Shane Lowry peaking at 'exactly the right time' to make his Ryder Cup mark at Hazeltine
As consolations go, Shane Lowry’s silver lining may very well prove to be platinum-tipped. The Irishman’s runner-up placing at the US Open has hurtled him back into Ryder Cup contention at what he believes to be “exactly the right time”.
The road to Hazeltine is most definitely getting shorter, as recognised by United States captain Davis Love III, who has declared that now is the stage to start considering prospective pairings. There are 10 weeks left in the qualifying campaigns and although much can still change, the teams are starting to take shape.
“When I looked at the list after Oakmont, my brain kicked in and I started thinking about who may play with who,” Love said. “It’s getting more solid up top.”
Lowry is not yet in the position to muse about who he would like to partner, but having leapt to 10th in the standings, just one place outside the automatic berths, he can certainly focus on Minnesota, knowing that his debut is just a few good performances away. Granted, the pain of conceding a four-shot lead in the final round will hurt for some time yet, but in the game of golf learning the lessons is everything. “If I didn’t do that I’d be silly,” Lowry said. “When I look back on this week, there will be a lot of positives to take from it, second place at the US Open, my best finish in a major, good ranking points, I’ve got more ahead for me now, and I’m hitting form at exactly the right time.”
Darren Clarke, the Europe captain, would have been delighted to have witnessed his fellow Irishman’s resurgence. Lowry showed he could handle the big time when winning the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron last year and was a valued member of the Europe team who crushed Asia in the EurAsia Cup Kuala Lumpur in January.
Lowry is missing the points-fest which will be next week’s France Open because he feels obliged to defend his WGC title, but he will be back in the race in the following week’s Scottish Open at Castle Stuart and, with his links pedigree, will fancy himself both there and at the Open Championship at Royal Troon the next week.
Jack Nicklaus is just one of the legends tipping the 29-year-old to build on his brush with major glory. “Shane’s such a good player and it isn’t a question that he doesn’t know how to win,” Nicklaus said. “It’s just how you apply what happened to you for the next time you are in a similar situation. He’ll ask himself, ‘What did I do, what cost me?’ and it’s how he responds to those questions.
“I remember Rory [McIlroy] after the Masters in 2011, in which he had shot that 80 [when also holding a four-shot lead]. I said to him, ‘Did you learn anything?’ And he said, ‘I think so’. He was getting ready to go to the US Open and so I said, ‘Well if you learnt something, apply it to your next situation’. And he won – by eight shots. So you learn from your mistakes but you also have to learn when you play well. You have to learn both ways.”
There can be no better advice for Lowry and it could have come from no better man. Nicklaus won 18 majors – but also finished second 19 times. But then, there is also the example of the winner for Lowry to use as inspiration. That dreaded moniker of “golf’s nearly man” was starting to stick to Dustin Johnson after so many close calls. But with that nonchalant swagger he shrugged it off and by the end not even the United States Golf Association’s bungling with a one-shot penalty could stop him.
Back in Georgia, Love watched on in pleasure as he reflected on the previous year’s US Open, when Johnson three-putted the 18th to hand the title to Jordan Spieth.
“I’m thrilled for Dustin after last year and the near misses he’s had,” Love said. “It wasn’t a wire-to-wire win, but he was in it the whole way. And that’s special at a place like Oakmont. On that type of course to really blow everyone away – he didn’t give them much of a chance down the stretch, he iced it – is phenomenal.”
Johnson was almost assured of his Ryder Cup place regardless, but now with a major he can emerge as one of Love’s leaders. The captain will look beyond the last staging, when Johnson withdrew with “personal issues”, and recall how the big hitter won three points out of three at Medinah in 2012. Johnson was one of the few Americans not to fold in that infamous Sunday singles session, beating Nicolas Colsaerts 3 & 2, and although he is a character of few words, he can make huge statements with his play. Hazeltine is a bomber’s course and is therefore made for Johnson.
There were other reasons for Love to feel chipper, not least Brooks Koepka rising to third in the standings courtesy of that incredible eight-hole stretch he played in eight under. The 26-year-old is the one rookie in Love’s automatic top eight at the moment and appears to have that fearless exuberance all teams need.
Yet perhaps Love reserved most of his joy for the display of a long-time friend. This was only Jim Furyk’s fifth event since an eight-month lay-off with a wrist problem, which required surgery. But by finishing alongside Lowry, the 46-year-old made a 10th successive Ryder Cup appearance a strong possibility.
“I’ve been hoping Jim would be able to come back from his injury and play well,” Love said. “He’s showed some signs and now with the T2 at Oakmont he jumped all the way from 50th to 17th. Here’s a guy at 17th who sat out a long, long time, missed a lot of tournaments, missed a major and a lot of his favourite tournaments. It’s nice to see him up there.”
Of course, Furyk will be at Hazeltine anyway, having been named as one of the vice-captains, but Love clearly wants him in that team room with his spikes on.
“When I was a younger player in Ryder Cups, everyone always looked to Maria and Raymond Floyd as that calming influence, people with experience that you could go and talk to about anything,” he said. “Watching Jim and [his wife] Tabitha last year at the President’s Cup and on so many teams together, they’re that influence. Heck, I’d even include Jim’s caddie, Mike ‘Fluff’ Cowen, in there too. Fluff has been a part of so many of these teams.
“So, yes, it’ll be great to have Jim as a vice-captain. As a player on the team, I’d think it would be even better to have him as a partner. He’s given some of the best little night-time speeches and rallies the guys so well when we need them to go out and do something. He’s a proven leader. That goes for Phil Mickelson too. They’re such a big part of these teams and it’s great to have them around.”