Lowry doesn't have that rookie look


GOLF:HOW DO you tell what a US Open rookie should look like? Perhaps someone looking a little nervous, or standing back in the shadows and watching others go about their chipping and putting? Shane Lowry doesn’t fit such a stereotype. This may be his first appearance in the US Open but he has the air of someone who belongs, of a man who is not here simply to make up the numbers.

In the crowded short-game area behind the ninth green and below the imposing clubhouse here at Congressional Country Club, Lowry is pitching his Srixon balls with an ease and a fluidity which shows his game is primed. Not far away, former US Open champion Jim Furyk is doing his thing. Behind him, Miguel Angel Jimenez is chipping in the opposite direction.

For Lowry, this is another moment in his climb up golf’s world ladder. Having earned his spot in the field via the International Qualifying at Walton Heath last month, Lowry – who previously competed in Majors at last year’s British Open and US PGA – will require an early alarm call tomorrow when he is in the first group off (the first tee) in this 111th US Open. “That’s grand. It’s a good draw. Yep, get out early and I might even be clubhouse leader,” quipped Lowry, totally at ease with himself and his environs.

This is where Lowry wants to be, playing in golf’s biggest and best tournaments. It is less than two years since he won the Irish Open as an amateur, a life-changing win that propelled him into a professional life ahead of plan. Lowry now compared to the Lowry then? He ponders momentarily before replying.

“To be honest, I feel like I am a much better player now. I feel I am a much more mature person and player, on and off the course. I’m a much better player, but there is always more room for improvement,” he said.

An ambitious Lowry continued: “I want to be a top-50 in the world player. I want to be playing in tournaments like this most weeks and I want to contend in Major championship and play Ryder Cups and all that sort of jazz. So I just have to keep working hard and see where it brings me.”

In another way, it is testament to Lowry’s own sense of purpose that he should be here at all. After a truncated start to the season which didn’t start until March at the Sicilian Open as he recovered from a broken bone in his wrist, Lowry – with his full European Tour card for next year already secured – is playing with a freedom born of good form.

As he put it: “I’ve actually surprised myself. When I came out (after the injury), I was thinking to myself, ‘how am I going to keep my card?’. That entered my head a little bit.”

What happened after initially missing three successive cuts on his return was Lowry started to play well. In Korea. In Barcelona and Mallorca. And, then, in Wentworth where he played the best golf of anyone – including winner Luke Donald – over the weekend and he secured his tour card for 2012 in one swoop.

In the near two years since winning that Irish Open, Lowry, now 24, has developed into a serious golfer. In looking back to that win at Baltray and then making the decision to turn pro, Lowry – looking up towards the magnificent clubhouse here at Congressional as if to confirm the journey he has since made – remarked: “I didn’t know how good I was when I won (the Irish Open). I knew I was decent, so I said ‘why not give it a go?’ (on tour).

“Winning the Irish Open (and getting a two-year exemption) was a great stepping stone. I gave myself a free year in which I was able to practice hard and get myself ready to compete on the European Tour. I was able to work on things I might not have been able to work on if I had to keep my card every year for the past couple of years.”

Now, he finds himself rubbing shoulders with the game’s top players. At Wentworth, he played with Ryder Cup players Rory McIlroy and Edoardo Molinari over the weekend and he got confirmation his ball-striking and all-round game had improved to a new level. Does he feel he is potentially as good as Luke Donald or Lee Westwood?

“That’s a tough question to answer because they are world number one and two and, obviously, are much better players than I am. But I do feel I can be as good as them, yeah I do. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and some day I will.”

And this week? The goal? “Just to play as good as I feel I can. I feel like I can put in a really good finish this week. There’s no reason why I can’t do well and you never know, come Sunday.”