Shane Lowry is one of golf’s most likeable characters with his infectious smile and rolling laugh. At the same time, he has a ruthless ability to destroy the opposition with a game built on power, strength and precision.
He became the latest in a long line of European winners when he won the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush, but only the second Irish player to pick up the claret jug following on from Padraig Harrington’s back-to-back victories in 2007 and 2008.
It took Lowry two-and-a-half years to win his first event as a professional – at the Portugal Masters in 2012, but hisa devastating performance amidst treacherous conditions at the 2019 British Open Championship finally signalled him as a bona fide challenger for the sport’s biggest honours. RSNG asked him how he got there...
RSNG What is the biggest challenge for any golfer? SHANE LOWRY, GOLFER ‘I think for me it’s always been about contending with how the sport can produce such different results. You can go into a tournament on such a high and supremely confident in your ability, but there is so much around you that can work against you.’
‘The course is obviously the big factor – how well do you know it? But sometimes it’s just a case of getting into a groove and going about your game the right way.’
‘In 2019 I won the Open, but I also missed the halfway cut at the Masters. I don’t think there are too many other sports out there that will take you from incredible highs to really horrible lows in such a short space of time… or vice versa.’
‘I think most golfers, as they progress their game, learn how to come to terms with that. It’s nice to think winning a tournament makes you the very best; but then missing a cut doesn’t make you a bad player, so you have to take each in context.’
‘The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. You are a good golfer – you will win and you will lose!’
RSNG Take us back through your life in golf, because you’re not from a family who plays the game, are you? SL ‘No, that’s absolutely right. My uncles played the game, on my mum’s side, but not professionally – just as a social thing. Mullingar in County Westmeath, the village where I grew up, has a local pitch and putt course and that’s about it. But that’s how I got into the game and I was no older than 10 years old when I first started going there.’
‘I spent most of my summer days playing there with my cousin. He was a few years older than I was, and we would literally be up there most days, if not every day. It was at that little place where I first fell in love with the sport.’
‘It wasn’t until I was in my middle teens that there was a new golf course built a few miles away from where we lived. I joined that club, Esker Hills, and things went from there. But it did take a while from me to bring my handicap down, in fact I was still playing off four when I was 16 years old.’
‘But with time, plenty of practice and determination, I knew that golf was what I wanted to do and when I got to scratch, that’s when I began making the teams around Ireland and winning the odd tournament.
‘When I was 18 and 19, I was winning tournaments against my own age-range and making squads for the men’s competitions and I was around 21 when I finally turned professional. My parents were actually trying to get me into college, but I wasn’t letting that happen – I always wanted to be a pro golfer, instead.’
It’s nice to think winning a tournament makes you the very best but missing a cut doesn’t make you a bad player, so you have to take each in context
RSNG Did you have the confidence that you would succeed? SL ‘I think what gives you confidence in life is the comparisons you make to those around you. It’s absolutely natural that you get to know your level… you get to know where you’re at. And I think when you’re good, you know you’re good.’
‘I always wanted to be better, and always had an eye on turning professional… that was going to be my ultimate dream. But was I confident? I guess so.’
RSNG And you looked up to Rory? SL ‘Yeah Rory was ripping up trees and when he turned professional in 2007 I was the leading amateur. It seemed very natural to follow his success, and when someone breaks through from the same level as you and makes the pro circuit look easy, of course you feel you can achieve something similar… or at least you hope you can.’
RSNG What was he like to play against in amateur tournaments? SL ‘Well put it this way, I was delighted when he turned pro and gave me an easier ride! Rory has always been a great guy – very easygoing yet incredibly focused. He encourages and brings the best out of all those around him.’
RSNG When you won the Irish Open, your first professional event in 2009, you were still an amateur – beating Robert Rock in a playoff. That must have been an amazing feeling? SL ‘Yeah, absolutely and that was something which – besides the win – was an incredible experience, as well. You’re walking down the range for the first time and you can see Harrington, Colin Montgomerie and being there with those fellas, that was enough for me.’
‘But then, I got a good start and shot -5 on the first day and it’s one of them where you go from saying to yourself that you’re going to take a lot of learning from being there, to then shooting a 62 in the second round and finding yourself with a two-shot lead. It was only at that point where I felt that I had a chance, but never up to that point. I then turned professional the week after.’
I think there are points in every round where you just have to weather the storm, that will always come in any sport and any contest – individuals, teams or whatever
RSNG What do you remember most about The Open Championship this year and your incredible win? SL ‘Very little! I honestly don’t remember most of it and I always have to remind myself through watching footage of it and flicking through pictures. It felt like a dream, particularly because I had a healthy lead. It didn’t seem too real.’
‘When the pressure started to kick in there were times where it didn’t feel like me playing the shots. That’s a bit scary as a golfer because you learn for years and years to always stay in control of your mind and your club, and to me it felt like someone else was taking some of those shots, particularly on the 18th hole.’
‘It’s always nice to slow yourself down and regroup your thoughts on the course, but in the face of an opponent, of time and of pressure, it’s not that easy to do.’
RSNG Surely just as easy to overthink a shot? SL ‘Sure, and I have done that before when I have thrown away leads. I guess the US Open in 2016 is an example of that.’
‘I think there are points in every round where you just have to weather the storm. That will always come in any sport and any contest – individuals, teams or whatever… they get on top in a clash and get a bit of momentum. The trick is to get through that spell and emerge out the other side. Just like the trick to staying in a good mode is to try to prolong it… those moments when you feel invincible and it feels like every shot you play is going exactly where you expect it to.’
RSNG But that moment when you know you are going to win? SL ‘It’s an amazing feeling. Sure enough, I settled down once I had hit the final tee shot and then just played the final hole in a way where I could enjoy it. I’ve heard so many other players say that they weren’t able to enjoy the final hole of a major even though they won it, because it wasn’t a fine margin that they held.’
‘I was very lucky to have that lead in my favour and that meant that I was able to savour every minute of it – but as I said, I still can’t remember it because it was such an unreal feeling.’
RSNG What’s your aim now? SL ‘The Ryder Cup place is the one thing that I crave. Obviously to help Europe win would be incredible, but to get there, as a personal achievement, would be my first aim. I would love to know what that feels like and I have spoken to the other lads on the tour who have been able to win one, two and a few more.’
‘I have my PGA Tour card guaranteed for five years, now so I will be trying to win tournaments in the US and on the European Tour.’
WHAT NEXT? A ‘trash shot’? Lowry plays out of some particularly bad rough at the 2019 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.