There’s an old idiom when it comes to matchplay golf, to expect the unexpected. Bí ullamh, as it were. On the eighth green of their practice match at Marco Simone Golf Club, Rory McIlroy provided a touch of that need to be prepared to Shane Lowry when he chipped in to win a hole he was set to lose; and the Offalyman’s reaction, jokingly of course, was to retrieve the ball from the hole and throw it away.
There was no real disgust from Lowry at McIlroy’s hole-out. Just playacting on Lowry’s part. And such fun and games are all part of the bonding in these days running up to the firing gun going off on Friday morning. And they’re also part of the process in relieving any stress after finally making it to Rome as part of the European team where there is one goal, and one goal only, on their minds.
For Lowry, a captain’s wild card pick by Luke Donald, this time it’s about following up his debut at Whistling Straits, where he was on a losing team, and bringing some of his passion to the team in the quest to regain the trophy.
On leaving Whistling Straits in 2021, Lowry had confessed the Ryder Cup had made him cry. And, indeed, he let slip that some of the motivational videos Donald and his backroom team have produced for the team room so far this week have also seen him shed a tear or two. It shouldn’t be seen as any sign of weakness, though. Make it a strength.
Lowry, McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood and Sepp Straka played 18 holes in practice on Tuesday while the next two days will only involve nine-hole excursions on to the course. It’s all part of time management and protecting mind and body in what is a pressure-filled environment once the first tee shot triggers things off.
He might be the last man in the team room sipping diet Pepsis and having the banter with whoever hangs on, but there’s no doubt Lowry loves the whole team setting that the Ryder Cup brings to town.
As he put it, “Obviously team sports played a big part in my whole life growing up, and I think it’s where I get my competitiveness from is my dad and his brothers, my uncles [members of Offaly’s All-Ireland winning football team in 1982]. Growing up in that environment was pretty cool, and I think a lot of it is what has got me to where I am today.
“Look, 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 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.”
Lowry and McIlroy played one session together in Whistling Straits (a losing first day fourballs to Tony Finau and Harris English) but don’t be surprised if the pair – who came straight here after roles as supporters to the Irish rugby team in Paris on Saturday night – get another opportunity to play as a team.
“Look, anybody would want to play with Rory. He’s one of the best players in the world. In my opinion, he’s in the top players of all-time already, and he’s not even nearly finished. It would be nice to go out there with him,” said Lowry.
On the various signage boards around the venue in Rome, there are images of Lowry and one word – “PASSION” – as part of the branding. The photo goes back to his win with Tyrrell Hatton in his Saturday’s fourball on the 18th against Finau and English. It was that winning putt which was captured by photographers for posterity, Lowry punching the air with his fist ... and his father, Brendan, leaping to celebrate in the background.
This time, Lowry might not be quite so exuberant, if you can believe it.
“There’s going to be a few challenges that I might have to fight with myself over. You have to control your emotions. You don’t want to let your emotions get the better of you. I think at Whistling Straits, emotion, you kind of needed that to get you going because there was no [European] fans to cheer you on. We’ll see how this week goes, but that’s kind of in my head what I’m thinking about this week so far.”