Wednesday 26 October 2016

Solid short-game foundation can inspire Major breakthrough

Published 20/06/2016 | 02:30

Shane Lowry hits his tee shot on the 9th hole during the third round of the U.S. Open. Photo: USA Today Sports
Shane Lowry hits his tee shot on the 9th hole during the third round of the U.S. Open. Photo: USA Today Sports

Even in the midst of his final round struggles Shane Lowry's short game and wedge play generated words of approval and admiration from TV commentators at Oakmont.

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The silky hands and soft arms as he slides the wedge through the ball in that trademark pouring-cream rhythm are to die for when Lowry is at his best.

This is no accident. A young Shane Lowry started out as an enthusiastic pitch and putt member of his local club in Clara, Co Offaly.

This was partly because the Lowry family's sporting tradition had nothing to do with golf.

Dad Brendan and Shane's uncles, Sean and Michael, all played on the Offaly football team which shocked the five-in-a-row-chasing Kerry team in the 1982 All-Ireland final.

Shane grew up with the love of the GAA but he didn't play much.

The pitch and putt caught his interest and from there he moved into golf as a young teenager.

He had little formal coaching, and as he says on his website:

"When I was a kid, I spent my summers playing pitch and putt on the local course with my mates.

"It was there, in Clara, Co Offaly, that I learned the basics and honed my short game without even knowing it.

"I started playing golf proper when I was 12. My family wasn't really into golf, so I taught myself how to play. I took every chance I had to get out on the course.

"I can't say it didn't frustrate my family and teachers a bit back then. I think they've forgiven me now though."

Lowry came to the notice of the Golfing Union of Ireland by his performances in under-age tournaments and his star gradually began to rise.

Rory McIlroy, three years younger than Lowry, was the poster boy of Irish amateur golf, winning all before him and smashing records as he did so.

To an extent, Lowry and some other fine players were overshadowed by McIlroy, but there was no jealousy.

Lowry did have a couple of embarrassing incidents that brought him unwanted attention.

Twice in 2006 - in the West of Ireland championship and the Irish Amateur Open - he failed to sign his card after good scores and was disqualified.

He also had the misfortune to leave his clubs beside his car after a round in the East of Ireland championship, and when he came back, they had been stolen.

His golf, however, and his latent talent, was not in question.

Around that time, the GUI had a consultancy arrangement with renowned golf coach Pete Cowen, who counts recently crowned Masters champion Danny Willett among his clients.

Cowen remarked to a GUI official, as he surveyed the panel of players at practice, that the big lad with glasses had "it", meaning the latent quality to make a career in the game.

In 2007, he won the West of Ireland, and also the Irish Close championship. The individual prize in the Nations Cup in Sotogrande was claimed in 2008.

In 2009, Lowry, a plus-5 handicap by then, was a very strong candidate for the GB & Ireland Walker Cup team to play the USA in Merion - and then came the Irish Open, held that year at Co Louth GC.

Amateur Lowry shocked everyone by staying in contention before sensationally defeating Robert Rock after an epic three-hole play-off at Baltray.

Who could resist the temptation to turn pro after that success? It was a no-brainer.

Conor Ridge, managing director of Horizon Sports, was justifiably delighted as he announced Lowry's signing and entry into the paid ranks. The two-year exemption gained from winning the Irish Open proved invaluable in giving Lowry time and space to learn his trade. He avoided Q-School, and began to make money. His first win as a pro came in the Portugal Masters in 2012.

The second took four years to arrive, but when it came, it was huge - the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone.

In terms of money, world rankings points and PGA Tour exemptions, the Bridgestone provided tangible rewards.

Equally, if not more important, the victory boosted Lowry's self-esteem and confidence as a world-class golfer. He may have come up short yesterday but a weekend at the business end of a Major championship will surely help the Offalyman take the next step.

Irish Independent

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