Graeme McDowell hailed Ireland’s newest major champion and backed Shane Lowry to finally come out from Rory McIlroy’s shadow after lifting the Claret Jug at Royal Portrush.
The 2010 US Open champion, the only other Irishman to make the halfway cut in his hometown Open Championship, was disappointed with his own, six-over-par final-round 77, but full of praise for his 32-year-old friend, who won the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009.
Since turning professional shortly after, Lowry has forged a successful career, adding the Portugal Masters in 2014, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational a year later and the Abu Dhabi Championship this January.
Yet for many years those victories trailed in the wake of McIlroy’s resumé, which includes four major championships and holding the world number one ranking.
That has all changed now, and McDowell said of Lowry: “He can create his own shadows.
“Pete Cowen (the golf coach) tells an amazing story, when he went to the Irish squad training down in Dublin and the guy said: ‘Who do you like?’ And he obviously said: ‘Rory McIlroy looks pretty good, but that slightly overweight kid with the glasses on...’, who was Shane Lowry at the time, ‘he looks good’. So he’s always been talented.
“I remember the first day I met him. I just shot 61 at Baltray the week he won (the Irish Open). And he came in and shot 62, and he didn’t even introduce himself, he said: ‘I can’t believe you beat me by one out there today’. And I’m like: ‘Who’s this kid?’.
“But we’ve become very good friends. I’ve always respected his game so much because he’s very ballsy. He’s a phenomenal driver of the ball. He’s maybe the best chipper I’ve ever seen. Apart from Phil Mickelson, I don’t know anyone who chips as good as him.
“I played a few holes in practice with him Tuesday and Wednesday and he’s flipping lobbers off the fringes.
“I’m kind of laughing at him. That’s the way he plays practice rounds.
“He’s a great kid. He’d be a great Open Champion.
“We knew this was going to be a special Open. To have an Irishman at the top of the leaderboard is extra, extra special.”
Speaking against a backdrop of howling winds and a rattling media interview tent after signing for his final round on Sunday and while Lowry was just starting his, McDowell added:
“I had a few words with him before, obviously. In that scenario you don’t want to send any messages, any clichés. He’s an experienced kid. He knows what to do. I just told him to go and be him, go play Shane Lowry golf.”
McDowell said Lowry’s competitive spirit made him hungry to join himself, McIlroy, Darren Clarke, and Pádraig Harrington, as well as 1947 Open champion Fred Daly, as Irish major winners.
“You can see it in his eyes. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met, to a fault nearly. You’re out there playing nine holes with him. We always used to joke he wants to beat me more on a Wednesday than he wants to win a tournament.
“I feel like Shane’s always got one eye on what the other Irish players are doing. He wants to be the top Irishman. He’s just that kind of guy. And he knows. Look at his resumé, major champion, a WGC, a Rolex series event, he won the Irish Open as an amateur.
“It’s pretty lofty stuff for a kid that hasn’t won much around the world. He feels comfortable on the big stage.”