No pressure, Shane Lowry had insisted.
That was earlier in the week. Before the opening round of an Irish Open which - with no Rory McIlroy – was looking to him as perhaps the most likely spearhead for a home challenge. And all of this ten years on from his win in Baltray as an amateur.
No pressure? No chance.
He didn’t sleep well on Wednesday, but only because of a cough that has been waking him up at night and playing havoc with his voice.
“It sounds like I have been on a stag party for about a week but I promise I haven’t,” he laughed after his round in Lahinch.
It was yesterday morning when the anxiety kicked in and he told his coach Neil Manchip as much on the putting green.
He felt uneasy, the weight of the week coming to rest on his shoulders as his 8.40am tee-time approached.
Player and coach dealt with it together. Focused on the controllables, one at a time.
“If anything, the first tee shot here is a nice tee shot to open with. It’s fairly generous. If you hit it in the rough you can still get it on the green. We just had a little quick chat about it and we said to just go out there and pick my targets and hit as many good shots as I can and see where it leaves me.”
He scored better than he played – his words, not ours – but a four-under-par total stands as a credible achievement given his concerns earlier in the morning. The difference with him now is that he doesn’t feel that agitation on the course.
Bad lie? So what? Get on with it. That’s the mantra these days.
It’s worked for him this season but this week was different. Bigger.
“I care about this tournament an awful lot,” he said when asked to explain why his mental state had changed so abruptly from carefree to uncomfortable.
He’s gone the right way about it so far. An opening 66 left him just one stroke behind the early leaders on four-under par and maybe the best part of it all was the fact that he felt his game management was better than his actual play. His driving, in particular, could do with improving.
“It was one of my more enjoyable four or five hours on the course,” he could say afterwards. Some change. “I played okay. I didn’t think I played great but I hit it in the right spots. I managed my way around the golf course today and that’s what I’m most happy about.” A careless three-putt at the par-four third left him one-over and in need of momentum. That came on the fifth, the blind par-three they call The Dell, when he landed a middle distance putt for birdie and then followed up with a solid par on the sixth after finding trouble off the tee.
Four more birdies and he was in the
clubhouse with a strong and stable foundation established for the three days still to come and with Lowry describing his attitude as “close to ten out of ten” after a round given no little ballast by the surroundings.
🇮🇪 -7 Harrington
🏴 -5 Pepperell
🇩🇰 -5 Olesen
🇫🇷 -5 Lorenzo-Vera
🇦🇺 -5 Ormsby
🇰🇷 -5 ParkJuly 4, 2019
Lahinch oozed appeal under a blue sky. The wind that chaperoned them through the morning never sought to make itself the main suitor. Add in the warmth of a crowd peppered with Offaly jerseys and eager to see Lowry succeed and he was well-placed to profit once he did find his equilibrium.
Even his playing partners played their part.
Tommy Fleetwood and Robert Knox both played plenty of good golf. The Englishman could easily have shot a good deal lower than 68 and Lowry admitted that the quality around him played its part in raising his game.
Still, there was a time when this round probably would have gone very differently but Lowry is more relaxed now. Yes, he could have shaved a few shots off if a putt here or a chip there had dropped.
Then again, he was left with a tap-in for birdie at 14 when his approach smacked off the flag and landed within a club of the cup.
He was rolling by then. There was no shunting him off track. Not even when a Climate Action ambush protest replete with a banner was sprung from the gallery as the day’s signature group made its way up to the 18th green.
Two putts later and he had his fifth birdie. Protest? What protest? Anxiety? What anxiety? No fuss. Job done.