Wednesday 13 December 2017

Lowry looking to put positive start into his Baltusrol locker

Shane Lowry Picture credit: Sam Greenwood / Getty Images
Shane Lowry Picture credit: Sam Greenwood / Getty Images
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Shane Lowry stepped into an annex of the players' locker room at Baltusrol Golf Club, host venue of the US PGA Championship, in search of a quiet spot for his interview with the Irish media.

Outside, the blazing sun roasted golfers and spectators alike, and the interior of the elegant clubhouse offered some welcome relief from the soaring temperatures. As Lowry sat on a bench, in came Pádraig Harrington.

The two Irishmen had just completed nine holes of practice on the back nine of the tree-lined championship course in the company of US Open champion Dustin Johnson.

Annals

They had rounded it off with each of them taking a shot on the first hole for the Long Drive competition.

Earlier, Rory McIlroy had set the standard at 345 yards. Lowry bashed his attempt down the fairway, and the ball travelled 319 yards.

Harrington did one of his famous 'Happy Gilmore' impressions, hitting the ball on the run. It soared off into the rough and did not count.

Lowry raised his hands aloft. He had won a few dollars in a long drive bet with Harrington. But now, in the annex, the Dubliner had his revenge.

Turns out, the annex area is the 'Champions Locker Room' for the week. Lowry has not won the US PGA - yet - and Harrington was quick to claim bragging rights.

He looked around at the lockers and then said: "I'm looking for your name…"

Quick as a flash, Lowry came back with: "I'll be in here next year ..."

Truth to tell, while names of past champions such as Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer, and YE Yang were posted on individual lockers, this is not a hugely impressive section of the changing facilities.

There is more than a touch of nicely traditional, no-nonsense functionality about the Baltusrol locker room, but the significance of the step across the threshold from the central room to the annex is immense. Any golfer who gets to hang his cap - literally - in one of those wooden closets has crossed over to a coveted place in the annals of Major champions.

Shane Lowry knows exactly what it means, and Baltusrol represents another challenge to his comfort level in golf's elite championships.

Lowry took the weather-disrupted US Open by storm with an opening 68 and leading by four going into the final day.

The tied-second finish at Oakmont to winner Dustin Johnson left a bittersweet tang in Lowry's psyche and since then he has tied-36 in his defence of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title, and missed cuts in the Scottish Open and the Open championship at Troon.

"I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself. I went into the US Open with no expectation, no pressure on myself at all. It was, like, 'You know what, this is probably not going to be my year for the Ryder Cup'.

"I was thinking a bit like that, then all of a sudden the week after that, the pressure is straight back on. I need to get back down to business and see where that takes me," he said.

Lowry had some in-depth conversations with his coach, Neil Manchip, and has identified a need to maintain a comfortable level of pressure in his starting round.

Tomorrow, he tees off at 1.15pm (6.15pm Irish time) alongside Francesco Molinari of Italy and US Ryder Cup stalwart Jim Furyk.

Trend

His Thursday round one scores at Bridgestone, Scottish Open and the Open were 76, 78, 78, respectively, and that's a trend Lowry wants to eliminate.

"I met Neil a couple of times last week, just more for chats than anything else.

"I'm just trying to get back to going out and shooting a good score.

"If I can go out and shoot under par here on Thursday, I'll be happy, and then go out on Friday and try and shoot under par," said Lowry.

The Baltusrol course will favour good scoring, particularly after heavy rainstorms have softened it, with more bad weather predicted.

"The greens are big, fairways are wide enough.

"It's hard to know what scoring is going to be like. At the moment it's soft, but if you do hit it out of position it becomes difficult."

Irish Independent

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