What is it about the Irish?

Dr Tom Ferraro
"Shane Lowry, a true blue Irishman, captures the British Open at Royal Portrush"

Nearly 15 percent of Nassau County is of Irish descent. If you walk along any street in Garden City, Williston Park or Manhasset, you are sure to run into a fair-haired Irishman with a smile and a quick joke. But what are the specific character traits of the Irish? When I was growing up, I played lots of golf with Ernani D’Angelo at Hempstead Golf and Country Club. Ernani was a psychiatrist and he told me If you want to learn about people, watch animals or watch golf tournaments.
Well, this weekend we all had a chance to observe the Irish mind at work by watching the 148th British Open Championship played at Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. One of the wonderful things about golf is that it unfolds so slowly over five hours, which is enough time for a player’s strengths and weaknesses to be revealed. That may be why golf is so compelling. You will have ample time to be heroic or show yourself to be a coward.
In golf there is nowhere to hide when failure occurs. Actually at Royal Portrush there was one curious and ancient looking restroom built into one of the dunes off of No. 5, but I don’t think it’s in use any more so no longer available for hiding.
It ought to be no surprise that an Irishman won this year’s Open Championship. The “Champion Golfer of the Year” was the ever smiling Shane Lowry. If ever there was a golfer who looked exactly the opposite of American Brooks Koepka, it is Shane Lowry. Here is this overweight, friendly, ever smiling, red-bearded man who looked like he hung out in pubs far more than in gyms.
But lest you think he is the only Irish champion walking the earth, let’s not forget Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, and Graeme McDowell. That makes five major champions all from the little island of Ireland with a population of less than 7 million.
The Emerald Isles have produced many good golf courses and many good golfers. The mild temperature and frequent rainfall make the grass, gorse and heather grow well. The only other popular sports are rugby, cricket and soccer, so it’s easy to see why the kids are drawn to golf.
But if we look deeper, we can find exactly why the Irish are so well-suited for golf and even why they are responsible for giving birth to this beautiful game. Golf has two overriding features to it. It is highly cerebral and very punishing. Golf is not football with all the bruising and big men. Nor is it baseball with all that chewing tobacco, cursing and spitting. It is not hockey with the shoulder pads and concussions. In golf all the aggression is suppressed, defended against, controlled and internalized. All the aggression that you so easily see in our American sports must be held in as you play golf. That may be why so many golfers are depressed.
And who is better than the Irish at depression and holding things in. The Irish are a people who are smoldering with passion on the inside. Golf demands thinking and the Irish are a thinking people. They are filled with introspection and with fantasy. They gave us Samuel Beckett who wrote “Waiting for Godot,” the finest play of the 20th century. The Irish gave us W.B. Yeats, who wrote the greatest poem of the 20th century, “The Second Coming.” The Irish gave us Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, and Gabriel Byrne. They also gave us John Kennedy, who was our last truly great president.
The Irish are known to be gifted intellectually, great storytellers and filled with contradiction. Sigmund Freud once said that psychoanalysis was unable to unlock the mind of the Irish. Pretty funny but kind of sad.
The character of the Irish may be due to living under English rule or living in a harsh and dreary climate, or living in poverty or embracing Catholicism so rigidly.
The Irish are cerebral, repressed and tend to be self-punishing. For all these reasons the Irish helped to give birth to golf, a game that is for those who like rules, self-punishment, guilt and self-control. If you have ever played the game, you quickly become aware of the severe cruelty of the rules of the game.
Golf is for those who enjoy solitude and reverie and nature. The astounding transcendent beauty of the landscape upon which golf is regularly played was best described by the great English writer Thomas Hardy in “Far From the Madding Crowd.” In his novel Hardy goes on at length to describe typical pastoral settings in the south of England and how one can begin to feel God if you remain still and silent when alone in the fields.
A golfer partakes in the sublime beauty of the course, but if you make any little mistake along the way, you will be punished severely and that is the great challenge and contradiction of the game.
This week a true Irishmen by the name of Shane Lowry was able enjoy golf’s sublime offerings. He enjoyed the love of the hometown crowd. He seemed to glory in the beauty of Royal Portrush. In the end this humble Irishmen stood holding that marvelous Claret Jug with a look of reverie and amazement and disbelief on his face. He and his very strong mind were somehow able to withstand the multitude of demons and distractions and wound up with a big Irish smile beaming as the applause flowed all over him. What a day for golf and what a day for the Irish!

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