Lowry unfazed by expectations in bid to repeat history
Offalyman would love nothing better than to repeat his Irish Open win of a decade ago
Shane Lowry: “Hopefully, I’ll have a few chances along the years. And hopefully one of them is this week. If I do get a chance, I’ll be giving my best.” Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
He’s the poster boy, as if he needed any reminding. On the corner as you swing in off the Ennistymon road towards the golf club, Shane Lowry’s bearded face dominates the billboard.
Where once upon a time it was the Greg White Shark or Seve or, in more recent times Rory McIlroy, who were used as marketing tools, for this edition of the DDF Irish Open – a decade on from his title win as an amateur on the other side of the country – it is the Offalyman’s image.
Good thing he is comfortable in his own skin, for Lowry – his current third place position in the Race to Dubai an indicator of his good form this season on the PGA European Tour – has to manage such weights of expectation with also enjoying some home comforts where the banter about GAA provide lighter moments in his preparation.
“I’m feeling good. It’s probably the best form-wise I’ve ever coming into an Irish Open, I suppose. But I’m doing my best to try and play down expectations and just kind of go out there and enjoy it as much as I can.
“The golf course, you can get a score going round there but it can get way from you very quickly as well so I just need to relax and enjoy it, the usual, play it one shot at a time and not get too ahead of myself and just try and shoot as good a score as I can on Thursday and see where it leads me. Then do the same on Friday and move on from there.”
Lowry took younger professionals Cormac Sharvin, Paul McBride and Conor O’Rourke into a fourball for a practice round – well, 10 holes in Lowry’s case – and, if not quite taking them under his wing given they’re all accomplished players, it was another sign of how he has embraced this week of weeks and his role in the grand affair.
On the Par 4 second, a hole where he’d queried the reasoning behind reducing it from a Par 5 , Lowry’s drive ran so far down the hill that he was left with only a wedge in. As it happened, Paul McGinley was close by to observe and later quipped jokes with Lowry about what club he’d played in.
On a reconnaissance visit here a month ago, Lowry found it difficult at times to take a stance over shots such was the severity of the wind. This was a far more pleasant experience, with little more than a breeze that is expected to remain that way throughout the tournament.
“It looks like a different golf course, the shape it’s in is incredible,” he said.
Ten years ago Lowry made that career breakthrough, winning the Irish Open at Baltray – but not collecting the winner’s cheque as he was an amateur at the time – and a decade on, with a CV that includes a WGC title, Lowry has another crack as a professional.
“I don’t know if it will top 2009. I don’t want to even start thinking about winning the Irish Open again. I just kind of try not to think about it. I can then play the Irish Open every year and do my best. I’m currently only 32 now. Hopefully I’ve got 15 or 20 Irish Opens in me. Hopefully, I’ll have a few chances along the years. And hopefully one of them is this week. If I do get a chance, I’ll be giving my best.”
Certainly, the form-line this season, which started with a Rolex Series win in the Abu Dhabi Championship and that has seen him finish 3rd-8th-2nd-28th in his last four appearances, has Lowry coming in as a real contender.
And he intends to stick to an aggressive game plan on a course reduced to a Par 70 (with two holes, the second and fourth, which normally play as Par 5s reduced to Par 4s).
“There’s a lot of drivers out there, you have to be quite aggressive and try to make quite a few birdies. Try to make as many birdies as you can. If you can somehow drop four, five, six birdies in a day, you’d go a long way to get yourself towards a winning score.
You’re going to make bogeys [too]. You are going to get your odd bad bounce and there are tricky spots. I found the greens are not that firm but to chip onto they’re quite tricky. I’ll probably be my usual somewhat aggressive self, hit a few drivers, see where it goes from there.”
And then there’s local knowledge. Maybe.
The back-to-back blind shot holes – the fourth and fifth – have been described as “funky” in some quarters, “quirky” in others. The majority of the field hasn’t seen their like too often.
“I imagine it’s a variation of a golf course they’ve never seen before and next thing you’re standing there looking at a hill, there’s a flyover somewhere. I’m sure they get used to it. And hopefully it looks good on TV.”
Lowry, currently 35th in the world rankings, knows better than most the nuances of seaside golf.
“I look at it and I accept that you’re going to get a few unfortunate breaks, and that’s the way it is and should be. That’s the beauty of it, it’s not straight-forward. There’s probably five or 10 ways to play the shots and you have to pick the right one and then go about it . . . . you just hit your first tee shot and walk after it and hit the next one and keep going and try to shoot good scores.
“No matter what I shoot today, I’ve got to shoot a good score tomorrow. That’s kind of the way I’ve gone about my business this year, and I’ve been doing quite well all season, I think.”