Birthday boy Shane Lowry hopes to have reason to celebrate in Augusta 'All-Ireland final'
Shane Lowry found the perfect way to celebrate his 29th birthday last Saturday by combining work with pleasure and playing the Augusta National golf course.
At first sight, it looked to be a bittersweet treat, because Lowry had hoped to be contending for the Shell Houston Open title.
That plan was scuppered by a missed cut, so Lowry decided to avail of his unscheduled time off to slot in an early pre-Masters practice round. Accompanied by coach Neil Manchip and caddie Dermot Byrne, the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational champion happily found the experience a balm to the wounds of his Texas disappointment.
Looking fit and fresh amid the hustle and bustle of the start to Masters week, Lowry yesterday reflected on that slightly surreal round of golf on the hallowed turf.
"Myself and Neil and Dermo walked around and we basically had the course to ourselves. There's no better place to be on your birthday, so it was nice. We pretty much had the course to ourselves. It was amazing. It was quiet. You look out on the course there today, and there's thousands of people," he said.
On the Saturday night, Lowry had a quiet celebration dinner with Manchip and Byrne, his fitness coach Robbie Cannon, former Irish Boys international Ricky Elliott who caddies for Brooks Koepka, and a friend from home, Brian Moran.
This is Lowry's second Masters. His debut at Augusta last year left him feeling somewhat frustrated as he missed the cut by a shot.
He reckons that the ambience and aura of the Masters seeped into his psyche a little too deeply, and perhaps the occasion got to him slightly, much like, Lowry imagines, a Gaelic footballer playing in his first All-Ireland final. This year his internal vision is more focused on performance, and getting to grips with the course which many say takes years to fully comprehend.
"Yeah, I imagine it's a bit like your first time playing in Croke Park. You're standing there looking around a little bit, and if you are not with it, you kind of zone out. Everything about this is different to any other week. It's such a special place to be here," he said.
By the time he tees off in Thursday's first round, Lowry plans to have 54 holes played - 18 last Saturday, and nine each day up to and including Wednesday. A 'feel' player who does his best to avoid excess analysis of course strategy, the key for Lowry is to loosen up and trust his instincts, something which is challenging in any professional tournament, let alone the Masters.
"I like to look at leaderboards but I need to just go and do my own thing. I have played great the last two days and I think I need start playing golf like that; with a bit more freedom.
"When I'm playing practice rounds, I go down and Dermot calls the number and I just hit it straight away. When it comes to the tournament, I just get a bit more tentative, and I need to loosen up and free up a little bit and play a bit that way. When I am at home and playing on my own, I have my pencil bag, and I throw it down and barely get a yardage, and I normally play good.
"I just need to get somewhere in between trying too hard to get it perfect, and not trying hard enough," he said.
Two clubs which are vital to have in the groove this week of all weeks, are the driver and the putter, and for the Masters, it's all change for Lowry.
His beloved driver, which served him well for six years, broke recently, resulting in the Offaly native undertaking some serious experimentation with the big stick before he found a Srixon driver which feels comfortable.
"I spent three days hitting drivers and I think it just messed up my rhythm a little bit last week, but the driver I got is really good," he said.
The putter on duty is an old reliable two-ball putter which he picked up in Abu Dhabi in 2010. The club served Lowry well in his WGC-Bridgestone win.
"Your imagination comes into play a lot here, which is for me, a bit of feel.
"I went back to my old putter because it has a smaller grip, a skinny grip. I used it last year at Bridgestone, it is in and out (of the bag)," he said.
The season so far has not lived up to Lowry's hopes following that big win on the PGA Tour last year at Akron, Ohio. Patience is required, as he well knows.
"It is not going great to be honest. Patience, yeah. I still have to be patient and keep going. Last year was a bit slow and it ended up being a great year. There's a long way to go yet," he said.
Lowry's work on the greens has not been as sharp as he would like and that is an area which needs improvement. The good news is he senses a glimmer of hope in that aspect.
"I probably haven't been putting as well as I should be which is what you have to do in those positions. I went back to an old putter last week, and I really felt like I hit some really good putts.
"I was struggling a lot with left-to-righters and I feel I have found something to combat that.
"I left myself with a lot of 40-footers, and pace putting was really good which is what you need around here."