Sport Golf

Saturday 24 August 2019

Harrington: I really hope Shane is leading Europe out at the Ryder Cup

Harrington: “This is as good as it gets in golf.” Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire
Harrington: “This is as good as it gets in golf.” Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

Brian Keogh and Jamie Corrigan

Pádraig Harrington does not see The Open as a stepping stone for Shane Lowry but confirmation that he's arrived at the summit and ready to lead Europe's Ryder Cup defence in the US next year.

Qualifying for the 2020 clash of Harrington's European team with Steve Stricker's USA does not begin until September's BMW PGA at Wentworth. But Harrington believes that the new world No 17 and Race to Dubai leader is not the kind of player the Americans will relish facing at Whistling Straits by windy Lake Michigan.

Asked if he wanted the new Open champion to lead his team into battle, Harrington said: "Yes. It is likely to be windy, tough conditions. Shane is a strong player - obviously, he can handle the pressure. I really hope he is leading the team out."

While Sunday's epic six-shot win at Royal Portrush was only Lowry's fourth win in a ten-year professional career - his first came as an amateur in the 2009 Irish Open at Co Louth - the man who opened the floodgates for a string of European Major successes does not believe the Offaly man has anything more to prove.

For the Dubliner, talk of The Open as a stepping stone for Lowry is wide of the mark.

"This is as good as it gets in golf," Harrington said. "It was brilliant.

"He has proved he can win on the big, big occasions. He proves he can handle the pressure. This isn't a catalyst - this is it. This is what it is.

Heart-stopping

"You shouldn't think of this as a stepping stone, you should think of this as where he is. I don't think too many players in the game of golf would relish playing against him in the final rounds."

Given the quality of his previous wins - the Irish Open as a 22-year old amateur, the Portugal Masters in 2012 for his first as a pro and those heart-stopping victories in the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship back in January - Harrington knew Lowry had the right stuff to win a Major title.

"Every win he has won has been a big win at that stage of his career," he said. "He has the ability to win under extreme pressure."

Meanwhile, Darren Clarke strongly considered Lowry for a wild-card pick for the 2016 Ryder Cup, but, by then, he had already started his slump after painfully blowing a four-shot lead in the final round of that year's US Open.

As he fell out of the world's top 90, Lowry was not even in the shake-up for last year's match in Paris, despite Clarke's successor, Thomas Bjorn, being one of his biggest admirers.

"Shane has such heart and such a brilliant matchplay game that I was desperate to have him in the team, but his results just had not been good enough," Bjorn said. "What an asset he will now be to Europe."

One player who knows all about Lowry's matchplay prowess is Rory McIlroy, who partnered him in the Irish amateur team.

After missing the cut at Royal Portrush, the world No 3 is back home in Florida, but posted a social media picture of himself and Lowry together when they were teenagers.

"Even though last week wasn't the week I had envisaged for myself, I couldn't be happier and more proud of @shanelowrygolf," McIlroy wrote. "How he handled everything over the weekend... emotions, nerves and conditions tells you everything I've gotten to know about him over the past 15 years."

Jack Nicklaus, the 18-time Major winner, joined in the tributes, as did others outside golf, including President Michael D Higgins and racing legend Tony McCoy.

Graeme McDowell explained why staying at 17th in the world rankings should be the least of Lowry's ambitions.

"Shane has been playing in Rory's shadow a bit," McDowell said. "Shane can create his own shadows now. Pete Cowen [the coach] tells a story of when he went to check out the Irish amateur squad and being asked, 'What do you think of young Rory?' 'Yeah, he's a superstar,' Pete replied, 'but you've got another one there, the slightly overweight kid with the glasses on'. That was Shane.

"He's a phenomenal driver of the ball and might be the best chipper I've ever seen."

Amid this excitement and high praise came a note of caution from Danny Willett. Lowry has chosen to skip this week's WGC event in Memphis and, with the festivities still raging in Dublin, that is undoubtedly wise. However, Lowry is due to return to the PGA Tour in two weeks' time and play the three FedEx play-off events.

While Willett would never dissuade anyone from aiming for the $15 million bonus the FedEx winner will pick up in Atlanta, he did have advice for Lowry. Willett won the Masters in 2016, was tipped for huge things and then spiralled to 342nd in the world, before a revival in which he finished in a tie for sixth on Sunday.

"My advice to Shane would be to take some time off," Willett said. "Spend it with your family and friends, enjoy what you accomplished. It's very easy to get pulled in different directions and sent around the world. Be a little bit selfish and do what's right for you. I played too much golf when I didn't really fancy it. If I could go back, I'd do it differently."

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