Shane Lowry has moved on from his failure at Oakmont and now stands ready to contend for the Claret Jug.
By Nick Menta
Standing on the first tee on Thursday at Royal Portrush, Ireland’s Shane Lowry found himself shaking.
“That's how nervous I was before I played this tournament,” he said. “After I hit the ball, I said to my caddie, ‘I've never been that nervous about a tee shot.’
“I don't know why. I just was.”
But seated in the media center Friday night, staked to the 36-hole co-lead at The 148th Open after back-to-back rounds of 67, he seemed perfectly unperturbed. He discussed his maturity and just how much he’s improved mentally. He didn’t seem nervous at all and was told as much.
Still, he insisted, that “couldn't be any further from the truth.”
Through two rounds at Royal Portrush, Lowry is tied with J.B. Holmes at 8 under par. They’ll go off in Saturday afternoon’s final pairing. In the meantime, as Lowry's thoughts turn to hoisting the Claret Jug, he’ll have his wife and daughter to keep his mind occupied and his body apparently awake.
“My [two-year-old] doesn't care what time I'm teeing off,” he said. “I'll still be awake at 7:00 in the morning.”
When he does step back onto the Dunluce Links, he’ll take a crack at claiming the major victory that slipped from his grasp three years ago at the U.S. Open. Lowry took a four-shot lead into the final round at Oakmont in 2016 but finished tied for second, three shots behind winner Dustin Johnson following a Sunday 76.
Naturally, that subject came up Friday night in the interview room, and Lowry was quick to quash it.
“Oakmont was so long ago, and I was a lot younger,” Lowry said. “I feel like if I get the opportunity this week, I'll be better. What am I trying to say? I'm trying to say it definitely won't affect me, what happened at Oakmont. Obviously, I've got over that. Like, it took me a while to get over it, but I got over it.”
Currently 33rd in the Official World Golf Ranking, Lowry broke a four-year worldwide winless drought earlier this year at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It was his first title of any kind since his World Golf Championship victory at Firestone back in 2015. That was the biggest victory of his professional career, if not necessarily of his life. That, although he’s not a sentimental guy, likely came back in 2009, when he won the Irish Open as a 22-year-old amateur in his European Tour debut.
It’s been a 10-year career of peaks and valleys for the now 32-year-old, who believes he now has the mental makeup to handle the rigors of a major Saturday – and Sunday.
“I think as a golfer you have such a long career … and it's just a roller coaster,” he said. “And I think the reason I'm so good mentally now is, I feel like I know how to take the downs."
With Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke missing the cut and Graeme McDowell nine shots back, Irish hopes now hinge on Lowry, who whipped the rain-soaked crowd into a Friday frenzy as he played his first 10 holes in 6 under.
“I think [the fan support] was incredible right from the first hole,” he said. “And even the crowd didn't seem that big around the third green, but the roar at the putt was unbelievable. When I holed that putt on 10, that long one on 10, it was just incredible.
“You can't but smile, you can't but laugh how it is. There's no point trying to shy away from it. It's an incredible feeling. Like I said yesterday, it's an incredible feeling getting applauded on every green, every tee box. I'm out there giving my best, trying to do my best for everyone, I suppose.”
And yet he claims not to have any particular feeling about the meaning of this week, about the Isle’s first major in 68 years.
“I got asked a similar question yesterday. I'm not very sentimental when it comes to anything like that,” he said. “But yeah, it is great. The nicest thing about it was I didn't have to go to the airport.”
But that sounds like something of a hedge from a guy who claims not to know why he was shaking on the first tee Thursday.
Because it sounds like he knows exactly why.
“I think this (Royal Portrush) is one of the best golf courses in Ireland, if not the world,” he added. “It deserves an Open Championship, and I think it's shown itself very well this week to the world. Yeah, look, I'd give anything to have a chance here on Sunday afternoon.
“And then maybe it will be a bit more sentimental to me.”