Shane Lowry: I limit myself to ONE bottle of Corona! Yes! A really wild night!
The locker room is completely empty. Well, empty apart from two players. Me and Rory. What we say to each other stays with each other
That birdie putt on the 18th green to secure second place in the PGA Championship at Wentworth. “I still don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. If ever there is a thin line between winning and losing, I have just discovered it.” Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Sunday evening, May 25th Nearly an hour has gone by. I am back in the locker room at the Wentworth Club, up the hill from the 18th green where all the formalities have come to an end, and I still don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. If ever there is a thin line between winning and losing, I have just discovered it.
So near, and yet so far! An old, well-worn cliché but one that has never rung more true; not for me, anyway. The locker room is completely empty. Well, empty apart from two players. Me and Rory. What we say to each other stays with each other. We clear out our lockers, pack away our belongings. Go our separate ways.
On the way out, I have a peek into the players’ lounge down by the driving range. There is no one left, everyone has gone. There is a stillness, all so different from the noise and chat of the week gone; and I go in and pick up a bottle of Diet Coke to take with me.
In normal times, this would be a night to celebrate with a bang: runner-up in the BMW PGA and, of course, the biggest cheque of my career and a huge amount of world ranking points. My season has transformed, a far cry from the frustration I felt only a month earlier when missing back-to-back cuts in Malaysia and China.
Back in the hotel, my team and I meet up. With the US Open qualifying at Walton Heath to come, I limit myself to ONE bottle of Corona! Yes! A really wild night! Neil Manchip, my coach, is with me. Kieron O’Neill of Horizon Sports. My girlfriend, Wendy. And a friend, Alan Clancy, who owns a number of bars in Dublin. He has come over for the weekend. That bottle of Corona went down rather nicely, all the same.
Our session, if that’s what it is, is a short one. Neil, Kieron and Alan head off to Heathrow to catch their flights. Myself and Wendy go for a nice dinner in an oriental restaurant in Ascot. I’m not in long when the owner comes over. He’s asking to get his photograph taken with me.
There are a few caddies there too, congratulating me and commiserating at the same time.
The exchanges fit in with my own mood. It is great to finish second to Rory, in such a big championship, but I also feel a little hard done by. I feel like I’ve played the golf in to win; a little break here and there and it could have been different. But that’s the game we play, and that’s the way it is. I’m in bed by 10pm. Monday morning, May 26th The alarm rings at 6am. It’s not too appealing to me at the time, but I get up and pack my stuff into my bag and head for the car. I’m driving, and I pick Dermo – my caddie – up from where he is staying. We’re heading to Walton Heath for the US Open qualifying. A 45 minute or so drive, enough time to talk. To reflect. To look to the future, which – really – is almost upon us.
Dermot Byrne is a great caddie. He talks. He listens. We talk about a few things that happened the day before at Wentworth. The double bogey on 13. The bogey on 15. I still can’t believe what happened there. I don’t think I have ever hit a better shot, 225 yards to the flag and I pitched a five-iron two yards past and it rolled off and down the back of the green. The birdie on 18.
I tell Dermot I feel great. I tell him that I felt great the day before, the company I was in and the position I was in. That’s the biggest thing I’ve taken from Wentworth, just how comfortable I felt the whole week. Contending from the word go, that I was there or thereabouts all the way through. I felt so in control of my game the whole week.
Dermo tries to get me ready for the day ahead. We know it’s going to be a tough day at Walton Heath. For both of us. The weather is brutal. Wind and rain. It’s going to be tough for him, lugging that bag around for 36 holes in bad weather.
We know the two of us are going to make mistakes here and there and make a vow to limit them as much as we can.
The weather is terrible. I’m actually happy. I know bad weather takes a lot of people out of the equation. It’s cold and it’s wet and I’m okay with that. I know – from Wentworth – that I am playing well. And playing with Edoardo Molinari is a good draw. Sometimes you can go to Walton Heath and end up in one-balls, which is not very nice. I know Edoardo is going to be trying his heart out to get to Pinehurst, that he sees himself as a big time player as well.
My physio is not with me but other than that I stick to my usual tournament routine, hit the range, hit some balls and spend a little more time than usual putting to get the pace of the greens. In the first round, I birdie the last two holes. I hit a lovely shot to the 17th and hole a 20-footer. On the 18th, I hit a great drive and wedge to eight feet. I shoot three under. I’m surprised at how good the scoring is but know if a keep my head, I’ll be there or thereabouts. Monday afternoon, May 26th I’ve 45 minutes for lunch and time to hit a few balls before the second round. I know it’s important to again go to the range first. The first shot of my round is a three iron into a tough par three. I get off to a nice start, then hit my tee shot up the third – a drivable par four – and chip in for eagle. I birdie the fifth and I am cruising along.
Then, I start to get tired and make silly errors on the sixth and seventh. Dermot has a word or two to say to me after those bogeys and I par the ninth which was my saving grace of the whole day. I’m tired and I’m narky and its raining heavily but that par keeps my momentum going and I cruise in the last few holes.
I go into the recorder’s cabin and I am absolutely soaked and I’m delighted with myself. The scorer asks if I want to stay around for a prize ceremony. There’s still another hour and a half or more of players left on the course, so I take a rain check on that one. I tell him I will give it a miss. I still don’t know what my prize is, apart from that precious ticket to Pinehurst.
I’m knackered. It’s been a long day, 36 holes in bad weather. I head back to where I’m staying, shower, freshen up, have dinner with Dermot and go to my room. I am asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. Tuesday morning, May 27th I have a lie-in until 11.30am. I’ve rearranged my flights to Sweden – for this week’s Nordea Masters – and I reflect on how things have changed so quickly. Golf really is a funny old game.
It feels ages ago that I was shooting 80 in the first round in Malaysia but it is only a month ago. When you’re playing like that, you feel like you will never shoot a good score again. It is almost the other way round now. Playing like I am, you feel like you’re not going to shoot a bad score.
After I came back from Asia, I had a breakfast meeting with my manager Conor Ridge. We met in the Cinnamon café in Ranelagh and our talk went on for a long time. I was frustrated.
I felt I’d been doing all the right things but nothing was happening. It is easy to second guess yourself, easy to stop doing what you are doing and to try new things. Conor reassured me I was doing the things right. Neil Manchip said the same. Dermot the same. That I just had to wait. They were right.
I’ve had a tough few months, had a lot of bad days. I haven’t played that well since the Dunhill Links last October after putting more effort into my golf that I ever have done. Now, it’s paying off. I kept saying to Dermo in the final round at Wentworth that all the bad days are well behind us now, that this is what it is about.
I contemplated pulling out of Sweden but told myself it would be nice to keep the form going and to kick on for the rest of the season. In the past few days, I’ve looked at some of the messages I got following Wentworth and Walton Heath. From Ruby Walsh. Shane Filan. Dave Kearney. Seán O’Brien and others. Lots of messages. And I suppose when you get one from the Ryder Cup captain, that can’t be bad. I want to kick on.
Onwards and upwards!