“Shane Lowry is a frustrated Gaelic footballer who has had to settle for an extravagantly rewarded life as one of the world’s best golfers.” This was a line from the42′s Gavin Cooney, young lion of the Irish sports press pack, as we previewed the Ryder Cup on our podcast this week.
If that’s true, then it’s why Shane Lowry loves the Ryder Cup. No one doubted how much he cared about it last time out, in 2021 at Whistling Straits. His celebrations on the 18th green after he holed the putt that ensured he and Tyrrell Hatton beat Tony Finau and Harris English in the Saturday afternoon four-balls was evidence enough.
He played three matches, won only that one point, but his bona fides as a Ryder Cup “lifer” already seem assured. And while Europe were comprehensively outplayed in Wisconsin two years ago, he’ll tee it up in Rome tomorrow on a home team that has three of the top four golfers in the world rankings. They are favoured narrowly in the betting and they have home advantage. Moreover they are expected, at the very least, to run this American team close.
If he was anything like thousands of other young sons of decorated older footballers on club teams, he’d have spent his young years ducking in and out of dressing rooms
Lowry’s commitment to team golf is taken as a fait accompli because he grew up playing team sport. What sport meant to him growing up was watching his uncles and his father play, or hearing about his uncles and father playing, Gaelic football.
If he was anything like thousands of other young sons of decorated older footballers on club teams, he’d have spent his young years ducking in and out of dressing rooms. If he was quiet, he might have been able to stay where he was and hear the agricultural language of a midlands football dressing room. The smell of linament and deep heat, the bandages and casual cruelty, the camaraderie and easy laughter between players, would have buried itself deep in his subconscious.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Ryder Cup dressing-room is rather different to that, but there are certain eternal truths about team sport that nevertheless ring true.
There’s the feeling beforehand of common purpose after the slagging has died down and the nervous energy starts to flow. Or that moment after the game, amid the celebrations, when one team-mate looks another in the eye and says, “you dug me out of a hole there”.
That might be the bit that comes hardest for golfers. Every week, it’s them against the course. It’s not until the final few holes that they look around and see where they are in relation to their fellow competitors. And at that, there will be players who refuse to so much as glance at a leaderboard, even if they’re in contention.
Some of them, even Lowry, might blame their caddy for the odd mistake but the idea that they’re not in complete control of their own destiny is more than a little disconcerting. You can play like a drain in fourballs, and if the guy in the same (garish) sweater as you, goes around in 8 under par, you’ll have just as good a Ryder Cup record as him by the end of it. It works the other way too of course. Knowing that some days you’ll be the statue, and other days you’ll be the pigeon, is part of the deal.
Lowry might have an oft-repeated “love of team sports”, but he has made his name in a sport full of lone wolves. That culture shock, once every two years, when you have to become a team player alongside fellas you’ve been fighting tooth and nail with for an entire season, doesn’t come too easily to many golfers. But for Lowry, there’s nearly a sense of him returning to an environment in which he feels at his most natural.
As he said this week: “I feel like I’m just myself. I don’t try to be anyone else in the team room. I don’t try to be anyone else when I’m here. I [will] just be myself, and that just happens to be what I am … at tournaments, I always have to have people around me. I hate being on my own, so I feel like I thrive in this environment.”
When this Sunday evening comes around, Lowry might well reflect that any success will have had at least 12 fathers and failure won’t be an orphan either
“I hate being on my own” is quite the admission for a world-class golfer. It’s not something you expect to hear. But we hear Gaelic footballers and hurlers talking all the time about the week before All-Ireland finals.
They’ll often say that the Friday night beforehand is the worst night; that once they enter the bubble of the team, to get the train or the bus up to Dublin on the Saturday afternoon, the nerves dissipate appreciably. That appears to be Lowry’s thinking too. A nervous disposition shared, is a nervous disposition halved.
His father and uncles’ club Ferbane may have fallen short in a deluge on national television in the Offaly senior football final last Sunday. But when this Sunday evening comes around, Lowry might well reflect that any success will have had at least 12 fathers and failure won’t be an orphan either. There’s a comfort in that — a comfort with which he is familiar.