He had been here before. As recently as 2016 in fact, when he held a four-shot lead going into the final round of the US Open at Oakmont, but this was different, or so he claimed. Older, more mature and now the married father of a two-year-old daughter, life had indeed moved on outside the ropes but what about his golf game?
I got my first real glimpse of Shane Lowry the golfer, from the commentary booth in 2009, when winning the Irish Open while still an amateur. As impressive as his performance was that day, what struck me most was that despite the poor weather conditions and enormity of what was unfolding, he continued to play all the right shots at a time when many of the more seasoned players around him were, in the foul weather conditions, looking for excuses.
His overall composure and confidence in victory, marked him out in my mind, as a very special player, one more than capable of winning more major championships.
Being truthful, I thought Lowry’s career, in terms of professional wins, since that glorious day 10 years ago, would have been more prolific. Understanding his ability, I have often been critical of his performances which have often been punctuated by too many unforced errors that have stalled his progression and challenged his confidence.
Behind Lowry’sinfectious smile, though, is a hardened competitor who for all of his talents, has had enough honesty inrecent years to realise that things had to change if he was to realise his ambition to be a major champion one day.
The most obvious change has been a new caddie, Brian “Bo” Martin, who hails from Ardglass Co Down. His influence on Lowry’ s game should not be underestimated. Hisprofessionalism in understanding his man’s mannerisms, mood s and shot-making skills has added an extra maturity and focus in Lowry’s game. Great players have great focus and it has been one of the vital cogs in helping Lowry move onto the next level.
The second major change has been Lowry’s mind, especially this year. He has worked hard at self-improvement, adding a greater thinking dimension to his hard-charging instincts.
No longer easily distracted, the combination of Lowry’s calmer mind, coupled with his sheer determination and tactical genius, has noticeably led to him making far fewer mistakes. With it, he has now become a more potent force as was evidenced by his catch me if you can, record-breaking 54-hole total of 197 over the first three days.
Yesterday, Lowry entered the most crucial golfing arena of his professional career for one last time this week. With conditions predicted to be more like those he competed in to win his first professional tournament than the brilliant sunshine of Saturday at Portrush, you fancied his chances if he could control his emotions.
A nervy start that didn’t bode well. No doubt the biggest moment of his entire tournament, came on the very first hole yesterday with Fleetwood missing a good birdie opportunity and Lowry holing out a testing seven-footer for an opening bogey.
One down and 17 to go. His lead was still three shots but his mind would have been racing, so his caddie’s duty now was to ensure he kept his focus because he was playing a course that could crush him.
Knowing he needed to manage his energy levels well on a notoriously long and difficult day, Lowry’s mood would have been greatly boosted by Fleetwood’s early misses. They allowed him the time needed to regain his composure and settle into an afternoon, where playing the percentages and getting over the winning line always counted more than the final score.
The conditions were brutal yesterday for those at the top of the leaderboard and on a day when it was difficult to mount any type of serious challenge, his opponents’ hands were tied as they tried to catch a man who had left them trailing with the exceptional work he had done over the first 54 holes. He was relentless all day and looked to be fully in control of his own destiny.
In a game, and especially a course where everything is decided by very tight margins, his crowning glory on the most important stage of his professional life, was that of a genius and a very worthy champion.