Lowry a shining light for amateur dreams
SHANE LOWRY fielded the question of the day from European Tour colleague Peter Lawrie as they ambled down the 16th fairway on the Killeen Course at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club.
Clara man Lowry dramatically changed the perception of amateurs playing at the '3' Irish Open with his astonishing victory last year at Baltray. Never again will anyone say 'never' when it comes to the prospects of an amateur winning one of Europe's most prestigious national open championships!
Lawrie, a quietly perceptive Dubliner, nodded to their two companions in yesterday's practice round, leading Irish amateurs Paul Cutler and Cian Curley, and said to Lowry: "You see these two lads here, this is you at this time before last year's Irish Open.
"You know Shane, what you did at Baltray must give them great hope for what they can do in the game. Did you have any expectations going into the event?"
"No," replied Lowry, clearly needing little time to consider his answer. "All along, I wanted to make the cut and get four rounds. I got off to a bad start last year. I remember being two over through four and eventually shooting five-under par that first day.
"Obviously, after the 62 in the second round, I was leading the tournament but until Friday evening, I never had any expectations. Even shooting that 62, I didn't even know it happened until I came in and signed my card. It went so quick, I can hardly remember doing it."
Now 23 and well settled into his career as a professional, he looks back on last year's "life-changing events" and suggests the five formidable amateurs in this year's field at Killarney could overturn the odds and follow his footsteps to victory at the Irish Open.
Irish Amateur Open champion Alan Dunbar, 2009 Close winner Pat Murray, Lytham Trophy hero Cutler, East of Ireland kingpin Curley and French invitee Victor Dubuisson (20), who became world No 1 with last year's victory at the European Amateur Championship, all have the raw talent to make waves by Lough Leane this week.
"In a way, it's different for them because I knew Baltray so well," Lowry continued. "Also, with the roped fairways, the crowds, the grandstands, the Tour vans and everything else you find at a European Tour event, it is going to be different for them.
"Yet, as I said to the two lads this morning, they are playing well, so just go ahead and give it a rip. If you don't make the cut, you don't make the cut. Just go out and see what happens.
"If you play good enough golf, especially out there this week, you'll do well. There's a lot of chances out there, so if you're on your game, you could finish right up there."
Darren Clarke described Lowry's efforts last year as "amazing -- I tried, God knows, for 17 or 18 years as a pro to win the Irish Open and never managed it. What Shane did was fantastic but it's not beyond the realms of possibility for someone to do it again."
Pablo Martin and Danny Lee, the only other two players to have won as amateurs on the European Tour, are also in the field this week, giving Dunbar, Cutler, Curley & Co further reason to dream.
Yet they'll keep their expectations to the minimum when they tee it up tomorrow, according to Dunbar (20), a member of the Rathmore club in Portrush, who has grown up with US Open Champion Graeme McDowell as mentor and friend.
Though he concedes that Lowry's heroics last summer inevitably boosts the confidence of every amateur who tees it up in future at the Irish Open, Dunbar went on: "It's still something that doesn't happen very often, so I'll just have to see how it goes this week.
"Obviously, I've made my plans," added the youngster, who played for the first time with Rory McIlroy in a practice round with Clarke yesterday. "My main goal is to get through to the weekend."
Which, of course, is precisely the same formula applied by Lowry as he performed sporting alchemy at Co Louth last year.
As Lowry lives a professional idyll, Padraig Harrington confessed yesterday he'd be "devastated" not to play in the upcoming Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor -- though Dublin's three-time Major champion restated his determination to play his way into Colin Montgomerie's team.
"I'm in a very perilous situation," he agreed. "I'd be gutted if I don't play (the Ryder Cup), absolutely. I'd be absolutely devastated."
Yet as European vice-captain Clarke restated his determination to play his own way into the European team, he insisted he "cannot envisage" Harrington "not being on that team in Wales, though I'm not the captain".
"We all know how good a player he is and it'll be good to see him qualify for the team," Clarke said. "He's a world-class player."