Majors are a test of mental strength, and Shane Lowry felt as much a winner as Brooks Koepka following his gutsy tie for eighth alongside Rory McIlroy in the US PGA at Bethpage Black.
Nobody shot lower than Lowry’s three-under par total over the weekend, and while Koepka will again be the man to beat in the US Open at Pebble Beach next month, the Clara man has no problem admitting that the tougher the test, the better he feels.
“I suppose I’ve always shown in the past that I like golf courses where you need to go out and battle it out, grind it out,” said Lowry, who earned $264,395 (€237,000) and moved up six spots to 39th in the world, confirming his place in next month’s US Open at Pebble Beach.
“I’ve always said they’re the tournaments that suit me the most. That’s what majors are all about. Augusta is maybe a little bit different but most Majors are about going out and grinding your nuts off — where pars are good.
It was Lowry’s fourth top-10 finish in 25 major starts and he was thrilled to come back from a 75 on Thursday and make the cut on the mark thanks to a birdie at the par-three 17th in the second round.
“The mental test out there grinds on you and I don’t think mentally I was there on Thursday but I somehow got it back the last few days,” he said.
“I think this is why Brooks is so good in these events because he’s mentally so strong. The way I tried to play was to shoot the best score I could and see where it left me at the end of the day.
“Isn’t golf a funny game? You’re one swing away from going home on Friday and you’re standing here Sunday as one of the happiest people here. I keep saying, it’s a strange game we play.”
McIlroy was upbeat after his tie for eighth and encouraged by the fact that he battled to make the cut after slipping to seven-over through 27 holes.
“Stuck at it the whole way,” McIlroy said. “It’s a 72-hole golf tournament, and you’ve got to try until the very end and I did that this week. It wasn’t good enough to be up there in contention, but I made improvements each and every day which is a good thing.”
His next task is to play well in the US Open at Pebble Beach after missing the cut for the last three years and he’ll play The Memorial and the RBC Canadian Open to get ready. He’ll be joined in Canada by McDowell, who can’t wait to get back to the scene of his 2010 US Open win after grinding for a 29th place finish at Bethpage.
“I can just play golf for golf’s sake, really, apart from Portrush,” said McDowell, who won his card thanks to his PGA Tour win in the Dominican Republic but has yet to secure his spot in The Open.
“That’s the only little blip in my horizon at the minute and I’m trying to shove that to the back of my mind as far as I can and now focus on these next few weeks.”
Lowry, McIlroy and McDowell are impressed by Koepka’s mental fortitude.
“Tiger could go to a different place mentally than the rest of us,” McDowell said after his tie for 29th. “But Brooks gets himself there via the little chips, via the negative comments he gets from people and he’s able to take himself to places that, like I say, we’ve only seen from guys like Tiger, really. It’s impressive.”
Koepka’s Portrush caddie Ricky Elliott believes Sunday’s final round scare from Dustin Johnson will only make his man stronger.
“I would say so,” said Elliott, who was due a 10% cut of Koepka’s $1.98m prize.
“Those were really trying conditions with the best player in the world one shot behind you. I do think this is probably going to be even more satisfying.
“He knew what was on the line today and blowing a seven-shot lead, it’s not embarrassing, but oh my god. For him to get over that line is a good effort. I don’t know whether he was nervous but he was obviously a little anxious. He had been running away with the tournament for three and a half days. And then DJ obviously played magnificently. He was three under through 15 holes, trying to win a major.”
The Open will be played at Royal Portrush, where Elliott learned the game and while the US Open is next, the Dunluce course will be like a home game for both.
“He hasn’t mentioned it,” Elliott said. “He has got Pebble Beach next and then we will think about Portrush.
“I have played there a lot growing up but Brooks hits the ball a lot different to me and the lines I hit are a little bit different. I will have to work on the yardage book a little bit for Brooks playing it. Obviously, a little local knowledge doesn’t hurt.” Koepka is well aware of Elliott’s Portrush background and looking forward to using his caddie’s local knowledge.
“He grew up two minutes from there, so he knows the golf course,” Koepka said. “He should know where to hit it. I’m excited to get over there. I’ve never actually been to Ireland.
“That’s one place I’ve never been, which is shocking, because I’ve been all over the world, so I’m looking forward to going. I think everybody in Ireland has been waiting for this for a long time, so it will be very special.