'I remember shaking so much I was almost in tears walking to the hut' - Paul Kimmage meets Shane Lowry
Published 03/04/2016 | 19:36
For seven years now, since his breakout win at the 2009 Irish Open when he became only the third amateur in history to win on the European Tour, I’ve stood back from Shane Lowry and thought: ‘Hmmm.’
Okay, so he had turned pro and made money and won a Portuguese Masters, becoming only the second player to ever win on the European Tour as both an amateur and a pro. Okay, so he had played the Masters and top-tenned in two Majors and trashed the crème de la crème at the 2015 Bridgestone Invitational, a World Golf Championship event.
And his family background — his father Brendan and two uncles, Sean and Michael, had played together on the Offaly team that won the most exciting All-Ireland football final of all time — was interesting. But was Lowry interesting? Was there a big interview in Shane?
I started following him on Twitter and soon my timeline was cluttered with thumbs-up emojis, tricolour flags, leprechauns and shamrocks: Shane with the Irish rugby team; Shane with the Irish soccer team; Shane watching the McGregor fight; ‘COME ON YOU BOYS IN GREEN.’
His wrote a column in The Irish Times that oozed positivity: he was happy with his life, happy with his game and happy with his season. Always. Shane didn’t do self-flagellation and people loved him for it.
Balls.ie proclaimed him ‘The Most Beloved Sportsman on the Island’. He was our jolly, bearded giant.
But did that make him interesting?
Where was the gravitas? The obsession? The dark side? Roy Keane hadn’t got where he is today by being ‘Mister Popular’ and Roy was the greatest interview of all time. Was there a good interview in Shane? I bounced it off a friend and former Olympian. He said: “Hmmmm.”
Eight weeks ago, he walked onto the first tee at Spyglass Hill in California for the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
“Did you hear the result?”
“No,” I replied.
“10-9” he sighed, shaking his head.
He had spent the fog-delayed start watching the Six Nations game in Paris between Ireland and France.
He pulled a banana from his golf bag and asked what I thought of his shirt (green): “It will look well at the Masters,” he guffawed. Then he pointed to a man in the gallery clad in the colours of the Offaly GAA team: “There’s always one.”
How had he watched the game, I wondered? “He Facetimed Wendy (his fiancée Wendy Honner),” Pádraig Harrington laughed, “and got her to hold the phone to the TV.”
Two weeks ago, when we pulled up two chairs, I knew I was going to enjoy Shane Lowry. It’s not hard. Everything they say about him is true.
1 Lowry Country
Shane’s dad, Brendan, had something special. Give him six chances to score in a match and he would convert five of them — on a bad day. Brendan Lowry never made a hero out of the goalkeeper. They talk of an under 21 county final, Ferbane against Tullamore, when Brendan was announcing his talent. Ferbane were down by a point with a minute on the clock when he got the chance to kick the ball over the bar and earn his team a replay. The thought never crossed his mind because he only saw the net and his explosive shot bulged it. “Jaysus Brendan,” said the team’s full-forward Paul Mollen afterwards. “What were you thinking of going for the goal? I would have taken the point and not risked it.” “Well Paul,” said Brendan. “I suppose that’s the difference between you and me.”
– David Walsh,
The Sunday Times,
Paul Kimmage: I’ve listened to a couple of your interviews on Off The Ball and one in particular stood out. It started with a clip of your dad scoring a goal against Galway I think, in ’81 or ’82, and I expected a discussion about what it was like being Brendan Lowry’s son, but it was kind of passed over.
Shane Lowry: Yeah.
PK: And I couldn’t figure if that was their fault or yours?
SL: Yeah, it’s funny, I’d say it might be different if we had won a couple more All-Irelands since then, but I think my dad and people in Offaly would be kinda sick of that now. The last football All-Ireland we won was in 1982 and they’ve had a 25th anniversary, and a 30th anniversary and I don’t know how many functions he had to go to. But I obviously have memories of him growing up.
PK: Tell me about the Lowrys. David Walsh wrote a brilliant piece after you won the Irish Open and there was a great photograph of you and your dad and uncle Seán and uncle Michael . . .
SL: Yeah, in Esker Hills, I remember it.
PK: There was another uncle mentioned, Eamonn?
SL: (Laughs) The jockey.
PK: The jockey?
SL: Yeah, everyone knows him as the jockey.
PK: He had a bit of a temper by all accounts: “They used to say that if (Eamonn) was a cow he would fill your bucket quicker than any beast in the milking parlour but just as you were admiring the result, he would lash out with a hind leg and knock over the bucket.”
PK: What about Seán and Michael?
SL: Well, Seán would have been the most famous in football terms because he won a couple of All-Irelands (with Offaly), and then moved to Crossmolina and played for Mayo and won a Connacht Championship with them. Mikey would be understated — a typical corner-back who sat there doing the dirty work and didn’t get any recognition for it.
PK: There’s a great quote about them in Michael Foley’s book Kings of September: “On Wednesday they hit Ferbane where green, white and gold Fianna Fáil election posters had been doctored to read ‘Welcome to Lowry Country’.”
SL: That’s about 1982, (smiles) but I believe they have some of them around the county now in the lead-up to Augusta: ‘Welcome to Lowry Country.’ But yeah, dad is from Ferbane. He grew up there and then moved over to Clara where my mum is from.
PK: How did they meet?
SL: I have no idea. They married young, dad was 22, mum was 19, in 1982.
PK: Was that before or after the All-Ireland?
SL: Before. Then they had Sinéad and moved to Clara.
PK: How far from Ferbane is Clara?
SL: Ten or 12k on really bad roads so it would take you 20 minutes. So I grew up in Clara, that’s where I’m from.
PK: And you’re one of three?
SL: Yeah, Sinéad, myself and Alan.
PK: Your father was still playing when you were born.
SL: Yeah, I was born in ’87 and he retired in ’93 and started training teams. I used to go everywhere with him. I remember in ’93, Clara played Ferbane in the county final. Dad got sent off in the semi-final so he wasn’t playing but Mikey was the captain of Ferbane, and the captain of Clara was a guy called Tony Egan who was our next-door neighbour. The final was in Tullamore and Tony asked if I’d do mascot for Clara — I’d say he probably did it to piss my father off! But there was a big crowd that day, maybe 15,000, and Clara beat Ferbane.
PK: That was pretty unique.
SL: Yeah, I’ve often thought about it: ‘How could my dad let that happen?’
PK: Your mother probably had something to do with it.
SL: (Laughs) Yeah, probably, or my granny and granddad.
PK: The Scanlons?
PK: Tell me about your mother?
SL: My mother (laughs) where do I start? Growing up she was a hard woman.
PK: The boss?
SL: She was the boss, and still is. We were well disciplined as kids, would never be out of line, but a great woman. And very religious, she’s going to burn down the church one of these days lighting candles for me! And for Alan and Sinéad and her grandkids. She worries a lot about me, and about us, like any mother I suppose.
PK: When did you first become aware that your father was ‘somebody’? That Lowry was ‘a name’?
SL: I don’t know.
PK: Were there photographs of him at home?
SL: His All-Star was always on the cupboard in the sitting room. And his All-Ireland medal would always have been in the cabinet with a few of his Leinster medals.
PK: Was the All-Star for ’82?
SL: ’81. He was told he wouldn’t get one in ’81 and he did. And he was told he would get one in ’82 and he didn’t — John Egan got it — but I don’t know if I ever knew or thought that he was a name or someone.
PK: Not even in school or when you were with your classmates?
SL: Well, growing up I was always a corner-forward, and maybe they were hoping I was going to be half as good as him but . . . no, I don’t know if I ever had a sense of it.
PK: Where was school?
SL: St Francis Boys’ School in Clara and Ard Scoil Chiaráin, the local secondary school. I remember the sport in school, break times and lunch times and playing soccer with the lads. I was good at football. I was the free-taker on any team I played on, lethal at frees like my da, and good once I got the ball in my hand. But I was always a bit overweight and that held me back. I was quite good in school but a bit lazy towards the end because all I wanted to do was play golf.
PK: By towards the end you mean when you were doing exams?
SL: Yeah, fourth, fifth and sixth years.
PK: How did your mum feel about that?
SL: I’d say at the time she didn’t like it at all, yeah, not at all actually. Dad was more lenient. There were days when he got me out of school to play golf, days my mother didn’t know about, but once she went into the parent-teacher meeting and knew we weren’t acting the clown she was happy. But it’s funny when you go home you see the graduation pictures on the wall, Sinéad and Alan (in their gowns) and my Irish Open picture in the middle!
SL: So yeah, my memories from school are good but I didn’t really apply myself.
PK: How did you start playing golf?
SL: There’s a pitch and putt course in Clara, you had to be 10 to join but I lied about my age because my cousin Gary used to play. So I started at nine and joined Esker Hills when I was 14 and then golf kind of took over.
PK: How far was Esker Hills?
SL: Three or four miles. I’d say I used to drive them mad out there. I’d be out there all day every day and had no problem playing 36, 45 holes some days. I used to just love it.
PK: What was it that you loved?
SL: I don’t know.
PK: Because it’s an individual sport, a loner’s sport, and you’re such a sociable fellow?
SL: Yeah, and I spent a lot of time out there on my own.
PK: But you didn’t feel lonely?
SL: No, I just loved it. Maybe it was because I was good at it, and I wanted to get better.
PK: You were better than you were as a footballer?
PK: You knew that straight away?
PK: One of the nicest things about your success is that it’s a journey you’ve shared with your father. There’s a story about him following you around during the Leinster Boys Championships.
SL: The one I won?
SL: That was Skerries in ’05.
PK: That afternoon Brendan followed at a distance, not wanting his son to see him for fear it would make him nervous. So he walked behind others, stood in the background and when Shane was coming down the 18th with a chance to win the competition Brendan was watching from behind a curtain in the clubhouse. Does that ring true?
SL: Yeah, that’s true.
PK: Because the thing that jumped out was how soft-hearted he is.
SL: Oh my dad is the softest man in the world. He’ll cry at anything, its unbelievable actually. We were standing on the ninth green in Augusta last year and he was roaring crying!
SL: Yeah. Any time I do something — after I won Bridgestone last year — or when his first grandchild was born. Yeah, he’s very soft, my mother will tell you that. Christmas day is always a good day for an oul’ cry off him as well. We slag him about it.
SL: Yeah, very soft and he’s obviously proud of what I’ve done. I can only imagine what it’s like to caddie for your son in the Par 3 at Augusta.
PK: The thing that really comes across when you meet him is his love for all sport.
SL: Yeah, and I think I get that from him. I have an absolute love for all sport. If dad rang me today and said, ‘Shane, what are you doing this evening? Clara are playing Junior B against such-and-such. Will we go?’, I’d say, ‘Yeah, I’ll collect you.’ And that’s the way it is. For a couple of years after I turned pro I lived at home in Clara and we used to go everywhere (together) when I had a week off.
PK: Take me through the steps to turning pro and your first appearance in the West of Ireland?
SL: It was my first men’s tournament — the West of Ireland in ’06. I shot 66 in the second round and was the leading qualifier. I went in and signed my card and some journalists were there and someone says: ‘What about your eagle on the fifth?’ I said, ‘No, I birdied the fifth’. I had birdied five and birdied six and the guy I was playing with had put me down for an eagle on five and par on six which added up to the same score. So all of a sudden I’m disqualified (he had signed for the wrong score) and going home in the car in tears. That was a tough day, because at that stage you think it’s the end of the world, but that was a month later.
PK: What happened?
SL: I’m playing in the Irish Amateur in Portmarnock and shoot 74 in the third round — the best score by a shot or two because the weather is horrendous. So I go in and I’m having my lunch and Shay Smith from the GUI taps me on the shoulder as I’m tucking into my bowl of soup: ‘Shane, can I talk to you for a minute?’ And I’m like, ‘What!’ I haven’t signed my card! The weather was so bad that I just looked at it and gave it in so I’m disqualified again — two tournaments in a row! And I know I said my dad was soft but you should have heard him on the way home!
PK: ‘You fucking eejit!’
SL: Yeah, something like that.
SL: So they were a couple of days you’d prefer not to have but when you come out the other side . . .
PK: Who were your rivals then?
SL: I only remember the guys I was friendly with, Niall Kearney, Simon Ward, not many of those guys made it. And Rory (McIlroy) of course: Rory was better than everyone — he was the guy who wore the flashy clothes.
PK: You’re two years older than him?
PK: What’s your first memory of him?
SL: The Boys Interprovincials at Warrenpoint in ’05. It was my first tournament (of representative golf) and he was playing number one for Ulster, but I was nowhere near number one for Leinster, so I never got to play against him.
PK: Do you remember your first time to engage with him?
SL: I played the European Youths with him in ’06 in Sotogrande. His parents were there, he was only 17, and that was my first time to hang out with him. We got on well and were friends but we were never that close. And he was good, obviously. He was always a great player, always better than everyone else and he always hit it longer, even at that age.
PK: You mentioned his clothes?
SL: Yeah, I remember him wearing . . . Branden Grace came over one year for the Irish Amateur in Royal Dublin and they were playing in the same group and the two of them turned up with pink trousers! Isn’t it funny the things you remember?
PK: (Laughs) Well, a man from Offaly would remember pink trousers.
SL: Yeah, I don’t think they’d have looked great on me.
2 Last Man Standing
When fierce winds caused play to be suspended for five hours during the third round of the 2009 Irish Open at Baltray, Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy had lunch together in the players’ lounge. “We talked about his position at the top of the leaderboard,” said the Hollywood star, “and he knew I’d be the first to congratulate him if he succeeded in staying there.” The player who would go on to become the world number one, was as good as his word when the time came for congratulations in the miserable wet of late Sunday afternoon. “Watching Shane from the side of the 18th green was like being a nervous passenger in a car,” he added. “But I expected him to win.”
– Dermot Gilleece
PK: You were in Monterey last month playing a practice round with Pádraig Harrington on the Dunes course. It was a glorious sunny afternoon and you stopped for a bite of lunch in the hut by the sixth and smiled at the ocean and the beautiful view: ‘Where did it all go wrong . . . one afternoon in Baltray!’
SL: Yeah, sometimes golf is hard and the Tour life is hard but there are other times when I sit back and think (smiles): ‘Where did it all go wrong?’ And the answer is, ‘one afternoon in Baltray’, which was obviously . . . I mean, I’d probably laugh if you told me an amateur was going to win a Tour event now, it’s just so hard. But I suppose that week I got lucky with the draw and everything went my way. You might ask: ‘Where do you think you’d be today if you hadn’t won?’ I believe I’d still be in the same place but the route would obviously have been different.
PK: You drove to Baltray in a Mitsubishi Colt.
PK: Two days later you had a chauffeur-driven Audi!
PK: What do you remember about the joy of winning? Of getting it done?
SL: I remember when I missed the putt to win, the short one . . .
PK: Head resting on his knees, his cap pulled over his face, a human ostrich trying to get his head into the sand.
SL: Yeah. I remember shaking so much I was almost in tears walking into the scorers’ (hut). And then in the play-off when I won . . . It’s actually sad because I have no real recollection of that day. I remember what happened before it, and after it but . . .
PK: And before it was?
SL: That morning, I couldn’t eat my breakfast. I got to the golf course and Neil (his coach, Neil Manchip) brought me into the players’ lounge and forced me to eat.
PK: That bad?
SL: Yeah, and after I remember being in the clubhouse and going down to the Heineken tent. Do you remember Gary Kelly who played soccer for Ireland?
SL: He was in the Heineken tent with a load of people from Clara. And then I got into the car and drove home.
PK: How was your dad?
SL: I barely remember meeting him. It’s mad!
PK: Had you decided straight away to turn pro?
SL: Yeah. I remember Rory being in the media centre afterwards and I just said to him, “I’ll be seeing a lot more of you now.” It’s funny, because I had met Conor (his then agent at Horizon Sports Management, Conor Ridge) that week on the Tuesday before the tournament and had a sit-down with him. The plan was to play in the Walker Cup and turn pro after that, and he was going to look after me. It was a verbal agreement. I said, “I’m happy enough with that. I’ll chat to you in a couple of weeks and we’ll see where we are.” And then obviously he was there on Sunday evening after I finished.
PK: With a pen and a copy of the contract?
SL: (Laughs) Yeah. It was good (he was there) because I needed someone. And I liked Conor straight away because he was Irish. So I finished and we had a chat and he came down to Clara the next day. My message to him was: “All I want to do is play golf. I don’t want to have to worry about money or any of that.” And dad’s was: “As long as Shane’s happy, I’m happy.” So I turned pro and we had a press conference in the Westbury on the Thursday to announce it. I drove up to Dublin in my Mitsubishi Colt and remember stopping for fuel at a garage and getting recognised, which was a bit strange.
PK: Your first tournament as a pro was a week later . . .
SL: Yeah, the European Open at the London Golf Club. I played with (Paul) McGinley the first two rounds and shot six-over the first day.
PK: 78, 73.
SL: Then played the Welsh Open the following week.
PK: 77, 75
SL: Then I had a week off I think and played Germany?
PK: Yeah, another missed cut, 74, 70.
SL: Then the French Open, my first cut to make, and my first cheque which was about 15 grand?
SL: Do you know the first thing I did with the money?
PK: Go on.
SL: I drove straight down to Clara and gave my granny 500 quid, because my granny was always giving me money when I was growing up . . . It’s funny, I thought I was loaded!
PK: You won five grand a week later at the Scottish Open.
SL: Yeah, at Loch Lomond.
PK: Then you missed a cut at the Czech Open.
SL: That was the week Dermo (his caddie, Dermot Byrne) started with me.
PK: I didn’t realise he’s been with you that long.
SL: Yeah, coming up on seven years.
PK: Who did you use for the first tournaments?
SL: Shaper. (Dave ‘Shaper’ Reynolds, the former Offaly footballer and long-standing friend who had caddied for him as an amateur.)
PK: Was there ever a chance he might stay with you?
SL: (Exhales) That was like . . .
PK: Your first difficult decision?
SL: Yeah, it was very difficult. I thought it was going to be fine but the two of us were rookies and didn’t have a clue what was going on, and you need someone to guide you. So Dermo started that week and we went to Akron a week after and I remember signing my card and looking at the sheet and thinking, ‘Fucking hell! Thirty-two grand!’
PK: And this from a guy who says he never played for money!
SL: (Smiles) I know, yeah.
PK: How long did it take before you felt you belonged?
SL: I finished third in a tournament in Japan at the end of the season, and fourth in Abu Dhabi at the start of the following year, so probably after that. I finished 61st (in the money list) that year which was a pretty decent showing, but I played a lot of tournaments and was sick of golf by the end of the season. And then I broke my wrist at Christmas 2010.
SL: I fell.
SL: (He smiles and shakes his head.)
PK: Were you singing the Offaly Rover?
SL: Yeah, possibly.
SL: Nobody knows that.
PK: That you broke your wrist?
SL: Yeah, it was around the time of the bad snow and I slipped on the ice. I thought it was just a sprain and left it for four or five days and then I went to Tullamore for an X-ray. It was the 23rd of December and there was a junior doctor on. He says, “It looks like your scaphoid is broken, but you’ll have to come back tomorrow.” They put it in plaster for the night and I went home to my mother and father and we thought it was the end of the world! But I went back a couple of weeks later and it was healing okay but I didn’t play until the end of March that year.
PK: So you’re off to a slow start.
SL: Yeah, things weren’t going well.
PK: But you finish fourth in the PGA at Wentworth in May?
SL: Yeah, and that’s a story. I’m playing well (on the last day) and birdie 16 and 17 to go from 20th to the top 10, which — if you play for money — is worth about a hundred grand at Wentworth. I hit my tee shot down the last and I’ve 240 front (240 yards to the front of the green), wind is out of the right and the pin is back-left with water all around the green. So Dermo gives me the numbers and says: “What do you think?” I say, “Well, I didn’t come here to lay up.” And I knock it on and hole the putt and finish fourth, which was obviously . . .
PK: A moment.
SL: Yeah, I look back on that as a significant part of my career. And I qualified for the US Open at Congressional the following day.
PK: And Rory’s first Major title?
SL: Yeah, I played with him on the Wednesday and remember going back to the house that evening and Conor was there. I said, “There’s no way he’ll finish outside the top five this week.” It was unbelievable. I played nine holes with him and felt like a ten handicapper walking off the course.
PK: That must be dispiriting?
SL: It was at the time. And I think it affected me that week. My perception of US Open courses was that they were so hard: I was out early and shot one-over the first day and was pretty happy with that, but then guys were shooting six-under that afternoon. So it was a bit of a learning curve but they are only mistakes if you don’t learn from them.
PK: And what was the mistake?
SL: I just gave the course too much respect.
PK: How did it feel watching someone you’d grown up with win a Major?
SL: Yeah, it was great, but I’d watched Graeme (McDowell), who I’d become friendly enough with, win one a year before, which was amazing . . . but yeah, Rory was unbelievable that week.
PK: The next highlight of your own career was the Portuguese Masters in 2012 — a second Tour win but your first as a pro?
SL: Yeah, I was getting frustrated. I’d had a few top tens and some good finishes but you want to win.
PK: The interesting thing about Portugal was that you weren’t in great form going into it: On the Monday of the Portugal Masters Shane Lowry broke up with his girlfriend. On Tuesday he packed his frazzled heart and boarded a plane.
SL: (Laughs) Who the fuck wrote that!
PK: When he arrived he didn’t practise. Didn’t play in the Pro-Am. On Wednesday he walked a few holes. Moping. He said to his caddy that it was the kind of week that something mad might happen. It wasn’t a prediction. It was more for the want of something to say.
SL: Who wrote that?
PK: Denis Walsh in The Sunday Times. He quotes you: “I didn’t know whether I even wanted to be there. Then, all of a sudden, it was like I was playing golf with a free mind. There were no distractions. I just played golf.”
PK: You obviously got the bullet?
SL: We broke up on Monday and it was my ex-girlfriend, yeah, but I don’t really want to talk about it.
PK: Sure, but it’s interesting given how things unfolded?
SL: Yeah it’s strange . . . when you’ve got stuff going on in your head it’s not easy, but when you play with a free mind there’s no better place to be.
PK: It was an important win because it put you on the bubble of the world’s top 50 and kick-started the next phase of your career. Does anything stand out?
SL: (Smiles) Clara were playing in the county final that day against Rhode and I remember looking over at my father on the 15th tee — I think I was one ahead — and he says, “Clara were beaten.” I was like, “For fuck’s sake!” Then Dermo says: “You’re the only man left standing in Clara today, so go and do it.”
3 ‘As if that shot wasn’t hard enough!’
My mum, Bridget, gave me a bit of stick, not really giving out, but she said the interview I did with RTé afterwards was good. I thought I took it on the chin. Even Paul McGinley said to me he felt I handled it well. To be honest, it was going through my mind for 15 holes so I had time to think about it. And I’m not the first, and won’t be the last player, to take his frustration out on a putter.
– The Shane Lowry Column
June 2015 (Irish Times)
PK: There was a lot of speculation after you won the Irish Open about how you would do as a pro and there was a quote attributed to someone close to you: ‘To do well he only has to be Shane.’
SL: That sounds like something Neil (Manchip) would say.
PK: My question is: at what stage was “only being Shane” no longer enough, because I know you’ve had at least one session with (the sports psychologist) Enda McNulty?
SL: I’ve had a few sessions with him.
SL: I actually don’t know, and that’s being honest. I think it was more of an outside influence, someone got me to go, because I definitely didn’t think I needed to do it myself. I just said, “Yeah, I’ll go and see him.”
SL: It might have been the end of 2012. And if the truth were known I did it behind Neil’s back, because Neil wouldn’t be up for that at all.
PK: But you had won in Portugal late that year?
PK: So that wouldn’t make sense?
SL: Yeah, I have no idea. It was actually me-not-being-me because (otherwise) I’d have said, “No, I’m fine. I’m happy with what I’m doing.” We had a couple of sessions. He was good but a bit too intense for me. I can see how the rugby lads like him, and use him, but it’s definitely not me. Maybe at some stage I’ll feel the need but I think Neil is well able to get into my head and get me in a good frame of mind.
PK: You snapped your putter at the Irish Open last year?
SL: It’s not the first club I snapped.
PK: And not the first time your mammy gave out to you?
SL: (Laughs) Yeah, listen, Irish Opens are not the easiest tournaments we play in, and I’m not making excuses, but I probably put myself under too much pressure to do well. It was a tough day on Friday, windy, and I missed a two-footer for par on the 12th. I came off the green and was walking to the next tee with the head of the putter in my hand and I hit it off one of the poles for the ropes, and bent the grip.
PK: Which meant you had . . .
SL: I had altered the plane of the putter and couldn’t use it. I just went “Fuck!” and threw it into the bush.
PK: Neil couldn’t stay for the entire round — he had some family commitments back home — so when he called me that evening the issue was obviously the main topic on the agenda. What did he say? Most of it I will keep to myself, if you don’t mind. Actually, I do mind! What did he say?
SL: (Laughs) Well, Neil would be like: ‘Do you know what, Shane? It’s not ideal what you did today but that’s the person you are, and there’s no point in changing that.’ I just felt stupid. It’s not ideal what I did; kids shouldn’t be seeing that; we’re supposed to be role models.
PK: Who were the heroes when you were a kid?
SL: Tiger. I had a friend, Noel Egan, and we used to stay up every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to watch the golf, and to watch Tiger, that was it. We used to hate if Tiger lost.
SL: Yeah. I remember at the time Vijay (Singh) was doing well and Ernie (Els) was quite strong, and I like Ernie and get on great with him now, but I used to hate if they won. Tiger was the man.
PK: You said in one of your columns last year — it might have been from the Masters — that you were on the practice range one day and you noticed him chatting to Pádraig?
SL: Yeah, it was at Augusta last year: myself and Pádraig were having a chipping competition and Tiger was there, watching. And I was nervous hitting a shot in front if him!
SL: It’s funny, even with Phil (Mickelson) . . . We were in Doral last week and I’m standing on the third tee-box waiting to hit my tee-shot as Phil is walking off the 16th green. So he stops and, no joke, stands about three yards from me! There’s water down the right and the wind is howling out of the left and I hit my tee-shot down the fairway and handed my club to Dermo: “As if that fucking shot wasn’t hard enough without Phil looking at me!”
SL: But Tiger is . . .
PK: Have you ever spoken to him?
SL: No. I just want to play with him once, just so I can tell my kids, because in my eyes — and I wasn’t around for the Nicklaus era obviously — I think Tiger is the greatest.
PK: Do you?
SL: Yeah, I know Nicklaus has a better record but Tiger changed the game and I just think there were more guys in the Tiger era who could win Majors.
PK: What about Tom Watson and Gary Player and Arnold Palmer? These guys weren’t duds.
SL: I know, but I think (the depth of talent) was broader — there were 100 guys (who could win) as opposed to 20 or 30. But that’s an argument you could have all day.
PK: So Tiger in golf. What about other sports?
SL: Roy Keane. I used to watch Man United and (Eric) Cantona and Lee Sharpe — I used to love Lee Sharpe! I know, strange. And then the GAA — Brian Whelahan and Johnny Dooley.
PK: Have you met Keane?
SL: Yes actually. I’ve a friend who knows Martin O’Neill and I went out to the team hotel in Castleknock after I won the Bridgestone last year. It might have been the week before the All-Ireland final because Bernard Brogan was there and we sat for a couple of hours with Martin, Roy Keane and a couple of the backroom team. It was brilliant, amazing, just talking about everything.
PK: O’Neill is an interesting man.
SL: Yeah, I played golf with him the following week after they beat Gibraltar away and Georgia at home, a lovely man.
PK: Roy didn’t play.
PK: Did he tell you he hates golf?
PK: He did?
SL: (Laughs) Yeah, he actually did. It was funny.
PK: The Bridgestone was your first win in the US, and the third of your career. How do the three wins compare?
SL: All very different. After I won the Bridgestone, I (made the point) that the Irish Open had kick-started my career and that the Bridgestone could kick-start the next phase — and I still feel that. The Irish Open got me my card in Europe and allowed me to find my feet: the Bridgestone gets me a card in America and puts me in all the big tournaments. But I am obviously a much different player
PK: I was thinking more in terms of how they compared emotionally?
SL: The Bridgestone is streets ahead.
SL: Every win is different and special in its own right but I remember after the Bridgestone, I flew up to Whistling Straits (for the PGA Championship) that evening and I met Pádraig and Ronan (Harrington’s caddie, Ronan Flood) and we had a couple of drinks. It was the week of a Major and we were taking it easy but I remember lying in bed that night just buzzing. I couldn’t sleep. And the reaction from home was unbelievable.
PK: It’s pretty obvious that you love Pádraig.
PK: The surprise is how much he loves you.
SL (Laughs) Yeah, it’s strange but we didn’t have much of a relationship the first years I was a pro, maybe because he was in America more and was different, but we are the best of friends now. I grew up watching Pádraig win his Majors and to be able to hang around with someone like that is just great.
PK: You’re on record as saying that you regard him as our greatest ever sportstar?
SL: Yeah. I still think that, not many have won more Majors than him. (Harrington is tied-29th in the list of Major winners.)
PK: But one of them happens to be another Irishman?
SL: (Smiles) Yeah, well, I know what you’re saying. Rory will probably be our greatest ever but he’s still at such an early stage in his career and I think people are quick to forget what Pádraig has done . . . to win three majors! Even to win the ‘Honda’ (Classic) last year! So I think people take him for granted, and the success we’ve had — Pádraig’s Majors, Rory’s Majors, Graeme’s Major, Darren’s Major — for granted, and if you’re not winning big tournaments you’re a nobody.
PK: It’s a Ryder Cup year and you started your season in January at the Eurasia Cup (a team event between Asia and Europe). What kind of experience was that?
SL: Yeah, I enjoyed it. (Ian) Poulter was unbelievable — he gave a speech one of the evenings and I felt like running through the door for him. I said to one of the lads: “If I had to hit a tee-shot now I’d hit if 400 yards down the middle!” We took it seriously and were definitely the better team and it was special to play for Europe in such a high-level tournament. I can only imagine what the Ryder Cup would be like.
PK: And that’s the target?
SL: I can’t say it’s the target.
PK: Why not? Is that not the next logical step?
SL: It is a logical step, and I’ll find it hard to sit back and watch it if it doesn’t happen because I feel I’m good enough to be there. But it’s not my main goal for the season and with the schedule I’m playing, I’ve put myself up against Rory and Sergio (Garcia) and Justin Rose and it’s going to be hard to make the team.
PK: What about the Olympics? I know your caddy is pretty excited about it, do you feel the same way?
SL: Yeah, to walk out with the boxers and the athletes wearing the green tracksuits in the opening ceremony would be pretty special. But that’s if I make the team. I’m still slow to talk about it because Pádraig and Graeme are there as well and could have a good season.
PK: So you’re not counting your chickens?
SL: I’m not counting my chickens but I really want to play the Olympics, yeah, I do. It would be cool just to experience it. And to win a medal! Imagine having an Olympic medal in the house?
PK: It would be almost as good as an All-Ireland?
PK: The only real negative last year — given how much you were looking forward to it — was your missed cut at the Masters?
SL: Yes. I had a good crew with me last year, and I enjoyed it, but I need to be more ruthless. Most weeks I stay in a hotel and I’m back in the room at half-eight each night and have time to think and time for myself. At the Masters I took (rented) a house and there were just too many people around. And Augusta was just . . . I’d imagine it’s like the first time you play in Croke Park and you stand there looking around and you’re not used to it. But I’ve learned. I’ll have my game face on this year.
PK: Your game face looks a bit different than it did in ’09?
PK: The beard. You’re in a couple of commercials now on TV in the States and it’s almost a part of your identity.
SL: It actually is, I’ll tell you how it happened: I was at the World Cup with Graeme in Australia a couple of years ago and I had two good friends living in Melbourne. I was doing ‘Movember’ at the time and had this stupid moustache but we went off for a bit of a holiday and I didn’t bother shaving. So I got home and hadn’t shaved in two or three weeks and Wendy says to me, we had been going out about six months at the time, ‘That actually suits you.’ I said, ‘Does it?’ And that was it. I kept it going and shaved it off about six months later and I’ve never been so devastated in my whole life.
PK: That you shaved it off?
SL: Yeah, so I grew it back and I think it’s definitely a part of me now. People know me for having a beard! (Laughs) And Wendy still likes it, so that’s one of the main things.
PK: Pádraig was asked recently in a questionnaire to rate his happiness from zero to ten.
SL: (Laughs) I saw his answer . . . what was it again?
PK: He said: ‘Ten. And if it was nine, I’d still tell you ten. My subconscious needs to know it’s ten.’
SL: Yeah, I’m pretty happy at the minute. Life is good.
SL: Yeah, I think I’m a ten at the minute. I’ve got my PGA Tour card, I’m playing in big tournaments, I’m up there in the world rankings — which is not the be all and end all — and my home life is good.
PK: What does Wendy do?
SL: She’s a nurse.
PK: You’re getting married?
SL: This year.
PK: It’s set? There’s a date?
SL: (Laughs) End of the year.