue of climate change. And that it does so because of utterly outmoded fundamentalist religious convictions only makes it worse. This is a plague that is unlikely to go away.
From all of this, there are two obvious conclusions to be drawn. The most glaring is that everything possible must be done to prevent Donald Trump from winning a second term in the White House. Of course, this is crucial from a hundred different angles. Trump is a menace in all sorts of ways. But what he does within the US is one thing; what he does that directly affects the rest of the world another. And right now, he is the single biggest obstacle to the global campaign to effectively combat the climate crisis. Above all else, the Democratic Party must unite to stop him. They owe that much to the rest of the world.
The second relates to Ireland. I understand that the recession hit us hard, and that it impacted badly on the push to bring our climate policies in line with those established elsewhere in Europe. But the time for hypocritical posturing is over. As various contributors to this special issue of Hot Press confirm, in different ways, the threat to the earth itself is real and imminent. We cannot afford to keep screwing up.
The Government Plan on Climate Change, issued earlier this year, contains close to 200 actions that are required for Ireland to meet its targets on sustainability. There will be hold-outs and vested interests at work, trying to stifle change. Some of the necessary actions will be exploited politically by the opposition to whatever government might be in power here over the next decade. But there can be no backsliding.
To be clear, the last thing we want or need is an atmosphere where climate change becomes the new religion and people are attacked, censured or made to feel guilty about the smallest infractions. For sure, we need to think individually and act locally and do our best to be conscientious. But it is at national level that the real change will have to come.
Policies need to be finessed intelligently. If there is a horse and cart involved, then the horse has to come first. We are not always good at this stuff, but the room for manoeuvre is slight. The most important message of the past few months is that the appetite for change is there and it is growing. We have to get it right.
It’ll involve being good at the short game as well as the long. It’ll mean collectively being up there with Shane Lowry.
Top of the world, ma! It is, after all, not an unreasonable ambition. Now, we need to put the hard work in. Over to you, dear readers...