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Shane Lowry profile: From pitch and putt to champion golfer

It was three years before the Offaly man's first European Tour win as a professional

If you go back to the very start of how Shane Lowry first picked up a golf club, having been reared on tales of his father Brendan's prowess as part of a famed All-Ireland winning Offaly football team that ended Kerry's original drive-for-five, the picture develops of someone who picked his own sporting destiny.

The Lowry family home was close to a pitch and putt course and the nine-year-old Shane was, for whatever reason, drawn to it. “I wouldn’t mind giving that a go,” he had remark sufficiently often for his dad to take the hint.

So it was that Brendan made his way down to a local grocery shop called Kenny’s where such items as old golf balls, clubs and tees were on sale. The father arrived home with a few old Commando golf balls, a putter and a used nine-iron and gave them to his son. One little problem remained: the local club had an age limit of 10 and Lowry was nine. So he fibbed about his age . . . and so it was that pitch and putt became the seeding ground for those soft hands that would make him a golfing superstar.

Pitch and putt was a great introduction for Lowry, but the step on to playing golf on full courses took a number of years. He can recall the first time that he actually played on a golf course – a nine-hole layout at Rahan – along with his cousin Conor Henry. As Lowry, who was 12 at the time, tells it his mother Bridget, so used to leaving out football boots for him to play his matches, had left a pair of boots for him to wear on his first golfing outing. It took his uncle to tell the boys that they couldn't wear them!


Captain’s prize

Lowry’s first junior membership was at Moate, but it was when he joined Esker Hills, newly opened and closer to his home, that the golf bug truly bit. When he was 15 – playing off an 18 handicap – he won the captain’s prize, but juniors weren’t allowed to win so he was given the second prize.

It was at that point that he was brought into the satellite Leinster coaching system, with Donagh McArdle at Tullamore Golf Club developing his game. Throughout secondary school Lowry’s handicap dropped. One of his claims to fame is that he lost a shot during his Leaving Cert to get down to one-handicap and even won the 36-hole club championship at Tullamore the day before his maths paper.

At the time Lowry was also playing Gaelic football with Clara, where he had the reputation of being a tidy corner-forward, not the quickest but with a good pair of hands and a decent free-taker. But when the choice had to be made between golf and football there was only one winner: golf.

GAA’s loss was golf’s gain, and his elevation into the Golfing Union of Ireland national boys’ panel came somewhat by accident in that Leaving Cert year. Rory McIlroy was actually the player who was unavailable, and Lowry got a call to attend 14-player trials to find a six-man team: he finished first and second. “I had literally come from nowhere, out of the blue,” he would recall.

That was also the time he first started working with Neil Manchip, the GUI national coach who to this day remains Lowry's coach and a sounding board and unofficial psychologist, a motivator.

Amateur career

Lowry’s amateur career was illustrious in that he won a variety of championships: Irish Close (2007), West of Ireland (2008), North of Ireland (2008) and European Team Championships (2007 and 2008). However, the standout achievement was winning the Irish Open at Baltray in 2009. Lowry missed out on the €500,000 winner’s prize (which instead went to runner-up Robert Rock) but within a week he had signed with Horizon sports agency. His professional career was up and running.

Lowry made his professional debut on the PGA European at the European Open outside London, but missed the cut, the first of three missed cuts to start his career. It would be his fourth appearance on tour, at the French Open, before he earned his first payday, a cheque for €16,800. Some €500 of that was given to his granny Emily Scanlon as a thank you present for all the pocket money she had given him through the years!

It would be three years before Lowry claimed his first European Tour win as a professional, winning the Portugal Masters in 2012 (€375,000), but his upward trajectory would take him on to even greater heights. Yet that upward trajectory only came as part of a learning curve. One moment in time concerns an occasion when he went into the players’ lounge after a poor round and his outward demeanour was such that even his mother was hesitant in approaching him.

As Lowry put it: “She was almost afraid to come over and talk to me because I was in bad form. I sat down and thought about that afterwards. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t me.”

The following January, ahead of the new season, Lowry went to Dubai for warm-weather practice. His coach had arrived a day early, and when Lowry went into the apartment Manchip had put up a number of posters on the wall.

“He had split my whole life into different sections. Off the course. On the course. Golf. Friends. Family. We talked through it all, and I saw what I wanted to get out of life as opposed to just golf,” recounted Lowry.

Wonder shot

Behind the scenes Lowry's team also took on other elements. Robert Cannon, an accomplished Irish amateur international himself but a performance fitness expert in his profession, came on board in January 2015.

In August of that year Lowry produced a wonder shot from behind trees to finish the deal and win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (earning €1.4 million) for his third tour win, his second as a professional.

Just after the Masters of 2016, Lowry headed to New York and, in a quiet ceremony, got married to Wendy Honner. Within two months he was contending in a Major.

It was at Oakmont in 2016 that he first experienced the pressure of leadership going into the final round of a Major. Lowry held a four-stroke lead through 54 holes of the US Open but, on a crazy old day in Pennsylvania, it was Dustin Johnson – subject to a confusing rules infraction which had players in the dark about the true leaderboard coming down the stretch – who ultimately prevailed.

Lowry's partnership with Dermot Byrne, his caddie of nine years, came to an abrupt end in the midst of last year's British Open at Carnoustie, where he missed the cut. For a number of weeks his brother Alan – a Leinster amateur interprovincial in his own right – performed the caddying duties before a permanent arrangement was struck up with veteran bagman Brian "Bo" Martin.

And their relationship got off to a perfect start, Lowry winning his first tournament of the year – the Abu Dhabi championship (€1 million first prize) – to spectacularly kick-start his season. It was also the first time that his daughter Iris, now two, had the chance to run into her daddy’s arms in celebration.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times