Tuesday 27 September 2016

Shane Lowry delays US Open trip for Offaly game

Published 18/05/2016 | 02:30

Shane Lowry speaks to the media during a press conference at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation at The K Club ANDREW REDINGTON/GETTY
Shane Lowry speaks to the media during a press conference at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation at The K Club ANDREW REDINGTON/GETTY

Dedicated Offaly fan Shane Lowry will delay his departure for the US Open to support his county team in their Leinster Football Championship derby against Westmeath in Mullingar on June 12.

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Oakmont? The second Major of the season? Yes, but all in good time.

The heart of the GAA beats within Lowry's breast, and as the son of former Offaly All-Ireland winner Brendan, he just cannot miss this opportunity to follow the Faithful County.

Nine years elapsed between Offaly's previous Leinster victory in 2007 and Sunday's home win over Longford.

That was two years before Lowry carved a niche in European Tour history by winning the Irish Open at County Louth in 2009 as an amateur.

Languished

Since then, the golfer has risen to greater heights while the Offaly footballers has languished in the doldrums, so Lowry won't miss the chance to support his county in Mullingar.

Last Saturday, he sent a text to Offaly boss Pat Flanagan from The Players Championship in Sawgrass, urging the team to break their Leinster hoodoo, and monitored their progress in the match the following day.

"The first half I listened in my bedroom, and the second half I was listening to it in the locker-room, and then went into the players' lounge, and Pádraig (Harrington) listened to the last ten minutes with me," he said.

"Yeah, it was nice, and it's great, we got a win. People laugh at me. I said to Pádraig, 'it's all right for you, you get to experience that every year.' It was great for them to get the win. I know a few of them. It was nice."

Irish sports fans will understand that deep-rooted county GAA loyalty. Foreign media might take a sceptical view of anyone eschewing a likely practice round on the Sunday of US Open week in favour of a football game, but this is the essence of Lowry's popularity in Ireland.

Getting back to golf, he smiled at the memory when it was pointed out to him that yesterday, May 17, was the anniversary of that stunning Irish Open victory when the then amateur Lowry defeated Robert Rock in a play-off.

"It was probably the biggest highlight of my career, I would say," he said. "To win your home tournament as an amateur, I don't think many people will do that in the game.

"Seven years ago today, it feels like. . . well, it is a long time ago, but I don't know where those seven years have gone. I feel like I've come a long way as a player and as a person. I'd just love some day to win it as a pro as well."

The Irish Open in 2009 accelerated Lowry's move to the professional game, and last year's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational triumph opened the doors to a full PGA Tour card.

A steady level of progress has underpinned Lowry's career and he hopes to maintain that trend.

"Yeah, the Irish Open, then I came on Tour, and it took me a little while to get the hang of that. Started making cuts. Started getting myself in positions to win, competing," he said.

"Then it took me a few years to win again, to win in Portugal, and kind of kick on from that.

"Almost breaking into the Top 50 in the world, took me a couple of years to do that. Breaking into the Top‑50 in the world, and then you're playing in the big tournaments, and then I go and win last year in Firestone, and I'm up another level again."

Life on the PGA Tour has required further adjustment. He has only played twice in The Masters and twice in The Players Championship, and improved his performance level second time round.

Learning

"Going to America, myself and Dermot (Byrne, his caddie), we are over there, learning about new courses, and doing the same thing as we did seven years ago in Europe, basically," he said.

"I'm a better player than I was then, but you're learning to compete against the Americans on the American courses, and it's probably going to take a little bit of time to get my head around that, and to get my grasp of doing it.

Lowry's learning curve got steeper when he teed off alongside world No 1 Jason Day in round three of The Players Championship at Sawgrass last Saturday.

Rounds of 65 and 68 set him up for a big challenge, but he slumped to 78 on a day of carnage when Tour officials revved the stimpmeter up to 17 on the greens.

"The next time I'm out with Jason Day on a Saturday or the world No 1, whoever it is, things will probably be a little bit different," he said.

"I'm not saying I let the nerves get to me. I just got off to a bad start. I played great after that. You know, missed a couple of short putts coming in. Other than that, it would have been a really good bounce-back, and I still would have been in the tournament come the weekend," said Lowry.

Meanwhile, Padraig Harrington, the Irish Open champion of 2007, attended Christy O'Connor Senior's funeral yesterday morning.

Harrington viewed O'Connor as an inspiration to golfers of all levels, including his own father, Paddy, who played for Cork in the 1957 All-Ireland football final.

"I was reminded today, my dad got into golf because of Christy, so I wouldn't be playing golf if it wasn't for Christy," he said.

"Christy Senior, he was the Arnold Palmer of his time. He would have been taking up pages in the paper, sports-wise, and dad would have been reading about him, big time. That's why he took up golf after football."

Rory McIlroy played nine holes in practice yesterday and looked comfortable with his game. He was in Dublin last night for his Foundation's charity event with Alex Ferguson.

Irish Independent

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