Sport Golf

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Lowry is of that rare breed with real desire

Brian Keogh

Published 22/06/2015 | 02:30

Shane Lowry in action at Chambers Bay on Saturday
Shane Lowry in action at Chambers Bay on Saturday

Shane Lowry might not appear to have much in common with Pablo Picasso or Keith Richards, but making the complex look easy is something that's only within the compass of life's geniuses.

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"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child," Picasso once said.

Richards' guitar-style is as under-rated as his Pirates of the Caribbean look that gives the impression that he threw on whatever he happened to find on the hotel room floor when he regained consciousness that morning.

As for Lowry, keen observers of the big Clara man might have noticed last night that he's got a raw athleticism about him these days - a Ray Floyd-like ability to exude strength and finesse simultaneously, part of an ambitious plan to prepare the pride of Co Offaly for life as a Ryder Cup player and perennial major contender.

Like his magical short game, it's no accident that he's moving so well. As his strength and conditioning coach, Robbie Cannon, will tell you, a fitter, leaner Lowry went into the final round of last night's US Open looking every inch a contender, not just because he killed himself in the gym over the winter, but because he's gifted.

"Shane played a lot of sports growing up and thanks to this, he has really fantastic movement skills," says Cannon, who watched with pride as his star pupil averaged 314 yards off the tee heading into last night's final round. "You don't swing the golf club as sweetly as he does without them."

Lowry, as they say, chose his parents well with All Ireland-winning dad Brendan and mother Bridget giving him that exciting cocktail of sporting genes and a winning personality that makes his every inch the People's Champion.

His Scottish coach, Neil Manchip, often jokes about the TV commentators who gush about his man's mesmerising short game skills.

"Magnificent touch from the big man," he chortles, knowing full well that it's a skill Lowry worked himself to the bone to develop as a teenager at Esker Hills.

"I was at An Taoiseach's dinner last night," Lowry said at the end of 2009, just a few months after he'd won the Irish Open as an amateur. "Christy Jnr was there and that's what he was telling me to do. Just arse about the chipping green and keep a wedge in your hand and play different shots, any you can think of."

Lowry had already spent his youth doing precisely that before heading off to Augusta National for his Masters debut in April, he was fully aware that he was on the brink of crossing the Rubicon in the game.

"I have been doing the right things on and off the course and I never put as much into my golf," he said of his ambitions for 2015, having finally broken into the world's Top 50 with that fifth-place finish in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai at the end of last year.

Amazingly, Lowry was disqualified in the first two senior events he played as an amateur - signing for a wrong score in qualifying for the 2006 West of Ireland at Rosses Point and then forgetting to sign his card at all in the Irish Amateur Open at Portmarnock a few weeks later.

That fed the perception of him as the happy-go-lucky, somewhat scatterbrained, pint-loving, GAA-watching, rugby-following Offaly man the fans love. But while there is something of the truth in it, it's hardly the true story of an elite sportsman in the 21st century, as we saw last week at Chambers Bay.

"He trains hard on his weeks off as he has more recovery time and during tournament weeks he does two light sessions," says conditioning coach Cannon.

"He is a very focused guy and mentally very tough."

Master professional Pete Cowen, who has coached some of the best players in the world from Lee Westwood and Henrik Stenson to Padraig Harrington and Louis Oosthuizen, will never forget the first time he laid eyes on the pride of Clara during a coaching session as a consultant for the GUI.

Talented

"There were a lot of talented players at that first session, but two of them stood out, a curly head little kid from Holywood and a fat kid with glasses," Cowen recalls of the day he saw Lowry display some of the skills he used to such great effect at Chambers Bay.

Of course, the great coach made sure he imparted the same fundamentals he has taught all his students from the word go - the three Rs. And both McIlroy and Lowry, were clearly listening.

"Respect yourself, don't show anyone your weakness, respect the people who help you. And take responsibility for your own actions."

Cowen made sure he underlined the tenets of his philosophy for Lowry and McIlroy and they responded in a way that told him that Ireland had two rare talents.

Lowry is one of that rare breed of sportsmen with the talent to go with the desire. "I always wanted to do it, even when I was 14-years-old playing off 18," he said nearly six years ago, when he played 20 events as a pro and missed 10 cuts.

"Then I gradually started getting better every year and getting my handicap down. Then, all of a sudden, I got into the Irish Boys Squad, I was 17, 2005, I'll never forget that.

"I wasn't supposed to be on that panel - Rory was supposed to be on it, but didn't come, so I was put on as 14th man, won one of the trials, was second in the other, made the team and just kicked on from there really. Rory was 15, but was playing men's golf.

"When I was there, I realised this is what I always wanted to do and, thankfully, my parents let me do it."

It's been gradual, structured improvement since then from a player who is now 28 and more than ready to become a world star with his PGA Tour card in his back pocket and a game that's the envy of millions.

And while he is not a player who likes to think too deeply about technique, Lowry is highly critical of himself and knows what works for him. "I'm not very technically minded," he admits. "The work I do with my coach, Neil Manchip, is quite simple. Hopefully, I can stay with Neil for the rest of my career

"If you look back over the last few years, I tried too hard at first to make cuts, didn't make them and then learned how to do it. Then I tried too hard to do well, didn't do well, then started. Tried too hard to win, then relaxed and won. This is just another step in my career."

His week in Washington began in sensational fashion with a one under 69 in the tough afternoon conditions .

Lowry had fallen in love with the examination that the USGA's Mike Davis had set and having excelled in the Open at Muirfield in 2013 and clinched his first Top 10 in a major in similarly fast conditions at Royal Liverpool last year, there was no question of shirking this test.

Like most professional golfers, Lowry is not averse to complaining or even losing this temper, as he showed in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Royal County Down, when he bent his putter in anger during the second round and had to putt with a wedge.

Fortunately, as most Lowry fans already know, he's an artist with a wedge and while he's happy to wear his heart on his sleeve and blow off steam now and again, he made a conscious decision to take the rough with the smooth at Chambers Bay.

A second round 70 left him perfectly placed at halfway and while he dropped a few late shots on Saturday to card another 70 to go into last night's final round tied for fifth, four shots behind co-leaders Jason Day, Branden Grace, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, he's clearly mentally ready to make take that next stage in his career.

Asked what it might mean to clinch the title, Lowry said: "I don't know. I don't know. It would obviously mean everything.

Chance

"So, yeah, I'm going to go out there and give it a 100pc tomorrow and what happens will happen. What will be, will be. I think if I played the way I played today, I should have a chance coming down the last few holes."

Legendary US coach Butch Harmon has seen a few good swingers of the club in his day, from Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. But he's clearly impressed by what he's seen of Lowry

"Look at those iron shots, they're like lasers," Harmon said in the build up to last night's final round.

"I like him. He's in a perfect position to win this major at one under. Nobody is talking about him. The media isn't talking about him. He goes out and shoots 32 or 33 on the front nine, look out."

Lowry planned to chill on Saturday night and it was significant that he sought the company of 2014 Ryder Cup skipper, Paul McGinley, a regular confidante. "I just told him enjoy it and embrace the challenge," McGinley explained last night.

Lowry would happily stay close to home and try to become the new Monty.

"I love going and playing tournaments where you're playing for €500,000 every week. Where would you get it?" he said just a few months after that legendary win in the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur.

Now he's playing for $5m and the challenge is the same, as he reminded himself when he walked up the 18th with Dermot Byrne on Saturday night.

"I said to my caddie coming up the last, it's probably one of the most enjoyable days I've had at a golf course in a while," Lowry revealed. "Being in contention in a tournament like this, what more do you want? It's great."

With a fiancee, a tight-knit family, a dedicated management team at Horizon Sports and most of Ireland behind him, Lowry's future looks brighter than ever.

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