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'I'm very lucky to make the money I do and provide the life for my family that I do'

It’s now three years since Shane Lowry last won, but in a sit-down interview with The42, the Offaly golfer explains how his life, perspective and motivations have changed in that time.

SHANE LOWRY IS just back from a long, end-of-season globetrotting stretch during which he spent five weeks on the road, travelling from Turkey to South Africa to Dubai to Australia. And then back home again, for Christmas and a chance to rest and reset.

He is still bronzed by time spent in short-sleeves in warmer climes as we sit down in the boardroom of his Dublin-based management company to reflect on the year that has been. It’ll be a mixed review.  

gettyimages-681067982-594x594 Source: Getty Images

Lowry is in good form, happy to be home and looking forward to Christmas with his wife, Wendy, and young daughter, Iris, given his schedule this year meant there were limited windows of opportunity to spend time with family and friends. Such is life on the road, such is life as a professional golfer.

He hasn’t been back long enough to properly assess what he did well, what he did wrong and what he needs to improve on from the last 12 months, as the last couple of days have been spent catching up, but that process will be an important part of Lowry’s time off between seasons. 

The bottom line, however, is that 2018 — by his own admission — has been a failure. Lowry makes no doubt about that. In July, at the Open where he missed the cut, he admitted he wasn’t in love with golf and golf wasn’t in love with him. Strong words, but you knew it was the honest truth.

The art of juggling isn’t easy, and Lowry — as he bid to keep the ball in the air on both the PGA Tour and European Tour — found that to the detriment of his golf game as he built up his air miles, crisscrossed time zones and spent more time in a week in airport lounges than in contention on a Sunday afternoon. 

Six missed cuts on the PGA Tour, and not one top-1o finish, caused frustration and saw him lose his playing privileges in the States for 2019, the last-ditch attempts to save his Tour card falling flat at the Wyndham Championship in August. A lack of consistency — and a failure to make the business end of tournaments — was the source of the exasperation.

He cut ties with long-term caddie Dermot Byrne after nine seasons. Something needed to change, because Lowry’s form had gone stale. Slipping outside the world’s top 100 was a genuine fear after his dispiriting exit from the Open, at which point he had fallen to 92nd. 

“I failed in America,” he says straight up. “I lost my card and didn’t do well over there. I came back to Europe and did okay, but it hasn’t been a good year for me.

“I’ve had a strange two years, to be honest. I feel every time I go to America, I struggle a little bit and then I come back to Europe I feel like I play okay and contend.

“I’ve given myself a few chances to win in Europe this year. It was very much like that. I feel like I was playing okay, making cuts but not having any good finishes and that’s a tough place to be. Grinding out between 40th and 60th every week is not nice and then I came back to Europe and I played well.” 

It wasn’t all bad, thankfully. Granted he ends the year 12 places further down the world rankings than he started it, but Lowry found renewed energy and greater clarity in his head for the final stretch of the year, breathing new life into a faltering season.

gettyimages-1065034584-594x594 Source: Getty Images

His form turned a corner at the PGA Championship as the Offaly native mounted a credible challenge in the final Major of the year, before ultimately finishing in a tie for 12th and eight shots behind winner Brooks Koepka. But it was a start and another reminder, to himself more than anyone, that it doesn’t take much for everything to click again. 

Lowry — currently ranked 75th in the world — went in search of that spark in the final months of the year. A run of limited-field tournaments on the European Tour, with big purses and lots of world ranking points, offered him the chance to turn the tables on his season. 

A sixth-place finish at the Portugal Masters hinted at a revival and then an agonising brush with glory at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters as he finished second behind Sergio Garcia in October, in addition to a top-20 finish at the Turkish Open, has changed how Lowry looks back on his ninth season as a professional. 

“The back end has been quite good,” he continues. “Wins do unfortunately define a golfer, that’s the sport we’re in, but Sergio beat me in Valderrama and if someone plays better than you and you finish second, that’s just the way it is. 

“I’ve definitely got a lot more confidence than I sort of had in June or July. I’ve a bit more love and drive to get out there and practice and try and keep myself going over Christmas to come out in January and get out of the blocks quickly. That’s really what I need to do, come out of the blocks quickly.  

“You just have to go out and I’m going to try and not put too much emphasis on winning because I need to start looking at what I need to do to just start performing better again.

“If I worry about my performance over four rounds, and see where that leaves me on Sunday, that’s all you can do in golf.”

The reality, however, is that it’s now three years since Lowry’s last win on tour, that memorable victory at the WGC Bridgestone in 2015 which was also his biggest. Another win, and a fourth career title, has proved elusive, as his heavy schedule on both sides of the Atlantic has not yet yielded the desired results.

“It has been a long three years,” Lowry admits. “The one thing the Irish public talk about is, they not only talk about when you’re going to win again, they talk about when you’re going to win a Major.

For a guy like me, where I am in the world rankings… The top 10 in the world talk about when they’re going to win Majors and that’s what they set their benchmark at. Someone in my category in the world rankings or the world of golf, if I’m going into Majors playing well, yes, I feel like I can do well and win one but it’s not the be-all and end-all for me.

Since his stunning win in Bridgestone, Lowry’s life off the course has changed considerably, as he got married, moved to America and became a father for the first time. His relationship with golf is now, naturally, different. Not for better, not for worse. It has just changed since he broke onto the scene in Baltray. Different perspective, different motivations. 

“Other people probably have visions of what you should be but it’s only really down to you, what I want and the visions what I have for myself.

gettyimages-1059071848-594x594 Source: Getty Images

“Whether that’s to just go out and provide a life for my family, or whether it’s to go out and win as much as I can. It’s somewhere in between those. I want to win as much as I can and I get frustrated as much as anyone when I don’t win or I’m not playing well, but at the end of the day I just feel lucky I can go out and provide a good life for my family.

“When I started playing golf as a kid, and kept playing golf was because I loved it. Then you get better and better and then all of a sudden, you’re making a career out of it. I love what I do, I know how lucky I am. I’m very lucky to make the money I do and provide the life for my family that I do through golf. That’s what I see it as now.

“I’m not saying I do it just for the money, but I see it now as providing a great life for my wife and kid and that’s what it’s all about for me. That doesn’t stop me thinking I want to win as much as I can. I’ve won three times, I’ve been on tour nine years. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either.”

A glass half-full optimistic view, Lowry has — for the first time — been hungry to get out and work on all aspects of his game over the Christmas period, rather than locking his clubs away during his time at home. He had sessions pencilled in with his coach and trainer after our chat. 

You also get the sense that he heads towards 2019 revived and refreshed, the frustrated and forlorn figure from a couple of months ago back in love with the game, his game, and the daily grind of it all. Improved form, greater confidence and a fresh outlook on resuming life on the European Tour in the New Year.

The hope is that his schedule in Europe during the early months of 2019 will allow him to climb back up the world rankings and into the top 50 in order to gain entry to the season’s showpiece events.

There will be a lot of long-haul flights and travel again, but Lowry is relishing the challenge as he prepares to set off again on 2 January for a nine-week block, which will see him take in tournaments in Dubai, the Middle East, America, Oman and Malaysia. 

“As I said, there has been a lot of change in my life and I haven’t had much success on the golf course but my decision was basically made for me whether I was going to come back and play in Europe full-time,” he says. 

“We had tried out America to see if I liked it. I did like it over there and if I got the chance I would go again but maybe for my golf game, I’m better off coming back and trying to win again in Europe and get back up the world rankings that way.”

Even during his time off, Lowry is thinking about golf every day. 

“I think about it every day, I think about my career every day. I wake up every morning wondering what I’m going to do today to get better, but there are not many negative thoughts in there at all. 

“This is actually the first December ever I’ve come back wanting to play golf. I normally come back in December and just put my clubs away and don’t bother. Take the month off and relax but this year, maybe it’s because I’m getting a little bit older and wiser, I want to get out and practice. I want to get out there and do what I have to do to try and feel like I’m ready in January to push on.”

gettyimages-1056269480-594x594 Source: Getty Images

As much as anything Lowry wants to perform — and win — for himself, his family and team. He doesn’t take much heed of public comments, be they positive or negative, and probably won’t read this interview. That’s just the way he is. 

“I don’t really feel pressure from the public,” he explains. “When I come home, I’m just me with my family and friends. I don’t really read stuff much about myself. I just think it takes pressure off myself and doesn’t dent your confidence, or equally doesn’t make you feel too good if the comments are positive.

“Confidence is a lot in golf and when you get on a roll, it’s important to try and ride the crest of the wave. If I knocked it off, even if it was any sort of event, I think it would give me confidence. I’m not making any excuses for myself but the last three years, the way my schedule has been, I’ve been playing against the best players in the world week in, week out. It’s difficult at that level.”

One of his primary motivations now is to win in front of Wendy and Iris, and create magical family memories. You can tell, by the way his face lights up, that it would mean the world to Lowry. 

“That would be the be-all and end-all,” he smiles. “If they’re there when you’re winning or lifting a trophy. That would be it, I don’t care what tournament it is, I’d just love to have that.

“There is different motivations and perspective now as well. No matter what score I shoot, whether I’m lifting a trophy or not, my little one doesn’t care. She’s not even two yet. I’m coming home to her and that’s it really.”

After Christmas at home in Ireland, the plan is for Wendy and Iris to accompany him for some of the early-season stretch, as the Lowrys take advantage of the flexibility in their lives before their daughter starts school back in Dublin. It’ll all change again then.

But Lowry is focused on the task in hand, knowing he has work to do in 2019 and requires a fast start if his goal of qualifying for the Open at Royal Portrush and then making the 2020 Ryder Cup team are to be realistic targets. 

“I haven’t properly sat down and set goals for next year, but I want to get back in all the big tournaments, and then try and do well in them,” he adds. “The main goal then for me is the Ryder Cup [qualifying starts in September] and if I’m in that team, a lot of the other things will have taken care of themselves like wins and good finishes.

I’ve never played it [the Ryder Cup] and there was a bit of jealousy in me watching it earlier this year. That’s the bit of drive I need maybe. Pádraig [Harrington] is one of the favourites to be next captain, and it would be great to play under him.

For now, however, it’s family time.

“I’ll try and get down and see my family and my granny and my wife’s parents. Christmas this year for us, Iris is almost two, she doesn’t understand much about it but we’re trying to do as much as we can. We’re going to the Wild Lights in the Zoo and stuff like that. 

“There’s also talk of me dressing up as Santa Claus. I’m not sure, but we’ll see!”

Life has definitely changed for Shane Lowry, and it is now not solely defined by what happens on the golf course, but you can be sure a fourth career win will be on his Christmas wishlist this year. 

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Ryan Bailey

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