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Thursday 29 June 2017

All I have to do is keep going... I know my golf is good enough

Offaly native is confident that his long-term view will pay dividends for him in the end

Irish professional golfer Shane Lowry during the first major of the year, the US Masters
Irish professional golfer Shane Lowry during the first major of the year, the US Masters

Shane Lowry flew to North Carolina on Monday to compete in this week's Wells Fargo Championship at Eagle Point.

"It's a new venue," he said ahead of the tournament. "I've heard it's a nice place so I'm looking forward to it."

The Clara man had been home for two weeks. Following the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, he swerved the Texas Open in San Antonio to spend time with his wife and baby daughter.

"Other things are more important at the moment," he explained.

Missing San Antonio left a question unanswered.

"I played alright in Hilton Head so I'm looking forward to getting back out," he said. "In the past this is the time of season where I start to play well. I'm just hoping it's the same this year."

Having failed to make the cut at the Masters the previous week, Shane's tied-44th place at Hilton Head was better than it might seem at first glance. Twelve players tied on 44 with five tied on 39 and another seven at 32.

"I thought I put in a good performance," he said. "I was very close. A good finish on Sunday always gives you a good week in America. The leaderboard is always very tightly packed. I finished 44th on two-under. Whereas 15th was eight-under."

The Shane I meet while he was in Dublin to help promote awareness of the One for Ireland fundraiser campaign is in a relaxed and positive mood as he reflects on golf and Gaelic football.

With an air of practiced pragmatism, he shrugs off his misfortune at the Masters.

"Sergio won and I played with Sergio for the first couple of days," he recalls. "I felt like I outplayed him on the first day and I probably outplayed him for the back eight holes for the second round."

What happened next was described by some commentators as "Shane's nightmare." "Ten holes," he muses. "It was that kind of a day. Twenty mph winds at Augusta is not easy. It got away from me a little bit. There's nothing I can do about it. It's just one of those weeks. It happens. It's not the end of the world."

Famous

Dig a bit deeper and you discover how difficult it can be to play the famous course.

"Augusta is a very difficult, very tricky golf course," insists Shane. "Throw in gusts of over 40 mph the first day and 25 mph the second day. It's beyond belief how hard it is. If there had been perfect weather conditions for four days, I probably would have done better."

Lowry sounds like a garage mechanic casting an eye on an engine that's in for a tune-up when he says: "I don't look at my stats but if I was to, I know my tee-to-green stats are as good as anyones. And I know that my putting stats are getting better and that's all I can do."

You won't find the Offaly man surrounded by a team of sports psychologists deconstructing his mindset and installing fresh belief structures.

"It's golf," he explains. "No one plays good golf every day. Everyone goes through a bit of a bad spell. I wouldn't say I'm even going through a bad spell.

"I've only played seven tournaments this year. Missed two cuts but a couple of top 20s. It's not easy on the PGA Tour. That's what people keep forgetting. The PGA leaderboard is always very bunched so you're never far away from a good week when you're there working on the weekend.

"All I have to do is keep going. I know I'm good enough. I know my golf is good enough. I know at some stage it will turn around.

"You only have to look back when I missed the cut at the British Open in 2015," he reasons. "If I was to have gone away from that and think, 'What went wrong?' and start to over-analyse it, I wouldn't have won the following week in Akron. You just have to wait for your good weeks to come."

That wait can be tantalising. For most golfers, top form can prove mercurial.

"I really feel good golf is very close," says Shane. "I'm just trying to be very patient at the minute. I feel like I'm playing well. I went to Hilton Head and made 18 birdies and an eagle in four rounds which for me is showing great signs of good golf. I'd really like to throw a top ten in and compete at some stage. I feel like I'm doing all the right things. It just hasn't happened for me yet. I'm not going to force it. I'm just going to try and go out and play my way into the tournament and see what happens."

Another factor in the competitive golf equation is that even playing your best, winning can still prove elusive.

"Sometimes you play good enough to win a tournament and the guy that's coming behind you plays better than you," says Shane.

"Last year at the US Open, Dustin Johnson played the golf to win that. But all it would have taken was for me to have played a bit better on the Sunday and he'd be without that Major.

"There are fine margins in the game. I'm not really worried about it."

As he faces into a "fairly manic" summer season, with lots of big events to come, Lowry insists: "All I care about is next week. I don't look too far ahead. I definitely don't look back. I just have to get up every morning and try and do something that's going to make me better at my golf and that's what I do.

"If it's not good enough come the British Open or the US Open, that's fair enough. But I know at some stage it will be good enough."

It's easy to detect the gritty spirit of the Offaly senior team that denied Kerry a five in-a-row of All-Ireland SFC titles in 1982, when Shane's father Brendan (0-3) and uncles Mick and Seán (0-1) were an integral part of Eugene McGee's victorious side, in the golfer.

As he scans Offaly's chances in Leinster this year, he admits he can't see anyone beating Dublin. "The competition in Leinster is who can get to the Leinster final to play the Dubs," he declares. "You might get lucky then and get a good draw in the qualifiers. You look at Leinster at the moment and no one's going great. Kildare. Meath. Laois were relegated to Division 4. We were lucky to stay up in Division 3.

"If we beat Westmeath this year, it'll be a good year," he adds. "Westmeath got to the Leinster final last year and they beat Offaly in the first round.

"I know a good few of the lads that are in training and I know Pat Flanagan, the manager," he says of the Offaly panel.

"I know they're putting in serious effort but sometimes you don't have the players. And sometimes you're just not good enough. But you just have to do as well as you can.

Struggling

"It's hard going watching games knowing that you're struggling," he says. "But I still go as much as I can.

"The Dubs are streets ahead of everyone else," he says. "It's sad because we won't get to see the Dubs playing a good match until August. Really. Until they get to the quarter-finals."

As for his own sporting challenges, he says: "It'll be fairly full on from now till the end of the summer."

He can cope with the pressure but there's one thing that irks him. "People in Ireland focus on majors," he says. "I don't focus on majors. I want to win on the PGA Tour again. I want to win on the European Tour again. There's a lot more to golf than majors."

A major victory is still an ambition.

"Obviously, I'd love to win a major," he states. "You need to be very lucky to win a major. Sergio won his first major when he's 37. If you look at how is it Sergio had never won one before or how Lee Westwood hasn't won one, I think they've been unfortunate.

"Obviously, you've got Pádraig, Rory, Graeme and Darren who've won majors in the last ten years. Pádraig started the ball rolling in 2007. We're playing and trying our best week in and week out."

"I'm doing everything I can to win again," says Shane. "If that wins happens to come in the US Open or the British Open, so be it. No matter what week I go out, I think I can win. I wouldn't be going out if I didn't think I could win."

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