As rain battered the beaches of Baltray on a miserable Sunday afternoon in May an Irish sporting icon was on the verge of creation. May 17th 2009, the date which marks Shane Lowry’s introduction to the world as he became the first amateur golfer to lift the Irish Open.
Lowry, like many others in Ireland, grew up immersed in the GAA. Hailing from Clara, Offaly, Lowry and his family are part of a tight knit GAA community.
Perhaps it is his love for, and understanding of GAA, which instilled the great competitive attitude and dedication he applies to golf today. For anyone who has ever had the pleasure of watching the soft-handed Lowry in action, it is clear that behind his charismatic persona is a champion’s mentality and incredible mettle.
The Clara man’s rise to prominence on the amateur circuit was meteoric and an absolute pleasure to follow. Between 2007 and 2009, Lowry picked up 5 major amateur wins, combining 3 scratch cups with an Irish Close Championship and North of Ireland Championship, thus cementing his status as Ireland’s and Europe’s hottest prospects.
However, it was his maiden European Tour victory which catapulted the Offaly native into the sporting world’s spotlight. As a spectator on that fateful weekend in County Louth, one could only watch in awe as Lowry quietened the storm and kept his cool to write his name into Irish and golfing history.
Memory serves a fantastic image of the view from the back of the 18th green that Sunday afternoon. Spectators flocked from all angles, leaving any shelter they had found beneath gorse hedges and umbrellas to find their spot on the soaking and trodden semi-rough bordering the final green to watch Lowry overcome a gallant Robert Rock in a tense play-off.
Like any mainstream sport, the media soon latched onto Lowry’s success and as his winning put in Baltray dropped he would become golf’s “next big thing”. Yet, in the competitive world of golf, spectators have seen many new talents burst onto the scene, only for their name to be shadowed by the fierce competition that is the professional golf scene.
Lowry battled, and with the same determination he showed at the peak of his amateur success, he prevailed once more. This time at the Portuguese Masters in 2012.
Unlike his maiden victory, which earned him nothing financially because of his amateur status, Lowry this time picked up a cheque for just over €300,000 in addition to the trophy.
“I cannot believe this,” he said after coming from four behind Austrian Bernd Wiesberger in the final round.
“I can’t explain how I feel really. It’s a dream come true – I’m over the moon.
“Everyone was referring to me as the fella who won the Irish Open as an amateur, but now I’ve won such a prestigious event I don’t know what to say.” he added.
From there, Lowry went from strength to strength. He became famed for his soft touch around the greens and he was armed with a short-game to rival those at the top of the world rankings.
His victory in Portugal would propel him to 74th in the Official World Golf Rankings, and from there his rise continued.
WGC Bridgestone Invitational
With a 2pm tee-time, Lowry headed to the Starbucks near his hotel in Akron, Ohio to get a cup of coffee. And while the 28-year-old sat there, as people around him sipped their cappuccinos and lattes, his mind understandably started to wander.
In a matter of hours, Lowry would be heading to Firestone Country Club to prepare for the final round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. He would start the decisive 18 holes in the penultimate group, two strokes behind major winners Jim Furyk and Justin Rose, with a chance to win the biggest event of his career.
Truth be told, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself when the stakes are so high and the outcome potentially life-changing.
“You just think about lifting that trophy on the 18th green,” Lowry said.
“Then when I’m in a good frame of mind, I let myself do it, and I give myself a little slap in the face and say, right, you need to get back to work, back to doing what you do best.”
Not one player in the field was better than Lowry that Sunday at Firestone. A monster of a course that averaged nearly a stroke above par in the final round, Lowry tied the hard-charging Bubba Watson for the day’s low of 66. His own round of 4 under coming bogey-free, and ended up edging the two-time Masters champ by two shots.
“It’s fairly special to go out and do that and such a good feeling to shoot a bogey-free 66 on the golf course like that,” Lowry said. “I know it will stay with me now for the rest of my career, and hopefully I’ve got a long career ahead of me.”
Take a look, and re-live what was one of the top moments on the PGA TOUR last season.
Lowry, who now has a three-year exemption on the PGA TOUR, certainly showed that he belonged. Twice the bearded Offaly man came away with clutch birdies after hitting phenomenal recovery shots up over and through the towering fir trees that line the fairways at Firestone.
The shot at the 10th that he was just trying to coax somewhere near the green got a fortuitous bounce and produced a tap-in after he got a drop from the 11th tee box. “A big miss,” Lowry admitted through a wide smile.
“I was quite lucky because I got a drop, and the drop actually took me back onto a little bit of an upslope, which meant I could get the ball in the air quicker, and I could end up clearing the tree pretty comfortable.” he continued.
There was even more pressure at the 18th hole when Lowry’s tee shot strayed well left. He would later call it one of the worst tee shots he hit all week. Watson was already finished at 9 under. Rose and Furyk had faded but still had a hole-and-a-half left.
“I was just going in there praying that I could get it down there on the green,” Lowry recalled. “… It actually had a pretty horrific lie. It was sitting down in a hole. It was almost like someone had stood on it, but it was where the crowd was walking.”
Lowry opted for a sand wedge. He hoped to just get the ball in front of the green where he could call upon his normally steady short game to preserve the win. He pulled it low, though, and then luckily for him this tree was 90 percent air.
“The rest is history,” Lowry said with a sigh of satisfaction.
US Open 2016
And so, we arrive at Oakmont for the 2016 US Open and a course which demands the very best from the world’s greatest players.
Lowry, who currently ranks at 41st in the world holds a strong position heading into the final day as he leads the field by 4 shots. Coincidentally, the last time the tournament was held in Oakmont in 2007, Angel Cabrera emerged victorious. His world ranking at the time? 41st.
We won’t read into that stat too much just yet, after all, Oakmont has destroyed the scorecards of many of the game’s greatest over the years.
Yet, with the golfing ability and mental strength which Lowry has proven time and time again over his eight year professional career, we could just see Irish eyes smiling come Sunday night.
A win for Lowry would give him his maiden major victory, and place him among an illustrious list of golfers.
You can tune in to the final round of the US Open on Sky Sport 4 and follow Shane Lowry throughout the day.