Shane Lowry is relishing the prospect of shining on the biggest stage once again as his delayed defence of the Claret Jug draws near at The 149th Open.
Lowry produced a magnificent performance at Royal Portrush in 2019 to triumph by six strokes and secure a hugely popular victory, as the Championship returned to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to The Open being cancelled the following year, but golf’s original major will take place at Royal St George’s this July and Lowry is in confident mood after tying for fourth in last week’s PGA Championship.
Speaking at the virtual media briefing for The 149th Open, Lowry told reporters: “It’s great to do it in the big tournaments. I feel like I've been doing that over the last couple of years where I arrive at those big events and manage to kind of find some sort of an ‘A’ game, or something towards my best game anyway.
“Standing on the 18th green at Royal Portrush with the Claret Jug in your hands gives you a lot of confidence in yourself.
“I don’t know what it is, but I just love major championships. I just love big weeks.
“I feel like I’m maturing as a golfer, as a person, so I feel like when I get to those big weeks I kind of know what’s going to happen.
“You're going to have ups and downs. You're going to have difficult times on the course and you're going to have good runs, and when you're having good runs you need to take advantage of that.”
Having spent two years with the Claret Jug in his possession, Lowry knows more than most just how special the trophy is to so many.
“There's one story I remember,” he added. “I had the Claret Jug with me at the Race to Dubai at the end of 2019 and I was wheeling it through the hotel, and this guy was there and he stopped me, and he's like, ‘is that the Claret Jug?’ And I was like, ‘yeah’, and we started to talk.
"Next thing, he begged me could he see it, so I opened up the box and I showed him and he held the Claret Jug and he started to cry because he was holding the Claret Jug.
“That's what that trophy actually means to people that love their golf. Just to have it in my possession for that length of time and being able to kind of share it with all my friends and family and other people has been just incredible.
“Obviously I've got my replica now as well and I'll have that forever more, but it'll be a sad time giving it back. But hopefully I get it back at some stage, whether it be (Royal) St George's this year or maybe another time down the road.”
The 34-year-old is expecting a particularly stiff test as he aims to retain The Open at a venue he has only visited once before.
“I played The Amateur Championship there in 2006 and I shot 81 in the one round that I played around there, and I haven't been back since,” said Lowry with a chuckle.
“I’m looking forward to it. Obviously I watched Darren (Clarke, the 2011 Champion at Royal St George’s) win his Open there, and I know it's one of the trickiest venues we have, especially if you get a good UK summer.
“It can get firm and fast and play like proper links golf, so it’ll be a great test. And just the whole experience of going there as defending champion, I’m really looking forward to.
“It’s obviously going to be a new experience for me. It’s going to be really exciting. Everyone’s just looking forward to playing The Open Championship again.”
Lowry was joined on the media call by The R&A’s Chief Executive, Martin Slumbers, who provided the latest details in terms of likely crowd numbers for The 149th Open.
“We are thoroughly excited about July. It’s beginning to take shape,” said Slumbers.
“Whilst we would really like to provide certainty to everybody on how The Open will work, the inevitable is that there remains great uncertainty.
“The one thing I am clear about is that we will play The 149th Open at Royal St George’s in the third week of July.
“There are multiple plans and multiple options … but we are approaching the point in mid-June which we believe is the key date that we will have for a greater understanding of what rules will apply.
“I’m cautiously optimistic, but I don’t want to get ahead of Public Health. We need to be patient, and just let the government and health authorities do what they’ve got to do.
They will give us a clear indication middle of June … and we will take that and we will put on the best show we can. We are retaining as much optionality as we can until the rules become clear.”
He continued: “I’m keen to get as many spectators in as possible. What we are optimistic of is a significant attendance and we are looking to have an attendance at Royal St George’s of up to about 75 per cent of capacity.”