More than five years elapsed between Lyle Rowe’s second and third titles but the Sunshine Tour pro is happy to know those wins are still there, writes MIKE GREEN.
Sloths are known for their slowness of movement and spending most of their lives hanging upside down in the trees of the tropical rainforests of South and Central America.
Reaching a top speed of 0.27km/h when threatened, they have made being ‘slothful’ one of the seven deadly sins.
Lyle ‘Sloth’ Rowe is a three-time winner on the Sunshine Tour and, while his golf might not be quite as glacially slow as a sloth in full panic-mode flight, he brings a certain relaxed attitude to the way he goes about preparing for his tournament game.
He’s been called ‘Sloth’ for as long as he has been on the Sunshine Tour, since 2009. And, if anything, he’s become even more calculated in the way he goes about things.
‘As you get older, you learn to think differently to make life a bit easier, whether it’s with practising or playing – maybe nine holes here or there, rather than wearing yourself out,’ says Rowe. ‘It’s about finding a balance between what you might have to practise for that week and doing something in another way if you haven’t got anything coming up immediately. It’s all about time management.
‘I prefer playing to grafting, but there are times and places where I’ll do quite a bit of graft, whether it’s hitting balls or fixing something in my swing or ingraining something about my game. But in Gqeberha, I’ll play more often than not. It’s nice being able to play with mates and just chill. But we pros are always doing something. We switch on quite easily when we’re back in tournament mode.’
Rowe has got himself right back into tournament mode, picking up his first victory on the Sunshine Tour in five years – the Blue Label Challenge at Sun City in October. That came after his maiden win at the Zambia Sugar Open in Lusaka in June 2014 and his second title at Royal Harare in March 2016 when he won the Golden Pilsener Zimbabwe Open.
It had been over five and a half years since his second title and things had not been going that well for Rowe in the 2021 season. He had to pre-qualify for the opening event of the season, as well as for the three tournaments that were co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour. He only managed to get into the main event twice.
‘It was very frustrating,’ recalls Rowe. ‘I went from winner’s category to not playing so well to having to pre-qualify for those tournaments co-sanctioned by the Challenge Tour. You take being in those winner’s categories for granted. Those pre-qualifiers can be so hit-and-miss. You could play well and lose out on a spot in a playoff even though you’re playing good golf. I just had to bite the bullet.’
Then came a run of three acceptable performances, followed by a pair of top-10 finishes at the Sunshine Tour Invitational and the Vodacom Origins of Golf event at Mount Edgecombe.
‘After the earlier events I played half decent at Mount Edgecombe,’ he says. ‘I felt like I let a couple of chances to win slip. But there were signs of good play and I just had to keep plugging away. The process has its pros and cons. Every chance you miss, you think it’s a chance you should have taken. But on the other hand, you’ve got evidence of good golf, you’re trending in the right direction. It’s easy to get down on yourself that we miss the positives.
‘You always wonder when or if you’re going to win again. So it’s nice to see hard work and perseverance pay off.’
Of course, golf being the game it is, Rowe went and missed the cut at his next two tournaments after his win, which was as disappointing as playing poorly at his beloved Humewood two weeks before the Blue Label Challenge.
‘I didn’t play very well after the win,’ he says. ‘I have high expectations of myself and I was particularly disappointed to play poorly in my home tournament. But the break before the big events after the PGA Championship is a good opportunity to get back to basics, to do the little things well. I’ve been chatting to a sports psychologist, and you can let the other things take care of themselves when you do the small things well. It’s good to be able to prepare properly for the upcoming big events.’
Preparation is something Rowe thinks about carefully, as he is based in Gqeberha, away from the centre of professional golf around Johannesburg.
‘Living in Johannesburg is ideal for practising and playing, but there’s also a flip side to life,’ says Rowe. ‘You’ve got to be able to switch off sometimes and be with friends and family. If there is a short time between events, I’ll just stay in Johannesburg. But being down here, I go to Fancourt quite often to practice. It’s about trying to build a balance of enjoying life and when you’re working, doing it properly.
‘I’m lucky to have a couple of guys who sponsor me which takes the load off worrying about rent and living expenses. It’s hugely helpful. I can also at least go to see people like psychologists and coaches, or travel when I need to, and stay where I need to. The two-year exemption for the win is a huge weight off my shoulders. I can prepare properly for the big events without having to pre-qualify and travel at short notice.’
Perhaps some of this thorough preparation was built on the back of the disruptions caused by Covid-19 lockdowns. For many players it was a tough period. But, in typical ‘Sloth’ fashion, he took positives out of the time which involved a lot of sitting around.
‘As for the Covid break – you get so used to travelling and competing, so having to be at home and hit a ball into a net was difficult,’ says Rowe. ‘We’re obviously used to seeing the ball fly on a range. While it was difficult to adjust to, it gave a lot of guys the chance to take stock of where their swing was, or how they wanted to go about it when things kicked off again. Normally, you’re just on the road, so it was good to be able to sit back and work out what you wanted to do to improve.’
The system is working very well for Rowe now, and it all fell into place at a tournament that suits him very well. The Blue Label Challenge replaced the old Royal Swazi Open, which is based on a modified Stableford scoring system, and he had been runner-up twice before.
‘The format of my latest win tends to suit the more aggressive player,’ he says. ‘You have to score as many points as possible, and to do that, you have to make birdies. In my runner-up finishes in 2017 and 2018, Peter Karmis beat me in 2017, and Justin Harding beat me in 2018 at the start of his big breakthrough year. It was kind of tough because I’d been playing well up to that point in 2018 and afterwards. It was tough.’
He’s learned that playing good golf is no predictor for regular success, let alone winning. ‘Zambia came out of nowhere, to be honest,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t playing very well. I started off well in the first few holes of the opening round, then came home in an ambulance in 76. That’s golf for you. You never know what’s going to happen.
‘I don’t have too many memories of that final round of 68. Even thinking back to Zimbabwe, there aren’t too many clear memories, whereas this latest one, I’ve learned to appreciate what happened. It’s difficult to put a finger on which win is the best one. My biggest prize money was in Zimbabwe and of course that’s an important memory. The first one is always important, but I think maturity has made me appreciate this latest one.’
It’s got him looking further afield, as he has done before. ‘Playing in Europe would be first prize,’ he says. ‘I’d like to have another crack at Asia, though. I had a go in 2018, but it was very difficult. You’re playing at some small events and have to finish high on the Order of Merit to keep your card. It’s difficult with the travel, but I took a lot from playing there, so if I had to go back, I’d do things a bit differently.’
Differently, certainly. But more quickly? Not so fast. The ‘sloth’ method certainly has its benefits. And don’t be surprised to see it deliver more dividends much more quickly than a panicked sloth fleeing danger!
BEST SUNSHINE TOUR PERFORMANCES
2011: Big Easy Tour – Crown Mines (T3rd), Nashua Golf Challenge (T6th), Big Easy Tour – Maccauvlei GC (T2nd), Big Easy Tour – Benoni CC (1st), Vodacom Origins Final (T2nd)
2013: Vodacom Origins – Parys (2nd), Vodacom Origins Final (3rd)
2014: Zambia Sugar Open (1st)
2015: Sun Fish River Sun Challenge (T6th)
2016: Zimbabwe Open (1st), Vodacom Origins – Sishen (T6th)
2017: Dimension Data Pro-Am (T5th), Investec Royal Swazi Open (T2nd)
2018: Investec Royal Swazi Open (2nd)
2021: Sunshine Tour Invitational (T5th), VOG Mt Edgecombe (T6th), Blue Label Challenge (1st)
– This article first appeared in the December 2021 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!