In truth, the Irishman knew his bid to realise a Ryder Cup dream was over until at least 2018 when his chance of victory at last weekend’s Made In Denmark tournament faded over the final two rounds.
Lowry had travelled to the Himmerland Golf & Spa resort in Farso knowing only a victory would be good enough to convince Clarke he was worth one the three wild card picks in the captain’s gift.
A miserable July and August on the course had narrowed the hopes of a debut with Team Europe on September 30 that had soared in June when he claimed second place at the US Open. Yet while that was the 29-year-old’s highest finish in a major, his failure to capture the crown at Oakmont having dominated the notoriously difficult Pennsylvania course for 54 holes to lead by four strokes cast a pall over the rest of Lowry’s summer.
The talent he clearly possesses and that had already delivered a World Golf Championship title at the Bridgestone Invitational last year deserted him at key moments after Oakmont. An opening 78 in Troon at The Open left him shellshocked and led to the first of two missed cuts at the majors, the second coming three weeks later in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
He knew after that disappointment his chances of making the team as one of eight automatic qualifiers were slim at best but convincing fellow Irishman Clarke of his potential to enhance the European effort at Hazeltine was still a possibility.
So Lowry gambled on his PGA Tour FedEx Cup play-off status to skip the Barclays last weekend and instead head to Denmark. It was a risk that did not pay off, although the fact that the eventual winner, Thomas Pieters of Belgium, did get a pick, vindicates Lowry’s decision to take it.
Alas, it also cost him his FedEx spot but the experience of a torrid summer can only help drive Lowry on to complete the job next time around. Paris in 2018 may seem a long way off but you can bet the time and place are seared into the Irishman’s consciousness.
And he will not be the only European feeling the same after Clarke added Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, and Pieters to his roster to defend the Ryder Cup against hot favourites the United States in Minnesota a month from now.
In truth, nobody the former Open champion named at Wentworth yesterday would have dislodged the Americans from their odds-on favouritism to break the European stranglehold enjoyed since the first of three consecutive victories at Celtic Manor in 2010.
With his nine automatic qualifiers comprising four Ryder Cup veterans in Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, and Sergio Garcia and five rookies: albeit Masters champion Danny Willett, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Andy Sullivan, Chris Wood, and Matt Fitzpatrick, Clarke was always going to lean towards bolstering his line-up with the proven cup experience of Westwood and Kaymer.
Yet if Lowry’s credentials as a seasoned majors performer with a WGC title won on US soil were solid enough, the claims of Scotland’s Russell Knox were even stronger.
Ranked 16 places higher than Lowry and 21 spots better than Pieters, Knox has five campaigns on the PGA Tour under his belt and two victories since November, the WGC-HSBC Champions last November and this month’s Travelers Championship, leaving him inside the top 10 in the FedEx standings this week. If anyone had a shot at representing Europe in America’s backyard, it surely would have been Knox, and like Lowry, the Scot was given the courtesy of an explanatory telephone call from Clarke on Monday.
Westwood and Kaymer had, he said, been “two pretty obvious choices to me,” the captain said yesterday.
“It came down to the choices between Russell Knox and Thomas Pieters. That has been an incredibly difficult decision. I haven’t slept an awful lot about it. And having to phone Russell yesterday and give him the information is probably one of the toughest phone calls I’ve ever had to make, because Russell has played unbelievably well over the qualification period, with winning WGC and then doing what he did in Travelers.
“You know, some people would say he deserved a position on the team. But I took a look at it and put them side-by-side, and I’ve always been a huge Thomas Pieters fan from when I first witnessed how he hits the golf ball and how he plays. And the manner which he’s played golf these past few tournaments: fourth in the Olympics, to go to Czech and get beaten with a birdie on last green; and then last week to do what he did, to birdie the last three holes to win the tournament in the fashion that he did, just impressed me that much that I found it almost —- well, I found it impossible to leave him off the team.”
Now it is up to Pieters to prove he was worth Clarke’s sleepless nights.