On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, and Graeme McDowell enjoyed a friendly nine holes of practice at Liberty National Golf Club ahead of the Northern Trust Open, the first event in the FedEx Cup Play-offs.
McIlroy sidled up to the ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’ and told him: “Make sure that you enjoy it”.
“Because in golf, we are always looking at the next week or the next thing, or his attention’s just turned to the FedEx Cup,” McIlroy said. “I think I haven’t celebrated some of my wins enough, and looking back, that’s something that you really need to do, because you lose in golf a lot more often than you win.
That hasn’t been a problem for Lowry, who last was seen on social media at a Dublin pub singing ‘The Fields of Athenry’, a pint in his left hand, the Claret Jug raised aloft in the right.
“There was plenty more moments from that night that wasn’t captured on video, thankfully,” he cracked.
Lowry withdrew from the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis to enjoy the fruits of his labour, including a holiday with family and friends in Portugal last week and receiving a standing ovation from 60,000 people at Croke Park during the hurling semi-final between Kilkenny and Limerick the week before.
“That was pretty cool,” he explained to an overwhelmingly American group of journalists. “When I was a kid, that’s the only place you wanted to play.”
And the Claret Jug was the trophy Lowry always coveted once he picked up a seven-iron and a putter and devoted his full attention to golf. The Claret Jug made the trip for his three-week stay in the US and is resting safely back at his hotel in Manhattan, said Lowry, who explained why he was still riding a high from his victory at Royal Portrush.
“If you were to lay out my career on a piece of paper when I’m all done, and you were to pick one tournament you’d want to win, that one would be very much at the top of the list,” he said.
“I lost my PGA Tour card. I was down in the dumps a little bit with golf, so when you come back and get to achieve something like I did a few weeks ago in Portrush; to win The Open Championship on the island of Ireland, it is dream stuff. Like, you couldn’t write it any better.”
But Lowry is ready to return to work and make his bid for the $15 million prize that awaits the champion of the FedEx Cup at the conclusion of the three-week play-offs. He got a sampling of his newfound fame with a warm reception during the practice rounds at Liberty National.
“It’s changed my life a little bit,” said Lowry of winning at Royal Portrush. “They are not calling me ‘Beef’ or they are not calling me ‘JB Holmes’ out there, anymore. That’s a plus.”
But that new-found recognition can be a double-edged sword, explained McIlroy.
“Some of that anonymity that he enjoyed in the past, even in Ireland, is probably going to be gone, which you know, from experience, isn’t necessarily a great thing,” McIlroy said.
Now, the biggest challenge may be to avoid a major hangover. Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth (for a while anyway) made it look easy, but the post-major hangover is a real thing. Just ask 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who missed seven straight cuts in majors before a pedestrian T-52 finish at the US Open. He’s still searching for a cure to what ails his game.
Danny Willett, who won the Masters in 2016 and then endured a long victory drought during which his World Ranking plummeted to No 342, seems to have come out of his tailspin with a T-6 at Portrush, his best finish at a major since donning the Green Jacket.
“My advice to Shane would be to take some time off,” Willett said after The Open Championship. “Spend it with your family and friends, enjoy what you accomplished. It’s very easy to get pulled in different directions and sent around the world. Be a little bit selfish and do what’s right for you. I played too much golf when I didn’t really fancy it. If I could go back, I’d do it differently.”
McDowell, who has been stuck on one major since capturing the 2010 US Open, said, “Everyone tells you how to get to the top of the mountain, but no one ever tells you how to get down the other side.
“I don’t know what’s inside his head; I don’t know how good he thinks he can be. When I won a major championship I didn’t really see beyond one of them. When Rory wins one, he wants 10. Tiger wanted to beat Jack’s record. No one else can tell that.”
When asked at his winner’s press conference if his breakthrough major triumph could be a springboard to a Ryder Cup appearance in 2020 and multiple majors, Lowry cut off his inquisitor and said, “Geez, let me enjoy this one”.
That drew a round of laughter. And now, after having a few weeks to think when not playing four rounds in a cart in Portugal with friends and hearing Sky Golf’s Andrew Coltart introduce him as Champion Golfer of the Year during an interview?
“It’s almost like you have to pinch yourself. I’m sure it’s something over the coming weeks or months or however long it takes, it will sink in,” Lowry said.
“Hopefully, I can take it in my stride and hopefully I can kick on now and become the player that I really feel like I want to be, and you know, go on now and maybe win more tournaments and try and move further and further up the world rankings.”