Shane Lowry determined to learn fast while Rory McIlroy stays calm
The contrast between Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy was fascinating.
Lowry was a picture of concentration, his brow knitted and beaded with perspiration on an overcast but close Monday morning as he tried to learn the capricious ways of the fiendish greens on the front nine at Augusta National.
Instead of taking a deep breath and savouring their arrival in Nirvana, Masters debutants inevitably become embroiled in feverish efforts to solve in a couple of days some of the most complex riddles in world golf.
Lowry was lathered as he walked off the ninth green soon after midday. After a spot of lunch on the clubhouse lawn, he then headed out to play the back nine with Masters veteran Padraig Harrington.
Speaking last week about what lay ahead for his young friend from Clara, Harrington had said: “It’s hard being a rookie going in there.
“Shane’s got a beautiful game for the golf course. He hits it plenty long enough and he’s got a really good short game.”
In deference to the intensely competitive streak he shares with Lowry, Harrington went on: “I’d never advocate to a player that you’re going to Augusta for the first time, really just try to enjoy it.”
As Lowry, 28 last Thursday, pressed nose to the grindstone, McIlroy astonished his practice round partner, British Amateur champion Bradley Neil from Scotland, by being so relaxed on the cusp of history.
World No 1 McIlroy is supposed to be performing this week under spotlight of blowtorch intensity as he tries to become only the sixth golfer to complete a Career Grand Slam.
“You’d never be able to tell,” said Neil. “It almost seemed as if he was here to soak up the atmosphere like me. Rory was so relaxed out there, you’d never think he was a Major contender this week.
“It shows how strong he is mentally when you see how calm he is out there and how hard he’s working on his game. He’s looking so strong, I’d be surprised if he’s not challenging on Sunday.
“It’s not every day you get a chance to play with one of the greats of the game but Rory also is such a normal person and a nice guy, he made me feel comfortable,” added the 19-year-old.
“We talked about football, girls and things. He’s a few years older than me but, strangely, his life probably is a lot quieter than mine.”
Remarkably, for the second time in a fortnight, he impressed McIlroy by holing from 90 yards with a pitch shot at Augusta’s par five second hole.
Both played a practice round here two weeks ago, when Neil first performed this ‘party piece’ under the Ulsterman’s nose.
Having witnessed his repeat the feat yesterday, “Rory told me never to go for that second green in two, I’d be mad if I didn’t lay up.”
While amateur Neil can pause and smell the azaleas this week, for Lowry, his first Masters is a massively significant milestone in his career.
On Sunday evening the Clara native completed that rite of passage and drove up Magnolia Lane for the first time.
The emotion he felt almost caught this affable, everyday chap by surprise.
“I was in a courtesy car with my coach Neil Manchip and my fiancée Wendy; she doesn’t really understand golf and I’d been explaining to her how famous this drive is,” he explained.
Then the significance of the moment dawned on him. “There was a bit of a lump in my throat coming up that drive. It’s good.
“It’s been kind of a long journey for me to get here. I’m a few years a pro now and as I said it’s great to be here and I’m excited about the whole week.”
With the golf course basking under glorious sunlight that evening, Lowry decided he’d head straight out and play, with the explicit intention of going around the iconic Amen Corner.
“There were a few people going down the first, so we skipped out on the back nine with Kevin Na and a young Australian amateur and it was nice just to play nine holes.”
As every newcomer is, Lowry was staggered by the massive changes in elevation at Augusta. The 10 curves downhill like a giant ski slalom and he found himself gawping like a tourist at the place where Rory McIlroy’s ill-fated drive ended up between the wooden cabins in 2011.
That’s Augusta. History slaps you in the face at every turn.
Lowry played sweetly on Sunday night, hitting a nine-iron to two feet on the 12th, arguably the most picturesque and threatening short hole in golf.
He found the tee-shot at 13 a lot tighter than he’d imagined and hit a six-iron to five feet from the brow of the hill at the long fifteenth. Memories that will be filed away like snapshots.
Yesterday morning’s spin around the less-feted but tougher front nine brought home the enormity of his task. Lowry’s burden this week is that his golf game is so well-suited to Augusta, ambition won’t allow him ease up and simply revel in the experience.