Shane Lowry: Next few weeks on tour are season-defining for many of us
With extra points and big money on offer it’s time to knuckle down to business
Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Wu Ashun of China and Paul McGinley play from a bunker on the 18th hole prior to the BMW Masters at Lake Malaren Golf Club in Shanghai, China. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty
If I’m entirely truthful, as a boy growing up in Clara, when that first putter was put in my hands, the thought of holing a putt to win a big tournament never took me to China. It was always the Claret Jug or the Masters, and yet the growth of Chinese golf – definitely as a staging post on the European Tour – is shown by the huge prize funds which this week’s BMW Masters and next week’s WGC-HSBC Champions tournament bring to the pot.
These next few weeks on tour are season-defining for many of us and possibly career-defining too, simply because of their positioning at the tail-end of the playing season and I know I am one of those players able to make an impact. I’m 13th in the Race to Dubai standings and, with the top three players all missing the BMW in Shanghai and also the decision to enhance points for the four “Final Series” tournaments, there is added incentive to make the most of the situation.
I know there are different reasons for Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson not being here. It is hard on the sponsors and it affects the amount of world rankings points on offer but the way I look on it is that it means there are fewer players to be concerned about. You look at this course at Lake Malaren, wide fairways and playing long, and it is tailormade for Rory and Henrik especially which would have meant fighting to be one of eight others to get a top-10. Now, it is all to play for. It’s a case of getting on with it and doing your job.
More manageableThese trips out to Asia were something I took some time to adjust to in the earlier part of my career but are more manageable now. I started my travels from Dublin on Sunday and finally got to Shanghai at 5.30pm on Monday evening. The secret is the same for every player: try to sleep as much as you can on those flights to get rid of the jet lag. You know you’re going to be awake at three or four in the morning after your arrival, itching for daylight so that you can get out on the range or the course to practice. In my own case, I was up and at it so early on Tuesday that all my work was done by noon. After that, it’s a case of staying awake and getting into routine as best you can.
I actually enjoyed my pro-am yesterday, playing with three Chinese amateurs. Fortunately, there was no language issue. I don’t speak mandarin but two of the team actually spent 10 years studying and working in Birmingham and had great English, so we were able to have proper conversations all through the round. It was quite enjoyable.
Off scratchPro-ams in China are the strangest of anywhere, because the amateurs don’t have handicaps and everyone must play off scratch. I think it’s because of the fear of cheating or misuse of handicaps given how new the sport is in China, but it is a format everyone seems to accept and to get on with.
Although we’re in China, we – as players – are quite protected. We’re in a nice hotel, very westernised. I ate Italian on Tuesday night, steak last night. On a couple of nights you might get away into Shanghai but, for the most part, you’re staying and working on site.
I like Lake Malaren as a course. I’ve done well in the past. On my first visit two years ago, I was fifth. The forecast for the week isn’t great, so it could mean it plays longer and that the scoring might not be as good. But it is what it is.
This is my first tournament out since the World Matchplay which didn’t go to plan; I failed to get out of the group stages. I was disappointed but you have to get on with life and move on to other things. I spent a few days with friends in London after the Volvo and managed to get home on the Sunday in time to see Leinster’s win and my friend Fanj (Darragh Fanning) scoring a couple of tries. Those sort of things do cheer you up. After that, it was a quiet week up to my nephew’s christening on Saturday.
Big moneyIn my time at home, I was aware of the need to take it easy. I’m playing these four weeks straight – two in China, one in Turkey and then Dubai – and these are big money tournaments that have a lot at stake. They’ve enhanced the points on offer for these four tournaments in the Final Series, so there are 1.6 million points on offer to the winner here in Shanghai. It gives you a little extra incentive. If I won here, I’d actually move up to second in the points table!
I’ve played well in the big tournaments in the weeks that matter this season. In the BMW PGA at Wentworth, the Scottish Open, the Wales Open and also that top-10 in the British Open. If you do well in bigger tournaments, you get the benefits and that’s how I look on it coming into the next few weeks. These are big tournaments. I want to at least get into the top 10 on the final money list and I am aiming for four decent weeks to achieve that aim.