Major Winner

The people's champion: Dream season propels Shane Lowry to rarefied heights

A player for the big occasion, the Clara man has hit the form of his life having endured a worrying slide down the rankings.

YOU WOULDN’T FIND the Horizon Sports office on Ranelagh’s main street unless you were looking for it. Squeezed in between Malachy Brophy’s opticians and Cinnamon, a typically D6 ‘Cafe, Foodhall and Wine Bar’, you’ve to be buzzed up to the second floor.

Late last year — a week out from Christmas to be precise — Shane Lowry spent a Tuesday morning in the boardroom with his management, largely catching up after a long, five-week block on the road but also plotting out the season ahead.

Shane Lowry Shane Lowry on his march to Major glory. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

The nature of Lowry’s schedule, playing on both sides of the Atlantic as he does, means the 32-year-old isn’t home often, so the rare days he has off to sit down with Conor Ridge, Horizon’s managing director, and agent Brian Moran are busy.

A lot of it can be spent juggling all the commercial and media commitments with the serious business in Lowry’s diary, but after another winless season — his third since Bridgestone in August 2015 — resulted in him losing his PGA Tour card, there were more pressing matters.

Speaking to The42 that December morning, Lowry didn’t mince his words. He accepted his 2018 season had been a failure and that, after missing the cut at The Open the previous July, he wasn’t in love with golf and golf wasn’t in love with him. 

Lowry’s form had gone stale and there was a genuine fear that he would slip outside the world’s top 100, having reached 17th after his virtuoso win at Bridgestone just three years previous. 

Something needed to change and Lowry, as hard as it was at the time, ruthlessly cut ties with his long-time caddie Dermot Byrne after nine seasons, while seemingly turning a corner during the final stretch of 2018, notably finishing second behind Sergio Garcia at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters.

It meant Lowry headed for home and into his winter break with renewed energy and enthusiasm, pencilling in extra sessions with his coach, Neil Manchip, and fitness trainer, Robbie Cannon, over the Christmas period.

The frustrated and forlorn figure from a couple of months previous was back in love with the game, his game, and the daily grind of it all. And then, in his first tournament of the year, the schedule he had mapped out with Moran had to be ripped up when Lowry rewrote the script with a stunning win in Abu Dhabi.

After three-and-a-half-years of doubts, of missed cuts, of frustration, of near misses, of sleepless nights, back at the top again. Baltray, Vilamoura, Bridgestone, and then Abu Dhabi Golf Club. A return to the winner’s enclosure, a return to the world’s top 50, a paycheque for just over €1 million and the perfect start to what has turned into a dream year for Lowry.

The first six months of 2019 have been the best of his career. From Abu Dhabi, Lowry recorded two top-five finishes on the PGA Tour — at the RBC Heritage and Canadian Open — while finishing in a tie for eighth at the PGA Championship, a run of results that had seen him climb back up to 35th in the world. And then Royal Portrush. What a difference a year makes.

One man who has played a huge role in Lowry’s upturn in form and fortunes has been caddie Brian ‘Bo’ Martin, the pair forging a close relationship both on and off the course since the Northern Irishman first took over Lowry’s bag last September.

Shane Lowry celebrates winning The Open with Brian Martin Lowry and caddie Bo Martin. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Lowry has since admitted sacking Byrne after his first round at Carnoustie was a mistake, but bringing Martin — a good amateur player in his day — on board and into his close-knit team was arguably the best decision he ever made. 

Martin’s calm presence throughout the four rounds on the Dunluce Links, particularly during Saturday and Sunday, was priceless for Lowry as he went in pursuit of his maiden Major title. “Bo was great at keeping me in the moment today. He’s been great for me,” he commented afterwards.

Another key player in all of this is Manchip, Lowry’s long-time coach and the current Golfing Union of Ireland [GUI] national coach, who has overseen some memorable wins down through the years, including James Sugrue’s Amateur Championship victory at Portmarnock in June.

On the eve of The Open, Lowry asked to meet Manchip at the local Bushmills Inn, where they spent the best part of an hour discussing the week ahead over a coffee. Lowry admitted he was nervous and anxious, but as he has consistently been, Manchip was a reassuring voice. 

While Lowry has a strong team and support network around him, there was only one man calling the shots at Royal Portrush, as he controlled the golf course, the golf ball, his temperament, the occasion and his destiny to become the fifth Irishman to lift the famous Claret Jug.

The scenes as Lowry made his way up the 18th at Portrush, arms aloft and a smile as wide as the fairway, were truly special and emotional, memories to last a lifetime for everyone inside and outside the rope.

Just as they were in Abu Dhabi in January, Wendy and Iris were first on the green to greet their champion. It’s hard to remember a more popular winner. 

“It was unbelievable to have your daughter there when you win not just a tournament but The Open,” Lowry says. “Selfishly speaking I wanted her there because if I had a bad day I know she would put a smile back on my face no matter what.

“She was in the house this morning and she was trying to lift the trophy and she couldn’t because it was so heavy. We have her saying ‘Daddy win’ now so it’s amazing. It’s something we will look back on forever.”

Shane Lowry celebrates with his daughter Iris and wife Wendy Memories to last a lifetime. Presseye / Matt Mackey/INPHO Presseye / Matt Mackey/INPHO / Matt Mackey/INPHO

Just like it would be too simplistic to say the player-caddie relationship formed with Martin has sparked Lowry’s revival, it is also presumptuous to say his new-found perspective in fatherhood and married life has helped him play better golf. But what is certain is that Lowry is in a much better headspace. 

While most players feel they need to be obsessive to become a Major winner, it is refreshing to witness Lowry join an illustrious club when, as he says himself, golf matters less to him now than it did a few years ago when he surrendered a four-shot lead at the US Open. 

“I’ve had a lot of bad days over the years playing golf and I’m really going to enjoy this one,” he says.

Good days like this are hard to come by. I’ve been playing the game for 10 years now. I’ve won five times. This is obviously the biggest yet. I plan to really enjoy it over the coming days.

Lowry’s schedule has again had to change. He had originally planned to play at the St Jude Invitational on the PGA Tour but, understandably, he will not be boarding a plane this week, instead choosing to stay at home and savour the achievement of becoming a Major winner. 

In blitzing the field by six shots, Lowry rises back up to 17th in the world, collects a cheque for €1.7 million to bring his prize money for the first half of 2019 to over €3 million, and he now leads the European Tour’s lucrative Race to Dubai standings.

“It’s great for Offaly and where I’m from in Clara,” Lowry added. “I have all my close friends with me here today and I’m looking forward to getting down to my granny’s house and giving her the Claret Jug. It’s just going to be so special. I never thought it would happen to me.”

If Baltray was his breakthrough win, and Bridgestone his coming of age as a professional, this year has almost certainly been the making of Shane Lowry. A dream season has propelled him to rarefied heights and there’s no reason why he can’t soar even higher in the years to come.

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