Monday 19 August 2019

'It's just golf. And whatever happens, we'll meet up and have a pint afterwards' - Meet the man behind rise of Shane Lowry

Neil Manchip
Neil Manchip

Dermot Gilleece

Shane Lowry had just holed a four-foot putt for par when a voice behind him remarked: "You were under a bit of pressure there."  In the dismissive bravado typical of teenagers, the observer was informed in a rich, midland accent:  "pressure is for tyres."

Neil Manchip retains fond memories of that, his first meeting with the player he is attempting to guide to an Open Championship triumph today. The occasion was a trial at The Island in May 2005, prior to selection of the Ireland team for the European Boys Championship.

"As national coach, I happened to be chatting with a few of the players and had never heard that particular phrase in golf before," Manchip recalled. "I thought it was so funny, the way Shane said it."

He went on: "Seeing him then for the first time, I thought he was a really good golfer. At 18, he was someone who walked along the grass and hit the ball a whack; then he walked further along the grass and chipped or putted it, or whatever. There was no arsing around. Shane is a naturally talented guy and there's not a whole lot complicated going on there."

From that meeting, a closeness developed between them which was very much in evidence when Lowry, still an amateur, captured the Irish Open at Baltray in 2009. And it has been a key element of the player's composure through three rounds of the Open Championship.

"I've seen his ball-striking improve, not that I told him to swing the differently," Manchip continued. "It's been a natural consequence of maturing, of learning as he's gone along, with a few adjustments here and there. Now, it's a fantastic, free-flowing, natural, stand-up-and-give-it-a-wallop swing which creates a better strike."

While remaining national coach to the various GUI teams, Manchip became the player's personal tutor, guiding him both technically and mentally. He is a 46-year-old Scot, who was born in Edinburgh but has made a life in this country with an Irish wife, the former Aideen French from Claremorris.              

For his part, Lowry said: "I'm not very technically minded. The work I do with  Neil is quite simple and my hope is that I can stay with him for the remainder of my career."

He went on to acknowledge Manchip's presence at Portrush as critical to his preparation. Feeling "a bit uncomfortable" last Wednesday, he went with him to the Bushmills Inn. "There, we found a little, quiet room where we had a great chat for about 40 minutes," he said.

"I left that room full of confidence and ready to go. So we just put everything out in the open, everything on the table, what could happen, what might happen. We have those coffee talks most evenings. We kind of get at least five or 10 minutes together.

"To be honest, I was really feeling a bit uneasy on Wednesday about this week. I'm not going to lie. It was just a great chat."

Back in Baltray in 2009, Manchip's words to Lowry entering the biggest round of his life up to that point were: "It doesn't matter whether it's the Irish Open or the Saturday morning competition at Esker Hills. It's just golf. And whatever happens, we'll meet up and have a pint afterwards."

Later, as a familiar face among seriously sopping spectators, the Scot huddled alongside Lowry's mother and father, behind the 18th green. And when the final putt dropped, everyone rushed past them, leaving Manchip a long way down the line of people, queuing to congratulate the new champion.

Eventually they caught up with each other on the path beside the first tee where no words passed between them. A big hug said it all. And you wonder if history could repeat itself later today.

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